Introducing ÅBEN, a celebration of emerging Nordic makers

A black cabinet and a chair in a stone room.

Writer Kate Lough meets member David Harrigan, whose Stockholm-based design collective ÅBEN poses the question: ‘Do we want mass produced product made by robots, or to give our money to young designers to pay their rent?’

By Kate Lough   Above image: Black Oak Cabinet by Antrei Hartikainen   Sunday 5 July, 2020    Long read

STOCKHOLM – ‘I was a weird kid,’ admits David Harrigan. ‘When I was little, I’d go to my friends’ houses and they would have posters of cricket and rugby players on their walls. I had posters of chairs on mine. I was obsessed with chairs.’ 

Harrigan, who grew up in a coal-mining town three hours from Sydney, would sometimes accompany his mother as a child to the ballet at the Opera House. There, he’d marvel not at the dancing, but the ‘curves, texture and quality’ of the interiors brought together by Danish architect Jørn Utzon. It sparked a lifelong love for design that would eventually inspire the Londoner, in summer 2019, to quit his career in media and set up ÅBEN: a design collective based in Stockholm for emerging Nordic talent.

ÅBEN came about from a shared frustration: from young makers who struggled to find their path to market after leaving the world’s leading design schools in the Nordics, and conscious consumers, like Harrigan, who value traceability and provenance as well as aesthetics. ‘I’d ask myself fundamental questions such as: does the world need another Wishbone chair? Does the Eames Foundation have enough money already? Do we want products that have been mass produced in factories by robots? Or do we want to give our money to a young designer who will use that money to pay for their rent or grocery bill?’
A man in a blue shirt standing in front of a two tone wall.
ÅBEN founder David Harrigan (Billie Scheepers)
Nearly one year on, the ÅBEN family is now made up of 10 designers, from Helsinki to Reykjavík, and from cabinet makers to ceramicists, all of whom were selected for their shared ethos. Sustainability, in particular, was something that Harrigan insisted on as a core value of the collective. ‘I’d seen what fast fashion was doing to the planet, and this kind of mindset was leaking into furniture. Longevity was not a factor,’ says Harrigan, who is married to fashion and beauty photographer Billie Scheepers. ‘I always remind our designers that we’re not making products for our customers. We’re making products for our customers’ children. I want them to be so robust and so timeless, that their kids will be fighting over who gets that chair or that side table.’ 

By August, ÅBEN will be fully B-Corp certified, which means it is actively committed to doing less harm and more good to the environment, joining the likes of Patagonia and Allbirds. Its designers source all their materials locally, use only FSC-certified wood, and the brand plants a tree for every product sold.
A white clay cup.
A white clay pitcher.