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INTERVIEWS

NOORSTAD

It’s all about respect for the materials.

Founded in 2016 by Steen Skyum Høgfeldt, Noorstad designs furniture, home accessories and interiors. Green Collective sat down with Steen and his wife Anne to discuss their simplistic approach to home design, their inspiration from nature, and the importance of local production.

Green Collective (GC)
Who are you and what do you do?

Steen Skyum Høgfeldt (SH)
Noorstad designs and sells furniture and home accessories. The design language is simple, clean and understated. Everything is produced, finished, and packed in Denmark at external factories. We use circular and sustainable natural materials of high quality of DK or EU origin. All finishes are food and environment approved. Our vision is to inspire and beautify all homes with sustainable design and to be part of the transformation to a circular world. Our mission is to create simple, sustainable products of high aesthetic and design value.  

Anne Høgfeldt (AH)
It’s mostly Steen who creates; I’m on the side lines. You [Steen] have this urge to make things clearer and simpler. It’s a big drive for everything we make.

“In a stressful, accelerated world, we gently suggest calm, mindful, non-toxic spaces as an antidote.”

GC
What inspires you?

SH
Our main inspiration has always been nature: in all its form and expression, from hands-on materials to abstract meaning. We’re also inspired by necessity: What do we really, really need in our habitat? In a stressful, accelerated world, we gently suggest calm, mindful, non-toxic spaces as an antidote. Subtle changes that nudge us to feel and sense again. Our furniture designs aspire to deliver a base for spaces like that. Less can be more (as the saying goes); but we like to rephrase it as “less is enough.” There are so many objects that we do not want to own.

Ours is actually very simple furniture. May I elaborate on “simple,” what it means to us? We have another word for it in Danish called “enkelt.” It also means one; it actually means you try to make something as simple as you can, without necessarily going minimalistic. You don’t have to arrive at one; but you try to arrive at one. So, we are not into “minimal” per se, but we like to reduce things as far as we think is necessary, or before we arrive at some kind of aesthetic that pleases us.

GC
Sustainability means many different things to many different people. What is the core meaning of sustainability to you, and how do you apply it to what you do?

SH
Using mono materials, not mixing and merging. Items that are easily disassembled and inspired by reverse engineering. Longevity, reuse, and repair.

I can tell you what it’s not; in our mind it’s not taking plastic and then mixing it with grain, that you cannot separate afterwards. You can properly only reuse it once. Or taking old plastic bottles and mixing it with 80% new plastic to say that you are recycling. Is that recycling or greenwashing? Many people hate aluminum cans, but it’s one of the more recyclable materials. When you melt old aluminum, you use only 3% of the energy that you used when you started out making aluminum. Aluminium was invented by a Dane called Hans Christian Ørsted, actually.

AH
And also, it’s been very important for us to use local materials, not buying wood from America, sending it across the world, then sending it back. Also, this isn’t about sustainability, but it gives you a creative spark to have these limits.

SH
The Germans have created a concept called “cradle to cradle.” You can take a stool, or whatever piece of furniture or equipment, and if you can take it apart and reuse all the individual parts, then you have something resembling “cradle to cradle.” And if you can do that elegantly, and if you can do that without using too much energy to take it apart again, then you are very close to our idea of recycling and sustainability.

AH
Also, we don’t throw away items that are damaged, or wood that has forks in it from production. With the trays we make, we’ve had some forks and have repaired them with gold to enhance it instead of saying, “Oh, this is second hand.” Actually, these are also made from scrap wood leftovers from other production. We really try to respect the materials we use.

GC
What is your background, and how did you end up starting your business?

SH
I have a Master of Science (MSc) in Economics and Business administration, and post or continuing education in psychology (ACT). Anne has a Bachelor in psychology, and a master degree in Design. We have a shared interest in design and furniture. Starting out with a cardboard box as a table and a few heirloom pieces, we designed most of our furniture from the beginning.

AH
Steen needed a career change, and looking at our common interest, and two ring binders full of drawings, the choice was kind of a given. With little knowledge regarding the furniture industry, we got our first designs produced and Noorstad was the result.

GC
How would you describe your aesthetic?

SH
Clean and calm. With a wish to let the materials speak for themselves – to let wood crack when it dries, to let it patinate over time. Surfaces and textures are important to us. We are driven by finding the exact balance in finishing. Do too little and the product feels rough and unfinished, do too much and the material loses its unique, inherent character. Like wood being polished and lacquered to such a degree that it looks and feels almost un-organic.

“Color is not color without material. Everything is context.”

I can elaborate on my inspiration from nature. It’s the colors that naturally appear in nature. I’m almost allergic to neon green and flashy orange and stuff like that. If it’s in my home, I remove it. If it’s on my lawn, a piece of plastic or some kind of unnatural color, I will remove it. We have some extremely red flowers in our garden, and they are just beautiful. How do I explain that I like them, but if you put up a piece of plastic in the same color, I will remove it? It’s all in the materiality of the material. Color is not color without material. Everything is context.

GC
What’s your approach when you are designing a piece to help it stand the test of time? Can you talk about what “slow design” means to you?

SH
The basic approach is to stay in the creative process for as long as possible. Rephrasing the product’s needs/function/aesthetics in as many ways possible. Then we put the idea aside, in a box or black hole, for as long as it takes to leave the mind. After weeks or even months we unbox, take a fresh look at the product and rephrase again.

One rephrasing is reduction, not to go minimal, but to see what is needed to make a product work, both in regard to function and aesthetics. We do this process as many times as needed to either discard the product or go ahead with prototyping it. Some of the prototypes then make it to production. The opponent is fast fashion/design. You design or produce whatever is “en vogue.”

If you buy one of our pieces of furniture, they will last you a lifetime and more. But of course, with the culture in America, in Denmark, in most of Europe, it’s not a given that people will have that piece of furniture in use for that long. But at least we try very, very hard to design the furniture to be able to last that long, both in material quality and in design quality. When you have a classic, you only know it’s a classic after 50 years, right?

GC
You talk about the importance of using local resources and local production. Can you talk about what materials you use and how you source them?

SH
As little transportation pollution as possible. Earth to table or Earth to furniture. You can dream about all the fantastic materials in faraway places or you can see what is available near you and make something out of that.

AH
Very early on we decided we wanted to work with Scandinavian wood. Then we met this obstacle: we really wanted to make dark wood, dark browns. It isn’t available in Scandinavia; we don’t have any dark Scandinavian wood. We found out about a very old process of burning wood, heating it, that the Vikings used when building, and then we discovered that approximately 70 kilometers from here they were heat-treating wood to make it last. When you do that, all the cells die and it cannot be infected by rot and fungus, stuff like that. But a side effect is that the wood gets this dark brown, caramelized, beautiful color. So, we take our round stools to their oven and then we actually just bake it for three days, and get this beautiful, dark brown glow. We just use the linseed oil and then the color sort of deepens and comes out.

SH
It is used in many parts of Europe, it’s called thermal modification, or thermally modified timber.

GC
What is your next step towards sustainability?

SH
Documentation and marketing of our sustainable qualities. While other companies are trying to get some kind of sustainability into their products, we already have it. We actually switched our linseed oil to a product from Belgium; it’s based on linseed, but it is thoroughly tested for odors, for volatile compounds, for everything. So that is one thing that we have found out; we need serious testing and documentation.

GC
What are you excited about right now? Is there anything else you’d like to share with our readers?

SH
Will we “post-Covid” return to normal or use the opportunity to move the world in a more sustainable (green) direction? Will there be a division between those longing for things as they were and those finding relief in the “break” forced on them by the pandemic? Will design and production eventually challenge economies of scale and globalization? We have a dream of the “one man army,” with our products being produced and sold locally, with local materials (no shipping), from the digital file we create.

By Kristin Forte

Shop Designer
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