A studio visit with Fredrik Paulsen

In collaboration with Dr. Martens

Speaking to artist and designer Fredrik Paulsen is not much different from what I imagine it’s like to live his life: being blissfully unaware of the next step forward. His path has taken him from Vejbystrand to London and then from London to Stockholm, only for him to realize that the place which brings him joy is one he needs to create on his own. Thus “JOY Objects” became not only the name but also the very ethos of his personal brand, founded in 2021. 

Fredrik Paulsen’s furniture combines minimalist, straight to the point shapes, with strong colors and a sense of humor. Each piece embodies a balance between form and function, showcasing clean lines and geometric shapes in neons and unexpected textures. Today, he occupies a space within design that is distinctly his own. From his studio in Stockholm suburb Årsta, Paulsen turns the volume up while creating slick, non-fussy, splashy designs and letting his hair grow. 

Fredrik is wearing Dr. Martens The Ramsey Monk Kiltie Creeper in black

Vilda: Where are you right now? 

Fredrik: I’m in my studio, in Årsta. It’s a pretty nice space, I moved here quite recently, right after summer.

Vilda: Brand new.

Fredrik: At least half-new. I’d been in my old studio for about a decade. I loved it there… It was so wholesome, on the corner with big windows. But I outgrew that place, I had definitely been pushing it for a while when I finally moved out.

Vilda: I see this one has a skylight. Like a cab. Is there such a thing as being nervous about moving, like “what if my creative energy gets lost in transition?”

Fredrik: Definitely. When I moved back to Sweden after some years in London there was no real design scene here, just stiff architect offices or design agencies. I was quite worried about that. I built my whole world and community around my studio in Örnsberg which back then was way too big for me. We threw parties, held exhibitions, I’d finally started working and experimenting with my vision; I found a flow. I rode that flow. I still have the place, it’s charged with so much good energy from that time, but I sublet it for now. I couldn’t come to peace with the idea of giving it up.

Vilda: First-page hit when I googled you was a Forbes article. Another “Frederik Paulsen” apparently has a net worth of $7.5 billion and enjoys extreme adventure travel. He was the first person to cross the Bering Strait from Alaska to Russia in an ultralight aircraft. What’s this Fredrik Paulsen’s net worth?

Fredrik: Must be minus.

Vilda: Do you enjoyadventure travel?

Fredrik: I enjoy the everyday travel.

Vilda: Like the morning commute to Årsta?

Fredrik: I like the course of life and pursuing the things that give me joy. I think that’s what everybody should be up to, but it seems common for people these days to be concerned with something else, these “super serious things,” calculating, stressing. To me, that seems fairly unnecessary.

Vilda: Such as?

Fredrik: You know, people plan ahead, people try to make the right moves at the right time in order to skyrocket success. It makes them tense and stiff.

Vilda: In need of a chill pill?

Fredrik: Right.

Vilda: Spoken like a true artist! Have you always gone with the flow?

Fredrik: Hm. Have I? I mean I don’t know my next move until it’s already made. I’ve never ever seen my path because there hasn’t been one outlined for me. I found my way into design because a friend pushed me into applying for preparatory art school. He thought I was “creative.” Now, I’ve reached a stable point in my career but that’s just a haphazard result of rigorously focusing on my own concept of cool. I was basically walking into the wind for 14 years before arriving there, getting rejected lots of times for not creating things that looked like whatever pops up when you google “furniture design.” When I finally got accepted to RCA and moved to London, my world opened up a bit, over there design could be so much more than it could back then in Sweden.

Vilda: And now people are buying into your version?

Fredrik: I guess they are! Hang on, my phone is…Wait. I have another meeting in a bit.

Vilda: In how long?

Fredrik: Kind of right now.

Vilda: What?

A few hours later, Fredrik has relocated to his desk at home, sipping on a glass of red wine, whereas I have switched my cup of coffee for another cup of coffee.

Vilda: We’re back, Fredde!

Fredrik: I’ve even had time to feed the whole family. No one ever calls me that, but it sounded pleasant.

Vilda: Really, no nickname?

Fredrik: Nope. I guess I was “Freddan” when I was at design school, but only then. I wonder what people call me behind my back. Speaking of, I have an assistant right now…

Vilda: Luxurious living.

Fredrik: Very luxurious living.

Vilda: Is he running your coffee errands?

Fredrik: Absolutely not. That’s not something to put on your resume. I’d be ashamed.

Vilda: What happens if your assistant steals your designs? 

Fredrik: Haha, it kind of has happened. That’s life. I have a quite distinct style, if you’ve been with me for a while, of course you get influenced. It’s not like I hold a patent or something.

Vilda: I took a deep dive into your Instagram feed and found this photo from the 18th of November 2016.

*sending Fredrik the post captioned “After the party is the after party”*

Fredrik: This is fun. This is a party image that made the cut.

Vilda: What cut?

Fredrik: I cleaned up my Instagram.

Vilda: You didn’t.

Fredrik: I did. I felt like I had to.

Vilda: That doesn’t feel very Fredde of you.

Fredrik: I went from being the one telling my friends that they were nuts for using their Instagram profiles for work – ”That’s what you have Facebook for!” – to being that guy. Once I realized that I had way more randoms than friends on Instagram, many of which are curators or whatever, I had to tidy up. But it’s a semi-cleaning though. Only wipes, no vacuum.

Vilda: Now party pics are what you have Facebook for?

Fredrik: What does anybody have Facebook for? That photo is from the pre-Instagram Stories era. Otherwise it would definitely not have made it to the feed. We’re celebrating the closing of an exhibition at the curator Maria’s place. If you scroll down, shit, it’s 382 weeks ago, there should be an image of me laying on a Max Lambert rug from another after party.

Vilda: That’s the crucial after party ingredient, a Max L rug?

Fredrik: Essential. I don’t agree with those who go to bed right in the middle of everything, but for those who do, you have to provide a place to crash. A thick comfortable carpet is perfect. For those who stay awake, keeping the vibes going, you have to have good music for a good after party.

Vilda: What are some good after party sounds?

Fredrik: I like when an unexpected song comes on, one that makes you raise your eyebrows. I have this party playlist from ages ago…

Vilda: Send it over.

Fredrik: I will do no such thing. But I have a special song for when I’m done crafting a piece of furniture that I play just before I’m putting paint on it. It’s this crucial moment in my process – that’s when the stars have to align. I can’t put color on something if I’m not in the right mood, there has to be a flow. You don’t want to fuck up the expensive material and all your hard work. If I put on I’d Rather Be with You by Bootsy Collins and turn the volume up, I always get it just right. It’s really silly.

*Listen to Fredrik’s hype song here!*

Vilda: Of all the CDs you have here, which one spins most often? 

Fredrik: Maybe “Fossils” by Dinosaur Jr. I don’t have any Wi-Fi in the studio, it’s nice to play CDs and have a limited selection. 

Vilda: We all know you’re really known for the chairs you make, but I wanna hear about your private chair collection.

Fredrik: Chairs are like people. You pass them all the time, they’re everywhere, but all of a sudden you find one that just stands out in the crowd, like “what a cool person, what a cool vibe.” I think chairs are pretty cool. I don’t have any specific framework for the chairs I bring home, it’s not about a specific style but rather a vibe. Some stools just exist in their own being, but they don’t have to be fancy. In my studio, I only have my own stuff around, so at home I need to switch it up and be exposed to other ideas. Imagine an artist who only hangs their own paintings on the wall, or an author who only reads their own books? We have this really great Gaetano Pesce, it kind of looks like a monster that works halftime as a ghost. The back of it is latticed which makes it look as if it had eyes. I also love the French, more specifically Meribel by Charlotte Perriand. I started with two, then I found another one, and another one. Now we have eight and even if they are all the same model, some are more torn than others. It’s really beautiful.

Vilda: I’m a collector too, but my budget only stretches as far as egg cups. I tend to break my cups quite regularly though – are you allowed to sit in all of your chairs? 

Fredrik: Of course. Chairs are utilities. Why satisfy your hunger with a sad meal if there’s caviar in the fridge?

Vilda: Is there any chair which completely lacks a raison d’être?

*Fredrik looks like he’s biting his tongue. I turn my camera and show him what to me looks like the shittiest chair in Manhattan.*

Fredrik: It has something, I like that blank shiny surface.

Even through the screen I can see that there is something at the very tip of his tongue. But he is either too nice, or, perhaps more likely, too afraid to get #canceled. Doesn’t the wine relax him? I remain silent. I feel like we’re past the stage of awkwardness.

Fredrik: OK sure, but in all honesty, 99.9 percent of chairs have no justified existence. What’s giving me the ick lately is not a specific chair as much as a specific statement: timelessness. It’s pretentious, trying way too hard to become something that we all can agree is basically impossible. “We have made it timeless.” OK, how? I’m over the whole “timeless material, timeless design” thing. Usually it’s not timeless, it just looks as if it were made in the 50s. “Sustainable timelessness” is really such a cliche. Don’t come after me with something like that. Of course there are designs that have become timeless, but I see timelessness as an effortless achievement, like with Aalto for example. It started as super specific and original designs, and today, through the ways they have been accepted or intertwined with society, they have become timeless. A design could never arrive as outside of its time. That’s just a fabricated idea, a shitty capitalist phenomenon, often it’s not like there aren’t already a million chairs looking exactly like that. At the same time that’s exactly what design school taught us, like “don’t be too personal in your designs” and “don’t make shit too expensive.” Basically, “be IKEA.” 

Vilda: What’s the next “timeless” trend, do you think?

Fredrik: People are now realizing how dumb this is and turn to its opposite; more “personalized” styles. They want to have more color, “lighten the mood,” and get a little bit quirky! The problem with trends is that it will look shit however you do them. Just as timelessness, if it isn’t the result of true lust of desire, it will not be a vibe. It’s always going to remain what it is: a trend. It was fun when everyone wanted mirrors with organic shapes. It started with the trend of people taking selfies in Ettore Sottsass mirrors, which are obviously quite unattainable. That sparked the whole DIY popcorn mirror frames trend, the wavy mirrors and whatever else that could mimic it.

Vilda: What triggers you that other people do in their homes? 

Fredrik: I remember when everyone started tiling their kitchens up to the ceiling. Suddenly everyone had to do it. This can be directly attributed to restaurants like Sturehof and Riche in Stockholm. It’s fine if you want to live your life at Riche and bring Riche home. I understand the urge to tile the entire wall, because with tiles you always end up with these difficult decisions: where should you stop, where should the edge be? If you tile all the way up, you avoid making an active choice. But I question the function and the reasoning. Do you really need tiles all the way? I mean, if you have a floor drain and need to hose down the walls – then fine! But if you’re not going to splash around up there, it’s idiotic. It’s expensive and causes poor acoustics. 

Vilda: Did your wife fall in love with you or your designs?

Fredrik: What do you mean?

Vilda: I mean, have you seen Sex and The City?

Fredrik: I have.

Vilda: Really! I was expecting having to explain the full scenario to you. But then you know how Carrie uses some richly oiled armchair to approach Aidan. You know, when they’re at that design fair, and he’s rubbing some expensive plywood.

Fredrik: Are you asking if that’s what Karin did?

Vilda: Kind of, did she?

Fredrik: Kind of. No, she didn’t. But we were both in an artistic milieu, running into each other at parties, openings, those types of gatherings. She used to work with designing spaces.

Vilda: What’s your advice on how to make something last? Both in terms of partners, furniture, hair, seems like all of the above is flourishing for you.

Fredrik: Hair routine I have none, or it’s probably worse than it should be. As for relationships, I think they are all about respect and respecting each other, not forcing things to go in one direction or the other. Let things take their natural course.

WordsVilda Krog
PhotographyFrida Vega Salomonsson