Design Prince of Sweden: Sigvard Bernadotte

What do all these things have in common: melamine bowl, silver pitcher, ergonomic can- opener, flat-weave rug?

Answer: their designer, Sigvard Bernadotte.

I’ll look in this post at Bernadotte’s industrial designs and in the next at some of his rugs.

Born in 1907, Bernadotte was a prince, second in line to the Swedish throne. He went to university and wanted to become a set designer, or maybe even a movie actor. Not surprisingly, Sigvard’s career ideas were not at all well-received by the royal family. Nevertheless, Bernadotte decided to study theater in Munich. When he met a German woman whom he wanted to marry, Bernadotte again took the contrary path. Instead of doing the acceptable royal thing and asking both his father the king and Parliament for permission to marry her, he simply went ahead and married her. Which annoyed King Gustav so much that he took away both his son’s title as prince and his right of succession to the throne. Prince Sigvard was now Mr. Bernadotte.

However, as Mr. Bernadotte, he was still rather well-connected. At age 28, he began to design products for the famous Danish silversmith, Georg Jensen. These were beautifully modernist, often fluted and with a kind of streamlined deco quality. The 1930 Stockholm Exposition which introduced functional modernism to Sweden in a big way, had also woken Bernadotte to the possibilities of designing products for daily life. He started with high-end luxury wares, though he would later end up at the popular end of the market.

In 1935, on the strength of some designs for sets and movie posters, Bernadotte was invited to be an assistant director in Hollywood. He did help direct a few movies including a Tarzan one, but an acting audition was disastrous, and when he attempted to write movie scripts, they were also poor. But during his American sojourn, Bernadotte was able to meet several of America’s first industrial designers—Raymond Lowey and Henry Dreyfuss, who designed everything from Coca-cola vending machines and telephones, to corporate logos and even steam engines. Hollywood was a mismatch for his talents, but the new field of industrial design was an almost perfect fit, and Bernadotte seems to have realized that.

Returning to Europe in 1937, Bernadotte continued to design for Georg Jensen. To his great satisfaction, this work was receiving much notice—it was shown at the 1939 New York World’s Fair, and his coffee set, shown below, was acquired by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Bernadotte coffee service
Sigvard Bernadotte, Coffee Service No 849 in sterling silver with decoration of vertical ribs and ebony handles, designed for Georg Jensen. A set in this pattern was shown the New York 1939 World’s Fair and subsequently purchased by the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. This set sold at Stockholms Auktionsverket Moderna auction in 2012.

During the war, Bernadotte divorced his first wife, and married a Danish woman, with whom he had one son, born in Denmark. After the war, in 1950, he joined Acton Bjorn, a Dane who had studied architecture and design, to set up the first Scandinavian industrial design firm, Bernadotte and Bjorn.They maintained offices in Copenhagen, New York and Stockholm, and were able to solicit work in both Denmark and Sweden. Much of their work brought ergonomic and colorful design to everyday goods like stainless kettles, can-openers and nested picnic sets, some of which is shown below. Plastic was a new material and gave these products a fresh modern look. For many Americans, these are even now familiar looking pieces. The Rosti mixing bowl, shown in the title image and designed in 1950, was named the “margarethe,” after Bernadotte’s niece, now Queen Margarethe II of Denmark.

In 1961, Bernadotte divorced again and this time married a Swedish actress and moved back to Sweden. In 1964, he set up his own industrial design firm which designed a variety of products, but also moved into the public sphere, designing the label for one of Sweden’s biggest candy-makers, and even consulting on the right blue for the Stockholm Metro trains. He was a strong promoter for industrial design both in Sweden and internationally.  The fact that Sweden has such a tradition of well-designed tools, cars and consumer products owes much to his leadership.

It would make a happy ending if we could leave the story there, since Bernadotte was such a successful industrial designer, and left more than a few well-designed rugs. When he was born a prince, he had a last name few knew, yet when he became a commoner, it was the range and quality of his work that made that family name much more known. Unfortunately however, Bernadotte spent the last 20 years of his life petitioning and arguing for the return of his title as prince, a goal he never achieved. It would be nice to think that the popular title of “Design Prince”, which he was often called by the press, would have brought him enough satisfaction.

Stay tuned tomorrow to see Bernadotte’s rugs!
Sources: Viewed 2016-04-25. Viewed 2016-04-25. Viewed 2016-04-25. Viewed 2016-04-25

Please reference as follows:

Whidden, Anne, “Design Prince,” theswedishrugblog (May 5, 2016);
http://; accessed (month/day/year)


3 thoughts

  1. Fascinating to me because I’m sure I remember some of those plastic shapes from my childhood and I never knew they were designed by anyone let alone a prince. Looking forward to the rugs.


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