In her graphic wooden serving trays, Swedish designer Maria Dahlgren deftly takes on the "tacky souvenirs" of the world. Her delightfully bold, retro-inspired designs feature the names of some of the most-favorite tourist destinations—like London, Stockholm, and Helsinki—alongside "cityscapes" comprised of things that each place is known for (like Big Ben, Christopher Wren's St. Paul's Cathedral, the Tower Bridge, and umbrellas for London). Maria chatted about about the cities she loves, the designers who inspire her, and Sweden's foremost national treasure: ABBA. Here's what she has to say.
You mentioned that you're in "cold, dark winter-Stockholm" right now. How does Sweden's extreme weather affect your work?
The coldness is okay, but the short days and the darkness are really depressing. I escape to the sun and warm climate somewhere south for a couple of weeks during the winter to recharge.
Which designers inspire you most?
Olle Eksell, Alexander Girard, Stig Lindberg, Paul Rand, Terence Conran, Paul Smith and lots of great artists like Picasso, Miro, Matisse, Juan Gris, Sonia Delaunay.
Your trays depicting cities have achieved great attention. Which design is your favorite?
I think it's London, which is such a fantastic city. The city finds its way into millions of hearts every day, for a million different reasons. London is loved for exciting culture, for 2000 years of history, shopping, international cuisine, cozy town houses, and modern architecture. Plus its multi-cultural population that contributes so much to the vibrancy of this great city. Long live London and its diverse soul!
What city do you want to tackle next and what do you think the biggest challenge will be?
The Big Apple! I have already done a huge carpet in virgin wool on New York celebrating my friend Christine, whom I met at Columbia University 1981. There's so much to capture (like high buildings) in a small area like a tray or tea towel.
I love that you're taking on the "battle against tacky souvenirs." Why do you think most city-specific souvenirs are like that?
Wherever there are lots of people there will be people trying to make money and pricing battles are common. So there are lots of products that are produced in countries like China, India, etc., which all have low manufacturing price points. Poorly designed plastic elk or Viking souvenirs are found [in Sweden]. How "Swedish" is that? I want my Swedish modern souvenirs to be well designed, in good quality, with a practical function, fit into any cabin bag, not fragile, and work as representative expression for the country.
I love the letters you create. What fonts are your favorites?
I often create my own letters in my designed products. But when I work as an art director I am very conservative and like good old fonts like Futura, Gill Sans, Helvetica, Univers, Garamond, Bodoni etc.
Do you think we should also take up the cause of ridding the world of bad fonts, like we should be rid of tacky souvenirs?
What's your favorite color?
Every single one in the right place!
You did graphic design work for Benny Andersson of ABBA. Do you ever wish—like I do—that they'd get back together and do a world tour?
Everything has its time and I think they are wise enough to manage their own time with things that enrich them in life. The rest of us can always enjoy listening to their fantastic music which is eternal!