The Wild and Wonderful World of Icelandic Design

At the remote Nordic island’s DesignMarch festival, creators make the most of available resources through craft and circularity, while celebrating the natural world.

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In Iceland, where winter is the longest season, the start of spring marks a period of renewal—in the landscape, in towns and cities, and in the county’s creative scene. For the past 15 years, the DesignMarch festival has channeled this energy into a packed program of events and exhibitions that pop up for just a few days and pass as quickly as a patch of sun in Reykjavík’s weather forecast. There’s a brisk pace to the proceedings, and a sense of sparkling vibrance—but also the feeling that you might miss something brilliant if you blink.

Reykjavík’s Harpa Concert Hall was designed by Henning Larsen Architects and completed in 2011. Artist Olafur Eliasson collaborated with the firm on the geometric facade, which echoes the form of basalt columns that can be found throughout Iceland.

Photo: Mike Chino

In many ways, it’s the polar opposite of Salone del Mobile, the world’s biggest furniture fair—you won’t find throngs of international visitors or cavernous halls exhibiting thousands of chairs. The scale is magnitudes smaller but the scope is broader and more experiential as fashion, art, film, and music take the stage alongside design and architecture. Walking from gallery, to runway, to the Harpa concert hall, it feels like a slice of the entire country’s creative output is on show.

And above all else, the work has a strong sense of place. Iceland is a small, remote nation with limited resources and manufacturing infrastructure, yet its design industry is actively emerging. Since there are few local icons, the door is wide open for designers to define what Icelandic design is—and they’re rising to the challenge as they experiment with big ideas, craft local materials in innovative ways, and strive to close the loop with resourceful practices and products.

Recycle, Reduce, Reuse

"When we order a bolt of fabric, we finish it" says Sæunn Þórðardóttir, designer at 66°North, Iceland’s premier outdoor clothing company since 1926. The brand has a long history of reusing scraps and deadstock material, which is as much a sustainability initiative as it is a pragmatic approach to making things on an island with limited resources. This thread of circularity—of keeping products and materials moving throughout the economy for as long as possible—surfaced in the work of many designers this year.

Sky Is the Limit by Daníel Atlason for 66°North

Daníel Atlason teamed up with 66°North to launch a collection of 11 kites made of colorful technical fabrics salvaged from the clothing company’s factories. To ensure that each piece would be airworthy, Atlason collaborated with the Scotland-based kitemaker Karl Longbottom.

Photo: Mike Chino

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The Airbag by Studio Flétta for Fólk Reykjavík

Designed by Studio Flétta for Fólk Reykjavík, the Airbag is a cushy pouf made almost entirely from recycled materials. The pastel body of each piece is an airbag salvaged from a scrapped car, and the cushioning is made of leftover Polartec Power Fill from 66°North and mattress foam from AnnTex.

Photo courtesy of Fólk

Pizza Time by Studio Flétta and Ýrúrarí

Studio Flétta and Ýrúrarí served up one of the week’s most whimsical events by opening a pop-up shop that produced tasty textile pizzas made of fabric scraps salvaged from Iceland’s wool industry.

Photo by Sunna Ben

Design-hungry customers queued up to order from the menu (substitutions and custom orders welcome), and the designers assembled each pizza from pre-cut ingredients using an electric felting machine.

Photo: Mike Chino

Nærvera/Presence by Ýrúrarí

"How could you throw away something with a face?" says Ýr Jóhannsdóttir, who works under the name Ýrúrarí. For her exhibition Nærvera/Presence at the Museum of Design and Applied Arts, Jóhannsdóttir patched up the holes in castaway sweaters with facial features, creating quirky personalities in the process.

Photo by Studio FRÆ

Reel by Tobia Zambotti

Designer Tobia Zambotti found a fresh use for discarded cable reels by turning them into colorful coffee tables. Each piece is topped with a slab of recycled material from The Good Plastic Company.

Photo by Patrik Ontkovic

Force of Nature 

The secret is out: Iceland’s geography is spectacular. Although there’s little wood to be found, many designers celebrate the land by working with local materials like volcanic rock, lichen, seaweed, and wool—while others incorporate natural motifs in their work. The resulting objects feel particularly of a place, and strongly rooted to the native terrain.


Iceland approved the cultivation of industrial hemp in 2020, and the BioBuilding project is exploring ways to use the crop as a renewable, low-carbon building material. Pictured here is a new composite made of hemp and local seaweed by designer Viltė Adomavičiūtė.

Photo: Mike Chino


Interdisciplinary design studio ÞYKJÓ creates fantastical costumes, experiences, and shell-like "furnitecture" installations to spark the imagination and creativity of children.

Photo courtesy of ÞYKJÓ

A DesignMarch, ÞYKJÓ debuted Sea Urchin, a new piece of furnitecture designed to weather outdoor conditions.

Photo: Mike Chino

Pet Pouf by Gæla Studio

Iceland’s robust wool industry provides a source of inspiration and material for many products—but few are as fun as Gæla’s technicolor Pet Poufs. The fraggle-esque furnishings double as storage pods for clothes and other soft goods.

Photo courtesy of Gæla

Bespoke Rugs by Lily Erla Adamsdóttir

Lily Erla Adamsdóttir uses natural textiles to create custom, hand-tufted rugs that evoke Iceland’s varied terrain. "It’s like painting with thread," she says. It can take up to a week to create each rug, and Adamsdóttir produces only seven pieces for each collection.

Photo courtesy of Lilý Erla Adamsdóttir

21st-Century Pottery by Einārs Timma

Einārs Timma combined an ancient material with modern technology to create his collection of 21st-century pottery. Each vase is 3D printed from black volcanic sand, and the finely finished smooth and textured surfaces show just how far the production method has come.

Photo: Mike Chino

Aska Bio Urns

"We are all going to die," says Heidi Einarsdottir. Her company, Aska Bio Urns, seeks to produce sustainable solutions for memorializing loved ones—and it just launched a biodegradable urn made from recycled paper that’s modeled after Iceland’s basalt columns.

Photo: Mike Chino

The Fungi Gets Going by Rebekka Ashley

Fungi forager Rebekka Ashley has created a complete lifestyle and furnishing collection for mushroom hunters. The fantastical pieces include lamps, chairs, stools, and clothes embellished with frilly gills, caps, stems, and and other mycological features.

Photo: Mike Chino

Seaweedworks by Tanguy Mélinand

Fashion designer Tanguy Mélinand harvests seaweed from the ocean and preserves it to create a durable textile he calls "kelp leather." Mélinand debuted a collection of garments made from the material at the Reykjavik Edition during DesignMarch.

Photo by Tanguy Cattin

Agar Clothing by Eydís Elfa Örnólfsdóttir

Working in a similar vein, Eydís Elfa Örnólfsdóttir has created a collection of dresses made from an agar-based bioplastic. She made the material herself and cut it into pieces to resemble bits of seaweed.

Photo: Mike Chino

Lichen Accessories by Ásta Þórisdóttir

Ásta Þórisdóttir harvests colorful lichens that grow abundantly over Iceland’s lava slopes and plains and uses them to create living garments and jewelry. 

Photo: Mike Chino

Northern Lights

Icelandic winters stretch on for five to six months, and some days see as few as four hours of sunlight—so it’s no wonder that lighting was a bright spot on the DesignMarch calendar. Some projects showcase the soft glow of candlelight, while others experiment with form and material to illuminating effect.

Saman/Together by Hae/Hi

For the Saman/Together exhibition, Hae/Hi connected design studios in Reykjavík and Seattle to collaborate on objects that encourage interactions. Since the light in both cities tends to have a cool cast, Fruitsuper and Ragna Ragnarsdottir developed a series of lights and candleholders that emit a warm glow.

Photo: Mike Chino

In another Saman/Together collaboration, John Hogan and Thorunn Arnadottir combined blown and cold-worked glass with hand-cast wax to create a series of candles that beautifully blend color, light, and transparent and opaque finishes. 

Photo: Mike Chino

Circulus by Studio Miklo

Studio Miklo experimented with clay, Icelandic minerals, glass, and recycled paper to create their curvaceous Circulus lamps, which are available in pendant and tabletop variations.

Photo: Mike Chino

Wooden Candles by Fríða Karlsdóttir at Handverk

If you love the look of candlesticks but are cutting down on burning wax indoors (or constantly run out of tapers), Fríða Karlsdóttir has a solution. She carves twigs, branches, and bits of driftwood into curvy wooden candles fit for everlasting display. Featured in the Handverk exhibition at Hafnartorg gallery.

Photo: Mike Chino

Bonus: The Blue Lagoon

You’ve made it! After a long day of design hunting, there’s no better balm than a dip in Iceland’s Blue Lagoon. Relax, you’ve earned it.

Photo: Mike Chino

Learn more about DesignMarch here.


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