String® is a chic Scandinavian shelving system made to adapt and change as you do without having to discard what you purchase. The system can easily expand from one person to two to a family of four thanks to its mutable and scalable design built to “stand the test of time”.
We interview the miraculous String® system founder and owner Peter Erlandsson to learn more about the company’s 70 year heritage, the Scandinavian community that manufactures the product and why the String® shelving system is so popular with young city dwellers today.
Nichelle Cole: I would describe String as a product you can transition into anything.
Peter Erlandsson: Yes, it’s modular. You can fit basically what you want, almost.
Nichelle Cole: Exactly, I think some of the most impressive things I’ve seen is how you can create a desk and then change and add shelving or you can switch it out because the pieces sort of connect. But is there a limitation in the color?
Peter Erlandsson: Maybe you can’t really get what you want for color always but of course if there is an architect that wants something special for a project we can do custom-made stuff. And normally the big things, the Big String system as we call it, you can get quite a range of different colors. White, beige, grey, black stained ash, walnut oak ash, metal range outdoor grey. And sometimes we will do some wild colors for the shelves.
Nichelle Cole: I would describe the color options as very warm and natural in tone.
Peter Erlandsson: I agree. It’s Scandinavian heritage from 1949 so we think minimalistic. In Scandinavia white is big, beige is getting big, maybe if you go down south in Germany maybe the darker is a little bit bigger because people feel it looks more exclusive.
The String system started out in the United States with the white, grey, and black but now they are actually adding walnut and oak and taking away the grey which I think is good even if I like the grey, I think it is better promotionally for them.
Nichelle Cole: Just for context, at The Fashion Plate we look at different forms of sustainability from upcycled to slow design to more customized bespoke and limited-edition pieces which I would consider String to be, if you agree. But I’d like to clarify do you offer limited editions?
Peter Erlandsson: Sometimes we do limited edition. But I think sustainability, – the most sustainable thing about us is actually how this is kind of a classic Scandinavian icon you don’t have to change if you buy. You can keep it and you can add to it.
We are not in the fashion business. Some furniture companies are going towards fashion like some of the new Danish brands, I shouldn’t mention anyone, they come out with so much stuff and the next year new stuff. We don’t do that, we have a classic iconic Scandinavian system we develop cautiously. We added things like shoe shelves a year ago so we can be in play within the hallway and we are adding rods and hooks and things for glasses to this system but we try to be a little cautious about it because it’s a heritage to take care of this string system.
And so sustainability for us is the materials and where we source them but also that people buy this and they keep it.
Nichelle Cole: In terms of your supply chain is it transparent? Is it clear where you source your materials and who makes the actual items? Or do you find that you must go to different countries to have things produced?
Peter Erlandsson: Everything is produced in Sweden. I know that for example the veneer for the oak is coming from Europe and the walnut sometimes comes from the United States, but everything in the building for the string system is actually made in Sweden.
Nichelle Cole: What may drive you to go outside of Sweden for resources or materials? Is it that you want to experiment with new materials or you need a more commercial material and you go to other countries?
Peter Erlandsson: If we can avoid it we would like to stay in Sweden and buy everything. Mostly we buy everything in Sweden.
Nichelle Cole: For your production do you have different artisanal houses? Do you go to one place for the staining of the wood and somewhere else for the finishing of the products?
Peter Erlandsson: When we do these shelves, the cabinets, and stuff the main producer is a big factory in Sweden which does everything actually. And everything is done down south in Sweden. We prefer to be in Sweden because we know the owner, we phone him up, and we can go there in three hours and talk with him. We can also get timed shipments, and this makes the price affordable to young people and that’s one of our strengths.
I think the strength of the String, we have a history of 1949, is that we get into the stores we want to get into globally and we are still affordable for young people.
Nichelle Cole: So for young people in New York who buy their first apartment and it’s a small space because it’s New York is there someone who could consult with them for design? Or do you use images? I saw a lot of images online.
Peter Erlandsson: We really focus on making a lot of good photo shoots, we have a good stylist and she works with top brands and we have a good art director, and we try to be inspirational a little crazy and a little edgy with the photos.
And to help the consumer when they take a String system home we have this tool on our website called “Build your own String” where you can drag and drop and put your panels in and build whatever you want.
You can put in your dimensions for your apartment?
Peter Erlandsson: Well no, I know what you mean, we should, we’ll get to that stage where you build a wall and you tell how big is the wall but for now the tool has the string dimensions, how high it is and how wide it is, and all the articles that you pick comes up with prices. Some of our dealers include this tool into their e-commerce platform so you can just buy. It makes it easier.
Nichelle Cole: You can change the colors etc in the tool?
Peter Erlandsson: Yes, you can change the color – it is a quite easy tool.
Nichelle Cole: And your photo shoots? They are very inspiring, I know it helps too.
Peter Erlandsson: We do normal photos but we also do a little edge something, a little half crazy. (laughs) We did a photo shoot with mushrooms and sand as an anniversary project. String is turning 70 years old this year and we did a photo shoot theme called “Standing the hard test of time”. It is telling people whatever happens the String shelf is still there even when nature comes in.
The string shelving system is a simple system but we take these pictures to show people what you can do with it. This is quite important to us.
Nichelle Cole: Well too the ability to change the scale whether you have a small space or a large space, would you say it contributes to your success?
Peter Erlandsson: Very much. Also as you said in New York and all other big cities people live in very tight small apartments and the thing with String people maybe don’t realize for instance the big system like a Super String you see right through it and you don’t feel it and that is a really big strength. The global trend towards big cities, people moving to big cities and small apartments, that’s actually very good for us.
Nichelle Cole: When it comes to where the pieces are produced have you had a chance to see what the community is like and what the people are like? Is design a big part of the community or is it more industrial?
Peter Erlandsson: It’s more industrial. These are very small villages and it is like a cluster of suppliers. We sent actually a very top photographer from Sweden, Stockholm, actually he was taking photos of the Swedish king and queen. The photos capture a really authentic feeling.
Nichelle Cole: Does String help to sustain the villages and the community?
Peter Erlandsson: Well factories have more than one client and even though String is quite big, for example there is a factory that makes this for us (touches a small metal piece on the table), if that factory closes down that village will close down, it is that kind of relationship. So yes we are the biggest client for that factory and we help them and they help the community definitely.
Nichelle Cole: Was that part of your strategy or did it sort of work out that way? Which is a cool thing!
Peter Erlandsson: I wouldn’t say it was a part of our strategy we were looking for quality producers and there aren’t that many left in Sweden. In the wooden industry it’s not that easy to find really good players.
Nichelle Cole: Why do you think that is?
Peter Erlandsson: It was the trend but the trend is coming back. Ten years ago everyone moved to China to produce and Swedish companies opened production subsidiaries from China but now the trend is going the other way so now I think there is hope. Also there is more (broad) interest of Scandinavian design and there are a lot of Scandinavian brands that still produce a lot in Sweden.
Nichelle Cole: For the staging at Salone del Mobile you used a lot of collaborators?
Peter Erlandsson: Yes, normally the sofas etc., we borrow from friends in the industry but some of the tables and chairs were made by our stylist for the photo shooting and we have them for the display and people are asking about them.
Nichelle Cole: Do you think you might move into other parts of interior design?
Peter Erlandsson: That’s an interesting question, let me tell you how we got started. We really re-started the String brand in 2005, my wife had a store where we live in South of Sweden and a person came in to buy String shelves in 2004 in November. String began in the late 40s and it was very big in the 50s and 60s until 73 then it kind of disappeared. Someone tried to restart it at the end of the 90s in 1998 to 2004.
This girl comes in and wants to buy string shelves and my wife says maybe I can fix something for you let me phone my husband – because I worked a little in the furniture business, but not much – so she phoned me up, ‘do you know where I can buy string shelves?’, and I’d heard about the producer that tried to restart String so I phoned them up and said can I buy String and they said yes but they also told me they went bankrupt the week before, not because of String but because of other stuff.
Out of curiosity I phoned the bankruptcy lawyer just to get information and during the telephone call I thought ‘this is something quite interesting’ so I asked if I could buy the String part and they said no we want to sell everything back to the old company but since it is bankrupt the contract is broken and the architect can decide for a new producer so I phoned him up and told him we want to do this instead of the other guy and he said yes. So it is really by chance that we got into the business. And we’ve been the fastest growing Swedish furniture company since 2005.
So anything is possible.