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An insider’s guide to Stockholm’s secret design spots

The Local spent a day with Stockholm-based interior architect Elena Ramirez, exploring the design gems it’s taken her seven years to curate.

An insider’s guide to Stockholm’s secret design spots
Photo: Elena in På andra våningen

Elena Ramirez has a keen eye for beautiful things. The Spanish interior architect, who designs window displays for Swedish retailer H&M, has been in Stockholm since 2012 when she came to study at Sweden’s University of Arts, Crafts and Design. She fell for the city (and her Swedish fiancé) and soon enough Stockholm became home.

The last seven years have been a journey of discovery for Elena. If Swedish interior design – which is popular the world over thanks to the likes of IKEA, furniture designer Bruno Mathsson and textile designer Stig Lindberg – is chalk, then Spanish interior design is cheese.

Elena Ramirez

“In Spain, people don’t spend time inside. There’s a lot of black and grey terasso and the furniture is very thick – you inherit things from your family but things you don’t want. Your mum would come after you if you don’t keep it! It’s very different here in Sweden,” Elena tells The Local.

READ ALSO: An architect’s guide to Gothenburg

Suburban design

Elena suggests getting out of the city centre and into the suburbs to seek out everyday Swedish design. Where the locals live, where they eat and drink and socialise, is where you’ll find a more authentic design experience.

Telefonplan, a suburb to the southwest of Stockholm, was developed in the 1950s to house workers at the then-nearby Ericsson factory. Purpose-built apartment blocks in ochre yellow, mint and pink, known as funkis, line the wide, straight (and impeccably clean) streets.

Flower shop in Midsommarkransen

On the corner of Valborgsmässovägen, a two-minute walk from Telefonplan metro station, is AB Café, a popular neighbourhood cafe owned by two local interior architects.

“It’s a very nice local cafe,” says Elena. “I think many people from the area congregate here. In summer, it has a lot of outdoor space so people sit on the grass and benches. In winter, it’s super cosy.”

It’s quintessentially Swedish, she notes, down to the trays the sandwiches are served on and the ceramics out of which you drink your coffee.

“There are a lot of little details. It’s a good place to get a feel for a typical Stockholm suburb. The decor is typically Swedish. A lot of leather with wood, warm tones and plenty of greenery.”

AB Café in Telefonplan

READ ALSO: A fashion entrepreneur’s tips for design-hungry travellers in Northern Sweden

Although Elena describes AB Cafe as “typically Swedish”, she admits that Swedish interior design has become somewhat harder to define in recent years. There are still traces of the pared-down monochrome aesthetic that the world classes as ‘Scandinavian’ but in recent years Swedish design has begun to evolve.

“You can go many ways,” says Elena. “You have the typical white walls, grey couch, very black and white and minimalistic. For me, Swedish design is the layer on top of that. Like the warmth of the textiles and when people work their interiors a bit more. I think a lot of people are evolving now and they are a bit bored of muted tones.”

Combining retro furniture with people-sized plants and other modern touches, AB Café exemplifies this emerging interior trend. It’s what Elena describes as “Scandinavia but also loppis world”, referencing the many loppisar (flea markets) that pop up across Sweden in the spring and summer.

På andra våningen in Midsommarkransen

På andra våningen, a beautifully-arranged and carefully-curated second hand shop, is a short walk from AB Café. Elena’s a regular and greets owner Rickard, who is enjoying the Stockholm sun seated in a bamboo chair on the sidewalk, with a friendly hug.

“The character of someone influences how they design,” she comments, after. “Warm people like warm spaces, they appreciate certain details.”

The store is a modern, fresh space on the corner of a residential road. The plain walls and floor let the goods take centre stage. A vintage Gucci umbrella hangs from the ceiling; the whole store is a thoughtfully-displayed jumble with splashes of Svenskt Tenn and colourful Swedish porcelain.

Each piece, Rickard explains, has been personally picked by him or his wife. The couple frequent house clearances, flea markets, auctions in the countryside and Stockholm-based auction house Bukowski’s. The selection is also available online and ships internationally – “90 percent goes abroad,” he says.

På andra våningen in Midsommarkransen

READ ALSO: A fashion designer’s guide to Stockholm’s most stylish spots

Stroll around Södermalm

A short journey on the metro and you’ll arrive on Södermalm, an island best known for its independent stores and cafes, retro clothes shops and, admittedly, a few hipsters.

Wherever hipsters dwell, there tends to be a lineup of book shops that would sate even the most selective readers and Södermalm doesn’t disappoint. Independent bookstore Konst-ig (a play on words: konst meaning art, konstig meaning strange) specialises in art, design, architecture and photography. And with its boxy display cabinets and hand-sketched wall art, it really looks the part, too.

“I love the selection. It’s always peaceful to come here. It’s never too packed and very calm. I like the way they curate things and you often discover things you won’t find online,” Elena says while flicking through a book on local Stockholm ateliers.

Elena browsing books in Konst-ig

Stroll from Konst-ig to nearby Steinsland Berliner gallery, a small independent art gallery on Bondegatan. Natural light floods in to the spartan space through near-floor-to-ceiling windows. It’s artsy but not pretentious with an exciting programme of emerging Scandinavian artists.

“I think it’s interesting to explore Swedish art on a smaller scale,” says Elena. “If you only go to the big galleries, they only display artists that are already big. It’s important to find fresh emerging talent.”

Steinslands Berliner Gallery

On to a spot of lunch at Savant Bar, a cafe and natural wine bar on Tegnérgatan in Norrmalm. It’s thoroughly Stockholm: chic but not fancy, rustic but still slick. The decor is typically Swedish in two senses of the expression: it’s both cool and entirely recycled, explains bar owner Markus Welin.

“Our whole bar is built on sustainability,” he says. “There’s no plastic, we’ve done everything with pre-used materials. All the wood is from an old house up north and all the metal is from old exhaust pipes. We’ve taken these things and given them a new perspective.”

Savant Bar

To wind up the day, a wander around the recently refurbished National Museum. Sweden’s museum of art and design displays over 5,000 pieces of art from six centuries. The 150-year-old building, designed by Prussian architect Friedrich August Stüler (who designed Berlin’s Neues Museum), is well worth a visit in itself.

The last stop of the day is ‘Stockholm’s most intricately-designed restaurant’, conveniently located in the National Museum. Some of Sweden’s leading designers have come together to furnish and design the space under the management of Swedish designer Matti Klenell. The restaurant is both functional and attractive – two salient qualities of Swedish design – and the product of collaboration, which is a cornerstone of Swedish society.

READ ALSO: An industrial designer’s guide to Malmö’s thriving design scene

Photo: National Museum/Pia Ulin

“It’s a very good representation of how different artists who have been invited to collaborate have created a warm space full of details,” says Elena, sipping a locally brewed beer. “Everything, even the ceramics, have been specially created for the restaurant. It’s a space for everyone.”

This content was produced by The Local Creative Studio and sponsored by Visit Sweden.

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MONEY

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

If you're visiting Italy from outside the EU you risk running up a huge phone bill in roaming charges - but there are ways to keep your internet access while avoiding being hit by extra charges.

How to avoid huge ‘roaming’ phone bills while visiting Italy

Travelling without access to the internet is almost impossible these days. We use our phones for mapping applications, contacting the Airbnb, even scanning the QR code for the restaurant menu.

If you’re lucky enough to have a phone registered in an EU country then you don’t need to worry, thanks to the EU’s cap on charges for people travelling, but people visiting from non-EU countries – which of course now includes the UK – need to be careful with their phone use abroad.

First things first, if you are looking to avoid roaming charges, be sure to go into your settings and turn off “data roaming.” Do it right before your plane lands or your train arrives – you don’t want to risk the phone company in your home country starting the clock on ‘one day of roaming fees’ without knowing it.

READ ALSO: Ten ways to save money on your trip to Italy this summer

But these days travelling without internet access can be difficult and annoying, especially as a growing number of tourist attractions require booking in advance online, while restaurants often display their menus on a QR code.

So here are some techniques to keep the bills low.

Check your phone company’s roaming plan

Before leaving home, check to see what your phone plan offers for pre-paid roaming deals.

For Brits, if you have a phone plan with Three for example, you can ask about their “Go Roam” plan for add-on allowance. You can choose to pay monthly or as you go. Vodafone offers eight day and 15 day passes that are available for £1 a day.

For Americans, T-Mobile offers you to add an “international pass” which will charge you $5 per day. Verizon and AT&T’s roaming plans will charge you $10 per day. For AT&T, you are automatically opted into this as soon as your phone tries to access data abroad.

READ ALSO: Seven things to do in Italy in summer 2022

These all allow you to retain your normal phone number and plan.

Beware that these prices are only available if you sign up in advance, otherwise you will likely be facing a much bigger bill for using mobile data in Italy. 

Buy a pre-paid SIM card

However, if you are travelling for a longer period of time it might work out cheaper to turn off your phone data and buy a pre-paid SIM card in Italy.

In order to get a pre-paid SIM card, you will need your passport or proof of identity (drivers’ licences do not count).

READ ALSO: TRAVEL: Why now’s the best time to discover Italy’s secret lakes and mountains

Keep in mind that you will not be able to use your normal phone number with the new SIM card in, but will be able to access your internet enabled messaging services, like WhatsApp, Facebook and iMessage. Your phone will need to be ‘unlocked’ (ask your carrier about whether yours is) in order to put a new SIM card in.

Here are some of the plans you can choose from:

WindTre

WindTre, the result of a 2020 merger between the Italian company Wind and the UK network provider Three, currently offers a “Tourist Pass” SIM card for foreign nationals. For €24.99 (it’s sneakily marketed as €14.99, but read the small print and you’ll see you need to fork out an additional €10), you’ll have access to 20GB of data for up to 30 days.

The offer includes 100 minutes of calls within Italy plus an additional 100 minutes to 55 foreign countries listed on the WindTre website. Up to 13.7GB can be used for roaming within the EU. The card is automatically deactivated after 30 days, so there’s no need to worry about surprise charges after you return from your holiday. To get this SIM card, you can go into any WindTre store and request it.

A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.
A tourist protects herself from the sun with a paper umbrella as she walks at Piazza di Spagna near the Spanish Steps in Rome.

Vodafone

Vodafone has had better deals in the past, but lately appears to have downgraded its plan for tourists, now called “Vodafone Holiday” (formerly “Dolce Vita”), to a paltry 2GB for €30. You get a total of 300 minutes of calls and 300 texts to Italian numbers or to your home country; EU roaming costs €3 per day.

Existing Vodafone customers can access the offer by paying €19 – the charge will be made to your Vodafone SIM within 72 hours of activating the deal. 

READ ALSO: MAP: The best Italian villages to visit this year

The Vodafone Holiday offer automatically renews every four weeks for €29 – in order to cancel you’ll need to call a toll-free number. The Vodafone website says that the €30 includes the first renewal, suggesting the payment will cover the first four weeks plus an additional four after that, but you’ll want to double check before buying. You’ll need to go to a store in person to get the card.

TIM

TIM is one of Italy’s longest-standing and most well-established network providers, having been founded in 1994 following a merger between several state-owned companies.

The “Tim Tourist” SIM card costs €20 for 15GB of data and 200 minutes of calls within Italy and to 58 foreign countries, and promises “no surprises” when it comes to charges.

You can use the full 15GB when roaming within the EU at no extra charge, and in the EU can use your minutes to call Italian numbers. The deal is non-renewable, so at the end of the 30 days you won’t be charged any additional fees.

READ ALSO: MAP: Which regions of Italy have the most Blue Flag beaches?

To access the offer, you can either buy it directly from a TIM store in Italy, or pre-order using an online form and pay with your bank card. Once you’ve done this, you’ll receive a PIN which you should be able to present at any TIM store on arrival in Italy (along with your ID) to collect your pre-paid card. The card won’t be activated until you pick it up.

Iliad

Iliad is the newest and one of the most competitive of the four major phone companies operating in Italy, and currently has an offer of 120GBP of €9.99 a month. For this reason, some travel blogs recommend Iliad as the best choice for foreigners – but unfortunately all of their plans appear to require an Italian tax ID, which rules it out as an option for tourists.

Contract

Though buying a pre-paid SIM card is a very useful option for visitors spending a decent amount of time in Italy, as mentioned above, there’s a significant different difference between buying a one-time pre-paid SIM versus a monthly plan that auto-renews.

Make sure you know which one you’re signing up for, and that if you choose a plan that will continue charging you after your vacation has ended, you remember to cancel it.

UK contracts

If you have a UK-registered mobile phone, check your plan carefully before travelling. Before Brexit, Brits benefited from the EU cap on roaming charges, but this no longer applies.

Some phone companies have announced the return of roaming charges, while others have not, or only apply roaming charges only on certain contracts.

In short, check before you set off and don’t assume that because you have never been charged extra before, you won’t be this time.

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