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Acton Bjorn & Sigvard Bernadotte

Acton Björn (1910-1992) was a Danish designer and architect. He was educated at the Art Academy in Copenhagen from 1931-33, and in 1933-34 participated in the construction of the Blidah residential buildings in Hellerup with Ivar Bentsen and George Berg. He partnered with Sigvard Bernadotte in 1950, creating in effect what was to become Denmark’s first studio for industrial design. His most well known designs were produced under this collaboration, a seminal series of melamine pouring/mixing bowl shapes called Margrethe which Dutch producer Rosti introduced to the marketplace in 1950. This design has endured well, and once again is in production. Björn’s work is vast, ranging from architecture to beer bottles, everyday tools to packaging, and electric irons and calculators to hospital toilet seats. In the 1960s he designed a sleek, yet under-appreciated stainless flatware service for Lundtofte in the Danish Modern tradition. From 1966-90 he led the Acton Bjørn studio single-handedly. Björn worked in Copenhagen for the majority, if not all, of his career. He passed away in 1992 at age 82.

Acton Bjorn also helped design the Bang & Olufsen Pickup Arm ST with Erik Rorbaek Madsen and helped develop the design skills of both Jacob Jensen and Jan Trägård.

Sigvard Bernadotte (07.06.1907 - 04.02.2002) was the second son of King Gustav VI Adolf of Sweden and Princess Margaret, and through his mother the great-grandchild of the English queen, Victoria. Although born prince he lost his title when he married his first wife, Erica Patzek, a commoner. He was given the title of Count by the Great-duchess of Luxembourg Josephine-Charlotte, daughter of his aunt Astrid, Queen of Belgium. In later years he attempted in vain to get his royal title back but settled for just asking to be called Prince Sigvard Bernadotte.

After studies in political science and art history at the University of Uppsala he started his design education at Konstfackskolan (Arts and Crafts’ School) which was at the time still called the Royal University College of Fine Arts, in Stockholm. He studied ornamental arts with Olle Hjortzberg but his first interest was that of the theatre and studied stage design in Munich. He subsequently did some stage work in Berlin and designed a number of posters and stage designs and art directed three Swedish films. Impressed by the work of US industrial designers such as Henry Dreyfuss, Raymond Loewy and Walter Dorwin Teague, whom he visited in the early 30s, he once again directed his talents and interests in design. He was a frequent visitor to Denmark where his sister was Queen. His second wife Sonja Robbert - a talented Danish fashion designer and artist - was yet another link with Denmark. He had a long design contract with Georg Jensen for whom he designed mostly silverware. The quality of that work was recognised by the New York Metropolitan Museum which holds a number of them in its Permanent Collection.

Before starting his own design office in Stockholm he was associated with Acton Björn in Copenhagen (see below). He also designed for Rosenthal. He was co-founder of the Swedish Industrial Designers Society (SID) and for several years (1961-1963) President of the International Council of Societies of Industrial Design (ICSID) where he had served on the board since 1957.

He published his biography in 1975 under the title: “Krona eller klave” (”Heads or tails”) and the Swedish editor Forum published in 2006 Tove Gyllenstierna’s “Designprinsen Sigvard Bernadotte” (”The design prince Sigvard Bernadotte”). Neither has yet been translated.

Sigvard Bernadotte was born in Ekerö (Drottningholms Castle) and passed away in Stockholm, Sweden, in 2002.

The Acton Bjorn & Sigvard Bernadotte Partnership

The Acton Bjorn & Sigvard Bernadotte industrial design consultancy was founded in 1950 in Copenhagen by the Swedish silversmith and industrial and furniture designer Sigvard Bernadotte and the Danish architect Acton Björn and was the first of its kind in Denmark. Along with Acton Bjorn he designed for Odhner and Rosti AS and a number of other Scandinavian companies like Facit, Nils Johan, AB Husqvarna Borstfabrik, NK, Pressalit and Bang & Olufsen (Beolit 500) as well as Dunlopillo. Their company also had offices in New York and Stockholm.

Bernadotte had visited the United States in 1950 and was impressed by American industrial design practice, later writing a book entitled ‘Industrial Design: Modern Industrial Formgiving’ (1953). Jacob Jensen was one of the company’s first employees, joining in 1952 and heading the studio from 1954. By the end of the decade the company had eighteen employees, several of them from overseas and was able to take on many commissions. Perhaps the most important of these were from Bang & Olufsen, a relationship which began in 1953 and included Bjorn’s design of the Beolit 500 portable radio of 1964. The partnership helped a number of other Scandinavian companies explore new materials, technologies and aesthetic possibilities although their client list was international. Such an outlook was first embraced in the simple, functional forms of the Margrethe series of melamine bowls from 1950. Bernadotte became the president of ICSID in 1961 and founded his own design studio in Stockholm in 1964 after the working partnership came to an end.

Bernadotte’s new Stockholm office then began designing for SAS Scandinavian Airlines, Volvo Penta , ASEA, Alfa Laval and Marabou; as well as the design of a video telephone for Ericsson in 1971 . With a new emphasis on ergonomics , function and design appearance, one of the most prestigious contracts to be awarded to him in 1972 was the design of a new underground light rail vehicle for the Stockholm subway.

A year later, due to the global recession of the time Bernadotte’s office was closed due to a lack of orders. Sigvard Bernadotte, however, never ceased to work as a designer and in 1997 he was still working at the ‘tender’ age of 90. He passed away in his 95th year.

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