Eldvarm Encounters: Monique and Staffan Tollgard

For this edition of our Eldvarm Encounters series we chatted to Staffan and Monique Tollgard, of Tollgard Design Group in London. Having both started their careers in film, this husband and wife design duo share a vibrant commitment to storytelling which translates seamlessly to their design philosophy, seeking to tell their clients’ stories within the spaces they curate. Join us as we learn more about their inspirations, design process and why they think of the fire as ‘a functional sculpture at its most essential.’ 

Can you give us a short background as to how you came to establish your design studio with your wife, Monique?

STAFFAN: The Tollgard studio was born in 2005. Our shared backgrounds in feature film and documentary-making laid the foundation for our new endeavour. Together, we are committed to the power of storytelling, sharing the narrative of the people, places, and pieces in each space we would curate.

You are now based in London but you and Monique are from Sweden and South Africa respectively. Do these different places have different design cultures that inspire you?

STAFFAN: Our distinctively different cultures each bring a unique energy to our work. For me, the Scandinavian notion of the ‘Red Thread’ or creative DNA in each project provides a lens through which to create and curate each space. Monique’s childhood spent between Johannesburg and London ignited a lifelong love of travel and a fascination with how different cultures answer questions of living. These two principles run in tandem through each of our projects, effortlessly balancing form, function, purpose, and passion.

What is one book that you always share with friends and family, and what is your favourite book on design?

STAFFAN: The Secret History by Donna Tartt. It’s a book I have read many times and that I know I’ll never get tired of.

MONIQUE: The Goldfinch – also by Donna Tartt – is one that I find myself remembering in all sorts of settings. Her books have the ability to worm very deeply into your soul. In terms of design, I’d recommend Lily Bernheimer’s The Shaping of Us. It’s a brilliant reflection on how a space’s structure can stimulate our lives.

We like to think that collectibles connect us to memories and people from the past.   What is your most precious item that you have in your home and why?

MONIQUE: We very much agree with this philosophy, for each of us these treasures hold magical memories  and evoke emotion every time we look at them. One such treasure for us would be the jade inukshuk we brought home from Canada. We have a collection of green stones that started when my grandparents gave us a sculpture for our wedding present. The inukshuk is a man-made collection of stones used by the Inuit as a way of navigating or marking the landscape. It looks very human, is beautifully tactile, and is one of the nicest words to say in any language I’ve ever come across. In our glass cabinet it sits next to the leopard-stone head, gently reminding us of the path home, and the importance of family.

What first attracted you to our range and what is your favourite product? 

STAFFAN: We first fell in love with Eldvarm’s Scandinavian simplicity. Beautiful and functional pieces that would help people connect and bring life to a ritual that means so much to us personally – the fire. Our favourite piece would have to be the Emma Basket, we love its versatility. Housed in this steel vessel are the ingredients for the perfect fire as well as the opportunity for additional and easy storage for busy families.

How do you begin your design process when approaching a new project?

MONIQUE: Each project begins with the clients. This space is a reflection of their lives and their needs – past, present, and future. Our challenge begins in getting to know them as soon as possible. We’ve developed a client wish list – a mixture of needs, desires, and objectives – that allows us to understand the different people that make up the residence and try and tease out what it is each of them needs and wants for this new iteration of home. We ask lots of questions about design but also about hobbies, rituals, and spaces that they need to be interesting people and a connected family. We heatmap their existing home to see which spaces are over or under used and then make sure this functional map is more logically expressed in the new layouts.

Do you have any predictions of design trends we can expect to see more of in the future?

Whenever I’m asked this question – my response is always affirming. We don’t believe in trends, but we are excited to see what the future brings. If the style is right for the person, architecture, and setting, it is right. For us 2023 will be about exploring utility and function within the home. With a greater focus on design that looks beautifully simple but feels meticulously articulated.

The four pillars of Eldvarm are Love, Beauty, Generosity, and Vulnerability. Which of these words speaks to you the most and why?

Generosity. While all three of these pillars are key ingredients in great design and a fulfilled life, to give is to be human. We never want to lose sight of the human element. Looking beyond the material, we believe in generosity of the spirit and will always seek to offer our clients, colleagues, and everyone we connect with, our time and understanding.

We believe that the fireplace is the heart(h) of the home, where memories and stories are created and shared. Do you have a favourite memory of being around the fireplace?

A fireplace is so much more than a piece of furniture or an architectural decision. It is a ritual that you add to your home and your life. Now that we live out in Beaconsfield the ritual starts with gathering wood from the garden; continues with cleaning out the fireplace, moves to the making of a new fire and finally the feeling of it slowly warming the house. The ritual is something that connects me not just with warming my family, but with the outside and natural world as well. Fire has been at the heart of the home even before we moved into dwellings – it is part of our DNA to feel secure and safe in its light and warmth. A fire is alive. It moves, smells, crackles, and needs fuel like any living creature. This is why we like to tend to them and nurture them. This active exercise connects us more strongly to home as a verb rather than a noun. It is a functional sculpture at its most essential.

On a little side note, we are looking now to expand our range at Eldvarm, so do you have a product that you wish Eldvarm would make?

We were very much inspired by Eldvarm’s showcase at Maison earlier this year, the floral displays felt like spring. It would be great to see the collection expressed in this way, creating homes for flora and fauna alike. Each piece, bringing warmth and winter closer to spring and sun.

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