Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg was a textile artist who also served as head designer at Kasthall for a long time.
Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg was born in Stockholm in 1955. Her father was Ingmar Lagerhem, chief financial officer, and her mother was Inger Margareta, née Åvall. The family also included two other children, named Maria and Peter. Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg’s love of knitting, sewing, and crocheting developed when she was young. She attended Rudbecksskolan high school where she was the only pupil who took economic studies with an aesthetic focus, admittedly an unusual combination. She had very supportive teachers, who could see that she was naturally gifted. She was even entrusted with her own key to the art room, allowing her to investigate a range of materials in her own time.
After gaining her school-leaving certificate Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg began to attend evening courses at Konstfack (college of arts, crafts and design). She continued her studies at Grundskolan för konstnärlig utbildning (known as Grundis, preparatory school for art studies) and Nyckelviksskolan, a private art school. She then trained at Konstfack’s textile department. Following a break in her studies, during which she married Niklas Ullberg and gave birth to their daughter Anja, she graduated in 1983. Her family later grew to include Tone, born in 1986, and Tilde, born in 1993.
Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg began to work for IKEA and Nordiska Kompaniet’s (NK, Stockholm department store) rug department immediately on completing her studies. She also created rugs for Hemslöjden. She, along with former fellow students from Konstfack, exhibited her work at various galleries throughout Stockholm. In 1983 six textile artists got together to take on the Takstugan premises in Stockholm. Two years later Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg held an exhibition at Nya Designcenter displaying her black-and-white striped rugs decorated with coloured triangles.
Thirty years after the 1955 Hälsingborg exhibition – known as H55 – another exhibition was organised to which Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg and some other artists, all born in 1955, were invited. That same year she was awarded a stipend set up in memory of Astrid Sampe, followed later by a prize given out by Sköna Hem magazine. In 1989 Kulturhuset in Stockholm held a display called Ingenmansland showcasing the work of five ceramists and five textile artists. Further, when Riksteatern put on a production of Teskedsgumman in Södertälje Folkpark it was Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg who designed the costumes.
In 1987 Kasthall factory in Kinna was looking for a new designer who would be responsible for the artistic development of their rug production. Following the recommendations of the principal of Konstfack Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg was appointed to this post, instigating a new era at Kasthall. Her designs came to represent the majority of the factory’s classic selection of rugs, represented by items such as Moss, Fogg, and Häggå, and Tekla.
Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg designed ‘rya’ rugs, hand-tufted rugs, and bouclé rugs. She used wool, or a combination of wool and flax, weaving rugs in various patterns. A lot of her time was spent on working out how to get the weaving machines to produce something that had never before been produced. This was her constant goal, as well as allowing the random to occur, creating “the perfect mistake”. In fact, Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg preferred to work directly with the machines.
At NK she and fellow designer Kajsa Aronsson together showed how chenilles, dyes, and new rug designs were created. She also collaborated with Karin Ahlgren, interior designer, on a touring exhibition for which they constructed three rooms each inspired by a different expression. At the 1998 Utmärkt svensk form exhibition held at National museum Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg was awarded special merit for her collection of rugs called String. During the 2000s she began to meet interested individuals and customers in Kasthall’s shop in Stockholm when the company held open days.
Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg was inspired by Swedish handicrafts. Then, as she began to travel around the world, she started to mix in ideas from other cultures. For a time she designed silken cloths on behalf of a Swedish-Chinese company, leading her to visit Beijing and Mongolia. She also used her interest in gardens and the countryside around her summer house in Roslagen as inspiration to create new designs. The 2006 Stockholm Furniture Fair revealed that she had suddenly stopped producing her usual austere black-and-white designs which were now replaced with rugs inspired by the brocades of the 1950s, including interwoven threads of tinsel. In a newspaper interview she said she had longed for this, namely the unexpected.
In 2009 Sveriges Television aired a series of programmes dedicated to female designers, including one featuring Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg. The next year she designed a collection comprising three different rugs, Doris, Horisont, and Mistral. This was followed up by her next project, Herbarium, which involved a kaleidoscope-inspired pattern of dried flowers and plant bits. In 2011 the designs were shown on printed paper at Rosendal, and again three years later. Further, one of the patterns was turned into a rug.
Examples of Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg’s rugs can be seen at the royal palace, at Prins Eugens Waldemarsudde, the residence in Gothenburg, embassies, public buildings, and a number of private homes throughout the world. Her work is included in the collections at National museum, which owns a number of rugs, some curtain material, and a pattern design.
Although Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg developed breast cancer she continued to work, even when she was gravely ill. She was planning to use new colour combinations and designed rugs right up to the end of her life. One of her last creations was named Archipelago, which was displayed at Kasthall as a brand new item following her death.
Gunilla Lagerhem Ullberg died in 2015 at the age of 60. Her remains lie at the Woodland cemetery in Stockholm.