Karin Mobring was a furniture designer. The furniture she designed for IKEA has been spread in thousands around the world and brings in high prices at auctions.
Karin Mobring was born in Östersund. She showed artistic talents and her parents Arvid Persson and Helga Persson, née Olsén, encouraged her to apply to the art college Konstfackskolan (now Konstfack) in Stockholm. She started studying there but discontinued her studies in order to start instead at Carl Malmsten’s Verkstadsskola. There she learned above all a feeling for form. Furniture should have a soft, inviting image and be pleasant to the body. The teaching at the workshop school combined practical exercises and reflective conversations. During the weekends, Carl Malmsten undertook excursions with his pupils. They acquired knowledge about different sorts of wood, and via practical exercises their feeling for form was firmly anchored in their touch.
Karin Mobring’s training with Carl Malmsten lasted for three years. In 1950, the school moved to the newly built Hantverkshuset in Stockholm. Georg Bolin, the well-known instrument builder was the school’s principal. The pupils were able to aim at qualified handicraft or industrial enterprise and also qualify as master craftspeople.
After qualifying at Carl Malmsten’s Verkstadsskola and after her mother’s death in 1949, Karin Mobring moved back to Östersund, to help her father among other things. He was a constructional engineer who designed blocks of flats, houses and offices for private clients. He also undertook extensions, reconstructions, and renovation projects in churches, among other things to restore original paintings and colours. Karin Mobring helped to design the colours of exteriors and interiors, and with the selection of wallpaper and furniture. She continued with this after her father’s death. She also designed furniture.
In 1964, Ingvar Kamprad, IKEA’s founder and owner, saw a wooden armchair designed by Karin Mobring for a competitor to IKEA. He was enchanted by the chair. Karin Mobring has recounted how she was rung up by a staff administrator at IKEA who wondered if she knew the name of the largest furniture producer in Sweden. Nordiska Kompaniet (NK), thought Karin Mobring, wrongly, since it was already IKEA. Despite her mistake, she was invited to meet Ingvar Kamprad. The meeting led to her being employed the same year. In IKEA’s internal information pamphlet in 1964, one may read: “An ever greater proportion of Möbel-IKEA’s collections consists of our own models and designs. As the future person in charge of decisions and also this field, Karin Mobring was appointed on 01 09 64. She is hereby welcomed most heartily to the company and we wish her all success in her important assignment.”
In connection with the Elmia Trade Fair in Jönköping in 1966 on the theme of summer cottages, a jury selection of new leisure furniture was made. Brita Åkerman, the temporary Managing Director for the Swedish crafts association Svenska slöjdföreningen (later Svensk form), and Erik Berglund, responsible for the association’s furniture function surveys, were on the jury. Karin Mobring’s folding chair Vika with brass fittings, her armchair Ekerö and table Ekerö as well as a number of other IKEA furniture were included in the selection.
The furniture designed by Karin Mobring in the mid-1960s in beech and pine were well in tune with the youthful, easy-going style that was in fashion then. The geometrically distinctive construction of the furniture associates to the concept fundamental. However the idiom was dainty, friendly and gentle. No sharp edges, in accordance with Carl Malmsten’s mantra. She also succeeded in smuggling in visually almost imperceptible details that increased the furniture’s comfort and usefulness, such as a small rim up on the dresser Bohus to stop objects from falling onto the floor, or a support to hold onto when getting up from a sofa. Karin Mobring had a sure instinct for form and material. With simple means, she gave furniture an extra value. The furniture filled the needs that young home-makers could be thought to have.
Through her and other designers, IKEA avoided accusations of bad quality, copies and design that depended on other sources, otherwise recurrent criticism against the company during the 1950s. Karin Mobring’s furniture was mentioned with respect, but interviews with her and newspaper articles were extremely rare. She always kept in the background and did not draw attention to herself, despite her skilfulness. She and her brother Per Arne Mobring inherited their home in Frösön in 1958 when their father died. Her brother worked as an art teacher in Uppsala and Eskilstuna. It was mainly Karin Mobring who lived i the old house that hailed from the end of the 1700s. In the grounds, there was also a cottage. Karin Mobring’s parents had collected old, rural-style furniture, a source of inspiration for her work. She did not want her deal table Stabil for IKEA for example to be varnished. It was to be untreated and scrubbed with soap as was done in old rural homes. Plastic furniture just did not exist for her.
In Frösön, Karin Mobring lived a very retiring and anonymous life. Wild flowers, nature, music and literature filled her life. Her friends were mainly colleagues from IKEA. Only once did a delegation from IKEA, led by Ingvar Kamprad, come visiting. She worked one week a month in Älmhult with her colleagues, with the carpenters, constructors, product group and buyers. The rest of the time, she lived at Frösön and worked there on design drawings for new furniture. Her armchair Ingrid with a moulded frame and the baby’s high chair Peggy came out in 1966; the coffee table Karusell and the Windsor chair Torpet in 1968; the chair Amiral with its seat and back of leather and stainless steel frame in 1970; the safari chair Diana in pine and canvas in 1972 and the table Stabil in 1973. In 1972, she launched the restful armchair Krumelur with a simple metal frame over which firehose fabric had been fitted. The back cushionHej and seat cushion Svejs contained polyether flock. The striped cotton upholstery Strax was designed by the textile designer Inez Svensson. The chair was shown on the IKEA catalogue’s cover that year. The target group was the younger generation that had become an important client group for IKEA. In 1977, her armchair Natura in leather and wood came on the market.
When IKEA decided to complement their youthful collection with furniture aimed at an older generation, Karin Mobring cooperated with Tomas Jelinek to create the successful and carefully thought-through series Stockholm, presented in 1984. Karin Mobring’s high armchair is one of the series’ star items. It was carefully designed in the minutest detail in a style that would probably never become modern, a comfortable armchair intended for older customers.
In 1993, Karin Mobring retired and stopped working at IKEA. She lived permanently at Frösön afterwards, in her parents’ old home. Having no heirs, Karin Mobring decided to will the profits from her property to the Fistula hospital 500 miles west of Addis Abeba in Ethiopia. Via a children’s doctor in Östersund she had come to learn about the problems that could afflict young girls in the Ethiopian rural areas. Every year, the hospital receives 25,000 kronor from Karin Mobring’s fund, administered by the Swedish-Ethiopian Association. The money is earmarked for women’s and children’s healthcare.
Karin Mobring died in 2005. A little meadow and strip of the shore at Frösön have been named after her.