A Star Swedish Designer Ventures Into Real Estate Projects


Stockholm — There is a lack of color but not warmth inside the design studio of Lotta Agaton, a high-profile Stockholm stylist and interior designer who is currently in a period of pale gray, beige and greige.

Every detail in the cozy studio is styled in the same calm palette with only black and white accents — no rose-gold MacBooks or turquoise markers in sight. Even the all-female design team is dressed in coordinating neutral hues. The sole interloper, a dusty-red book jacket, is squirreled beneath a desk.

This desaturated color scheme has become a signature for Ms. Agaton, who is circumspect about calling it a trend.

“There’s more to it than we think,” she said. “I think it has to do with the politics and the time. The mood reflects the society.”

A former magazine stylist, Ms. Agaton, 48, is today among the most influential interior design figures in Sweden, where she is as well known for her client roster as for her social media following (currently over 100,000 on Instagram). She’s styled campaigns — for String Furniture, Ikea, Herman Miller — and designed interiors for private residences around the world.

On a snowy morning this spring, I met the veteran stylist at her studio, a bright street-level space in western Stockholm beside a tree-lined canal with views of the 17th-century Karlberg Palace.

Large windows face the water where, when it’s warm, Ms. Agaton keeps an olive-green Smartboat 23, a purchase made last summer in France with her partner, Fredrik Wallner. After recently moving to a studio apartment nearby, her life is now consolidated on this peaceful portion of Kungsholmen, the island where she grew up.

Before transitioning to styling, the autodidactic designer began her career working at her father’s architecture firm. But she didn’t inherit his sense of style.

“Tomorrow we’re presenting three concepts with kitchens and bathrooms for one of the biggest property developers in Sweden,” she said, nodding at a conference table arranged with fabric swatches and samples of natural wood and neutral colors to be used in apartments by Magnolia Bostad, a Swedish housing developer.

In Sweden, she said, “wood is what we have, and light is what we need,” a mantra that clearly informs the design process, which recently expanded into real estate.

The studio’s first real estate project was a high-end redevelopment of Karlaplan 2, a former telegraph station with a prime location in Stockholm’s desirable Ostermalm district.

“Lotta Agaton was already very well known as a fabulous interior designer and had just the right style for this project,” said Richard Lagerling, the real estate agent responsible for marketing and selling the property.

Completed last year, the 17 luxury apartments featured chevron oak floors, custom kitchens and large marble bathrooms.

“We sold out all the units in a very short time and at the same time we broke the record of highest average price per square meter for a residential project in Sweden,” Mr. Lagerling said, noting that sales averaged over 155,000 Swedish kronor per square meter (over $16,100 per square meter or about $1,000 per square foot at current conversion rates).

But the properties for which Ms. Agaton is perhaps most well known — at least among her social media followers — are her own apartments, which have been featured in magazine spreads and shared widely on interior design blogs, Pinterest and Instagram.

“First I had this home that was really white,” Ms. Agaton said, referring to a spacious fin-de-siècle apartment in central Stockholm that she shared with Mr. Wallner and their respective children. “And when we did that, everyone was like, ‘Oh, it’s like being in a hospital.’”

Despite the critics, Pinterest was soon flooded with similarly stark, all-white Scandinavian homes.

In 2016, when images appeared of her next apartment, a dramatic lair on the island of Sodermalm featuring walls, moldings and ceilings painted dark gray, the radical shift set the Scandinavian blogosphere abuzz.

“I was shocked,” she said of the attention paid to the specific shade of gray (called Vallmofro, or Poppy Seed, for those wondering). “It’s crazy, but that’s Instagram.”

An early adopter of the social media platform, Ms. Agaton initially started an Instagram account simply to see what her children — Viktor, now 24, and Filippa, now 21 — were up to.

“In the beginning, it was more like a diary,” she said. “But then the more followers I got, it became too personal.”

She admitted that it is difficult to fathom the influence she has on followers, many of whom pore over every snapshot and inquire about every wall color.

“To me, that’s kind of a stupid question because everyone knows that you put filters on,” she said. “The wall color you see is not the actual wall color.”

As for her new studio apartment, she said she doesn’t plan to spotlight the home on social media as much, though some snapshots do occasionally slip into her feed.

“It’s pretty much as it is here,” she said, gesturing around the office. “It’s light walls and a lot of wood and a lot of natural color.”

Beyond the walls and the wood, there’s also a surprising amount of stuff for a self-described minimalist.

Around the office, ceramics, dried coral and neatly piled books are arranged in photo-ready vignettes. Fluffy pampas-grass bunches and dried tree branches sprout from bulbous Pallo vases. Large black-and-white photographs hang alongside designer light fixtures that can be identified by name — a statuesque white Atollo, a classic Flos Taccia, a side-leaning Snoopy.

“People think that I change everything because it looks so different,” she said. “But it’s just the small things I change, and the color palette, but that’s also how we work — very conceptual.”

“We always know what to do, but then again it’s always new,” said Pella Hedeby, a stylist who joined the studio after taking a course taught by Ms. Agaton at Beckmans College of Design, in Stockholm.