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Staffan and Monique Tollgard

Family matters: how Staffan and Monique Tollgård create connection through design

Passionate about helping families live more meaningful and balanced lives at home, the husband-and-wife design team discuss minimalism, marriage, and the Scandinavian notion of red thread.

The story of how Staffan and Monique Tollgård met is like something from the movies, quite literally. He was a Swedish fledgling filmmaker, she a South African aspiring actress, the husband-and-wife duo behind design studio Tollgard met on a film set in 1999 and the rest, as they say, is history. “We joke our movie-making careers had to be sacrificed for the relationship to survive,” jokes Monique. “More than twenty years of marriage later, we feel we made the right call.”

Staffan and Monique Tollgård’s approach to interiors is perhaps best exemplified at this Danish island summer home, where the ‘red thread’ through the design is the visual and sensory connection with its natural setting

It was during a year’s sabbatical from filmmaking to study at Inchbald School of Design, following the renovation of their first home together, that Staffan was initially bitten by the design bug. “I followed a couple of years later, first to Inchbald and then into the company he started in 2005,” Monique tells Effect. Today it’s this common background that they believe characterises their work and carries through their commitment to the power of storytelling. Together, the pair have become increasingly interested in how to help families live more meaningful, balanced and connected lives by creating spaces and opportunities for family time and personal growth. “Music, reading, gardening, cooking, homework, games…these are some of the rituals that a well-planned house can design in,” continues Monique.

From humble beginnings—“when we started the company, Staffan was just six months out of design school”—the studio now counts a variety of renowned residential and retail projects among its impressive portfolio, and works for clients all over the world. “We have also grown a contract side of the business as well as ventured into product design with some award-winning designs for Porada, Gallotti & Radice and JAB,” Monique explains. “This year’s Salone del Mobile will see Giorgetti launch a new coffee table designed by Tollgard and Castellani, and we are beyond proud to be designing for them.” 

This residence in a Canary Wharf high rise blends a range of tonal contemporary furniture pieces with bold wallpaper and sculptural lighting

Describing their signature aesthetic as “a philosophical and functional imperative,” as a design practice, Tollgard aims to improve the quality of client’s lives by making, what they call, the best decisions they can. “By listening to them carefully, by weaving their stories into the fabric of the design and understanding not just what they want, but what they need, we can use these powerful functional, aesthetic, tactile and emotional tools to nurture and sustain family life,” Monique shares. 

As such, the team uses the Scandinavian principle of the ’red thread’ within every project, as a shorthand to describe the creative design DNA that runs through each, while ensuring all are unique. “This involves pulling together clues from the architecture, from the cultural history, environment, from the client’s own perspective and the questions of living that need to be solved by the design,” she adds. “The red thread draws a protective framework around the project, binding environment, architecture and identity.”

Tollgard Design Group started before our first son was born, so it’s our first and most challenging baby.

Monique Tollgård

This Northern European notion is evidenced by projects such as Fano, a Danish island summer home where the red thread was the visual and sensory connection with its natural setting. “This was expressed by fusing inside with outside, and using vernacular and true materials as simply as possible,” explains Monique. “Comfortable functional minimalism was the goal, so that the clients could enjoy every space to its fullest and detach from the buzz of city life left behind.”

At Staffan and Monique’s own home in Beaconsfield, UK, functional sculpture is a common denominator that runs through the design, in pieces by various American luminaries, as well as the concrete basin, metal-clad kitchen, curvaceous master bath, and striking metal fireplace in the main reception room. “Aged barn-wood, burnished metal, and natural fabrics and fibres soften the architectural lines and help to bring the exterior setting into the house,” Monique describes. “Texture is one of the most important ingredients in the design palette that runs through the interiors.”

At their own Beaconsfield, UK, home, the duo have composed a series of functional sculptures that include the metal fireplace in their reception room

As with any high-pressure career, Staffan and Monique face challenges along the way, but do they believe their marital status helps or hinders their journey to overcoming them? From what Monique tells us, it most certainly seems the former. “Tollgard Design Group started before our first son was born, so it’s our first and most challenging baby,” she jokes. “Working together for nearly twenty years has meant we have grown together in our careers, which is a privileged yet sometimes problematic journey. Problems are shared, yes, but never escaped. Leaving work behind has been the biggest challenge, but we both realise that the kind of minds we have would never have been satisfied with a 9 to 5 job. We feel that working together enables us to see the best of each other—creatively, intellectually and personally.”

There’s no denying their approach has been an effective one, with the studio currently working on several international projects including a villa on Formentera, just off Ibiza. “Design highlights include a Piet Boon kitchen and bathrooms, together with some incredible furniture throughout,” shares Monique. “A villa in Riyadh is ready to install too, nearly 15 years after our first villa there for another member of the same family. We’re also just starting the design journey on a beautiful home in Monaco for another long-standing client.” Closer to home, a project in Edinburgh with what Monique says has the most incredible views she has ever seen, as well as a few London-based projects, and work on the award-winning Dojo offices in Paddington and Bristol, are also in the mix. 

The Tollgard showroom in London’s Chelsea displays a variety of the studio’s furniture designs

Given the studio’s success—and penchant for jumping in at the deep end—one might expect Monique’s advice to emerging designers to be to shoot for the stars. But it’s quite the opposite. “I say: think small,” she concludes. “Design doesn’t happen in starchitect studios, and success is not measured in square metres. The lobby or restaurant of a large hotel might receive more footfall and more views, but conscious design decisions made for a family home will have a far greater impact on the lives of the people living there.

“We have designed projects large and small, and the praise I am happiest to receive is the acknowledgement that we have created small amounts of change. One client said that ‘every time I enter my front door, I feel an inevitable lightness, a peace, and a pure joy of arriving home.’ That was a good email to receive.”

Read more: Interior Design | Interior Designers | London | UK