Photos by Erika Svensson
Words by Oliver Herwig

 

A conversation with Petrus Palmér feels completely relaxed, yet focused. The entrepreneur has just returned from holiday, describing it as a real break. Palmér seems concentrated and to the point. No question is too out of place to be answered in detail and, above all, trenchantly. He knows that furniture production in the coming decades will have to be sustainable Hem is already certified to a sustainability standard today and take dwindling resources into consideration. Only one resource seems inexhaustible: Palmér’s entrepreneurial energy, which sparks his desire to design for people and offer them something they wouldn’t find otherwise. It’s not for nothing that hem means home.

This is how the Swedish company has managed to move beyond a mere slick of ambience and reach into people’s hearts, creating something that can perhaps be described as a feeling of lightness: a lightness that does not hide the fact that we can now turn our attention to the real issues such as sustainability.

 

 

I understand you just got back from a short vacation. Where have you been?

Petrus Palmér

In Sweden. I spent some time at my country house.

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That sounds very eco-friendly.

Petrus Palmér

Exactly.

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While scanning the internet, we stumbled across an at-home feature with photos of your bookshelves, wonderfully organised: books on designers, on brands, The Forecast … Do you like to be organised?

Petrus Palmér

I would like to, but I’m not always as organised as I want to be.

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Can you recall any books that had a great impact on your professional work?

Petrus Palmér

Yeah, but mainly management literature, boringly enough.

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Oh, really?

Petrus Palmér

I’ve got two passions: one is design and the other is entrepreneurship. My library is divided between books on design and business.

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You trained as a designer, but you also succeeded as a businessman. What made you change your life?

Petrus Palmér

For me, it was a gradual thing, I started off designing furniture for IKEA and Italian brands like Cappellini, and I loved it: the attention to detail, colours and fabrics. But in the end, design is a very traditional business. It’s old. And I grew increasingly frustrated by the inefficiency and lack of rebirth in the industry, so in the end I figured that instead of complaining about it, I had to do something about it. I also recalled a saying that some designers make things, others make things happen.

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So you started your own business.

Petrus Palmér

Yeah. We already had a business running. But by starting the company I now operate, I ­really wanted to make an impact and do something about the inefficiency of the design business that bypassed the average person. There is so much beauty and quality that should be exposed to a much wider audience not just the people going to Milan each year. That was the starting-point for Hem.

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Hence the business books?

Petrus Palmér

Exactly. I’ve been self-educating myself for a number of years on how to run a business.

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What is the most striking difference between being a designer and running a business?

Petrus Palmér

In a way, the approaches to running a business and being a designer are very similar. Both professions are creative. Solving problems had always attracted me. Design is not like art; it is not free creation, because you have to take a lot of limitations into consider­ation production, economy and the market. And designing a business is very ­similar. You have lots of constraints, you have the market, and it is creative in the sense that if you want to succeed, you have to come up with new ways of reaching customers.

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That reminds me of Joseph Beuys’ famous saying that everyone is an artist. So could everyone be a designer, because design is all about problem-solving?

Petrus Palmér

Not really. You need to have a knack for aesthetics, and not everybody has a passion for shapes, colours, trends and cultural behaviour but this is what gets you going as a designer. You need to have an eye for it.

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And as a businessman you have to have a sense of customers’ needs …

Petrus Palmér

Exactly! You need to take a customer-centric approach. You really need to understand your customers and the market, and you need to think long and hard about them. Every day. If all you do is express yourself, you may be lucky in the sense that your style is currently en vogue. But if you aren’t lucky, then you need to think about what the customer wants, and put some creativity into that. I think the main thing is that if you want to succeed in a business, you have to radically focus on your customers and understand them well. I’m lucky because I’m my own customer. I’m making what I would like to buy myself.

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That makes it easier, doesn’t it? Would you say understanding the customers’ needs is a quality many designers lack?

Petrus Palmér

Good designers are actually rather good at it. They have it either from a strategic point of view, or as the backbone of their understanding of cultural phenomena. Good designers feel urgencies and are good at understanding customers. Tom Dixon, Marcel Wanders and Konstantin Grcic are strong authors and have distinctive styles. I don’t think their primary process is one of strategy, it is pure pleasure and creativity.

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