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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.

ImageCreditErik Lefvander for The New York Times

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.

“I always say that my dad thinks that he lives at Versailles,” she said, describing an eclectic home filled with flowery patterns, bold colors, silk wallpaper and gilded antiques.

In short, the polar opposite of her modern, monochromatic aesthetic.

Nearly 20 years ago, she helped found Residence Magazine, an interior design publication where she also served as managing director. The magazine, for which she still regularly styles editorials, established her as a tastemaker in Sweden.

“I styled the entire magazine for four years,” she recalled. “That was kind of my education, so whatever I do, I need to have a story and a concept.”

Since she started her own studio in 2004, projects have rolled in from private clients in Sweden and abroad, as well as from well-known interior design brands, such as Kasthall, New Works, Dux and H&M Home. Today, the tight-knit, four-person studio juggles about 30 ongoing projects.

ImageCreditErik Lefvander for The New York Times

“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).

ImageCreditErik Lefvander for The New York Times

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.”

ImageCreditErik Lefvander for The New York Times

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.

ImageCreditErik Lefvander for The New York Times

“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.

“When it comes to interior and what we surround ourselves with, it’s so nice that we can choose to have this serene, calm atmosphere,” she said.

As for what’s next, Ms. Agaton takes a practical view.

“I think I change less and less the older I get,” she said. “Today we also have to consider the sustainability. We can’t really make a pink kitchen just because we feel like pink today because you know that it’s not going to last.”

Ms. Agaton reveals that she would like to design a hotel, and cites the boutique property Ett Hem in Stockholm, which was designed by Ilse Crawford, as an inspiration. But she demurs about having other design ambitions.

“I try to stay out of what’s not my thing, you know, like designing furniture,” she said. “There are so many people who are better than me who are doing that. I always try to stick to what I’m good at.”

And what she’s good at — from artful styling to palette predictions — are the details.

“If we make an interior and then there’s a cup of ugly pencils, then the whole thing is ruined,” she said, laughing.

In design, it’s always the details. And in this case, a ceramic cup of grayscale Copic markers.


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