Century of the Child: Nordic Design at the V&A Museum of Childhood

‘From youth we have a right to expect something for the future’

In recent years we have been subjected to Scandi overload from hygge to noir drama, but this thoroughly enjoyable exhibition from the V&A Museum of Childhood reminds us why Nordic design deserves its enduring place in our affections. I should also mention that it is tremendous fun for even the most museum-averse child.

Baby Björn babysitter, 1960s. Photo unknown. © Baby Björn

No self-respecting nursery is without its multitude of Nordic classics, from BRIO to the Babybjörn bouncer, and the democratic nature of Nordic design is a recurrent theme throughout the exhibition. Indeed, the exhibition’s title is borrowed from Swedish social theorist Ellen Key’s groundbreaking book, The Century of the Child, first published in 1900. Key’s belief that ‘from youth we have a right to expect something for the future’ provides an indication of the social context that drove Nordic designers to become leaders in children’s design, but also explains the egalitarian nature of many of the pieces exhibited.

My favourite of these is perhaps the miniature ‘Puckelball Pitch’. The rolling surface, crooked lines and different sized goals of this rather Harry Potterish playing field create an unpredictability that cleverly evens out players’ skills, ages and advantages.

However, this exhibition not only explains Nordic design’s democracy, but also its popularity. The products here are warm, tactile, witty and even romantic. What the exhibition reveals are the stories behind this appeal, often literally fairytales. I was charmed to discover that Opsvik’s seminal Tripp Trapp high chair was named after the sound the goats’ hooves make as they walk over the bridge in The Three Billy Goats Gruff, whilst The Baby Seal, a contemporary, wearable blanket for children, is in fact inspired by the traditional Icelandic ‘seal wife’ folk tale.

Artek

So plenty of interest for adults, but as ever the Museum of Childhood has not forgotten their younger visitors. A Moomins dedicated cinema, a cosy Norwegian storytelling hut, a ‘build your own’ Hans Wegner Peter’s Chair and Nordic toys a-plenty to try; this exhibition is as playful as the products it celebrates.

By Chiara Brand

What:
CENTURY OF THE CHILD: NORDIC DESIGN FOR CHILDREN 1900 TO TODAY
When:
30 MARCH – 2 SEPTEMBER 2018
Where:
V&A MUSEUM OF CHILDHOOD, CAMBRIDGE HEATH RD, E2 9PA
Price:
FREE
Website:
http://www.vam.ac.uk/moc
— Daisy Allsup
4th April 2018