Essential Design: Mjölk

Simplistic design is good design. Honest design is good design. Stripped design to its most basic form is good design. Mjölk is a Canadian-based design shop with deeply-rooted Scandinavian design sensibilities. John Baker, one-half of the company, was kind enough to tell us about his growing business, the unique name of it, and a possible print publication geared around the brand that is growing.

A&H: Why did you and your partner decide to name your company Mjölk?


John Baker: The first time we visited Sweden we were very attracted to the excellent design of very ordinary things. One image that stuck in our minds was the beautiful packaging for Arla milk cartons, with their red cow, minimalist red bars, and of course “Mjolk” written across the middle. Such a brilliant example of design in the fridges of all the homes in Sweden, it is such a lovely thought.

A&H: Where does the majority of the company’s design inspiration stem from?

JB: A lot of it is rooted in mid-century Danish modernism, as it was the movement that made us first fall in love with Scandinavian design. Having said that the showroom itself has a very Japanese sensibility, including sliding shoji-like doors, and handmade wood displays.

A&H: Being a Scandinavian design company, what differentiates Northern European design from Canadian design where the shop happens to be located?

JB: I don’t really think there is a consistent Canadian design identity; I would actually make the argument that Canadian design, if there is such a thing, would resemble Scandinavian design. Living in a fairly new country steeped in multi-culture, it is hard to find consistency in the Canadian experience. The one thing that remains constant for us here is our landscape, the very thing that was the inspiration for all of the work by Canadian painters “The Group of Seven,” the purist interpretation of Canada, and of the strong vast landscape it has. If you look at the design and architecture found in Scandinavia, many of it is informed by nature and landscape. With a nearly identical landscape here, one could make the assumption that had we not suffered colonialism we would all be living in bright pale wood homes, rather than dark British Victorians.

A&H: Tell us about Mjölk Publishing. Do you plan to stock it in the United States? 

JB: We launched the first volume of Mjölk in late June, and it is currently being sold at Pot and Pantry in San Francisco. We’re really excited about making these little magazines, it’s something we have both been interested in before the store but it took opening the store to actually have the vessel to sell the book in.

A&H: Is there a specific standard you and your partner look for in a product to be stocked in the shop?

JB: I think we are always looking for something with a good functionality and a nice sensibility. I think most of our items always have a handcrafted element to them, even if they look very modern and minimalist there is always a soul to the piece.

A&H: What are some of the principles of the business?

JB: We simply want to sell items that we feel good about people spending their hard-earned money on—knowing that they will have something that will last, and enjoy for years. We hope that customers also come to the store and don’t need to ask whether or not the product is made well, or if it works. Just a safe place where anything you pick up has our full approval.

A&H: What country do you feel is driving innovation in the field of design?

JB: It’s a hard question to answer, because I think the only design we really need at the moment is good city planning. So to that I think we have to take a good look at places like Copenhagen and Helsinki—places that make it safer for cyclists, create pedestrian-only streets, and invest in public transit systems that ease driving congestion during rush hour.

A&H: What Mjölk product do you think everyone needs in their homes?

JB: To think of something really universal and versatile I think everyone should own a pair of Sori Yanagi stainless tongs. They are the nicest tongs I have ever seen and are perfect for cooking with. They are also very beautiful and nice enough for serving salad with.

A&H: What does the future look like for Mjölk?

JB: I think it is filled with more books, more exhibitions, and maybe an in-house collection one day!

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