We're thrilled to announce Otto Billström has been appointed as Head of Design, as he embarks on a new journey, one that promises to shape the future of our design department, he discusses his career journey with us.
18 September 2023
Growing up in Stockholm you almost come to take Scandinavian Design for granted. There is something in almost every home, no matter how big or small, near to the point of ubiquity. I think my full appreciation of it took me well into adulthood to develop, having lived disconnected from it for over a decade.
I still remember a lot of my early childhood – not sequential memories as such, but objects, furniture, colours, and shapes. I was born into a Design loving home, and I was raised to appreciate the classics from a very early age. My father who at the time lectured at Stockholm University one day brought home two Arne Jacobsen chairs, one red Ant chair, and a Series 7 chair upholstered in green felt, both saved from a skip during the refurbishment of the university. I can’t have been more than three, but I remember their shapes having a profound impact on me, and during the following years I spent a lot of time in the latter of the two.
I left Sweden at the age of 18 to pursue studies in Art History, probed by my interest in form and function, and ended up spending four years at the University of East Anglia. My undergraduate and postgraduate studies gained me a broad knowledge across almost two millennia of art and design, having studied everything from the Classical arts, architecture, and Mesoamerican Archaeology to African and Colonial art, and Modernism, studies which continue to serve me to this day.
Leaving university, like most people, I threw my net wide in terms of finding employment, and coincidentally and unintentionally ended up back in Stockholm where I spent two years working at Stockholms Auktionsverk. For the first six months, my employment was renewed on a temporary basis as a porter and trainee valuer, starting on the loading bays unpacking, and sorting incoming lots for auction. The key was making yourself indispensable, which gave me my first valuation assignment, going through an extensive probate job of Africana that none of my colleagues wished to deal with, something which was very much palmed off on me as a trial by fire. Taking it on eventually allowed me to shift my focus and to indulge in my passions, Design and Music, launching a series of Pop & Rock sales still carried on long after having left.
Otto Billstrom - Head of Department | 20th Century Design
Repatriating was a process I found extremely difficult and moving back to Sweden I always longed to come back to England. In 2019 an opportunity was presented to me to work at the dealership Augustus Brandt in Petworth. A hub of the arts, working in Petworth introduced me to a number of prominent dealers and individuals, through whom I was eventually introduced to John Black in late 2020, and at the beginning of 2021 I took up my position at Sworders where I have been ever since.
Having since moved from Horsham to rural Essex, I’ve settled into my role at Sworders. Auctioneering truly is a job like no other, and I don’t think I could see myself ever doing anything else. I love meeting new people and being presented with objects I know nothing about. It’s a job that humbles you on a day-to-day basis and encourages you to never stop learning.
The Design Department going forward will continue to be led and defined by world class design. Over the last couple of years, we have seen a strong and increasing demand for good, named Design on the market, and that is what we will continue to offer. Looking further ahead, there are plans for the introduction of further sales within the department, honing the excellent foundation already in place and building on the international reputation and rapport we have with clients across the globe. The Design market is in an increasingly exciting position, with time starting to ebb out the supply of the classics, and we are being increasingly challenged to find new and exciting things to market, and that is a task I’m excited to be undertaking.
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