Rare beauty – the 1950s Josef Frank cabinet giving us a bad case of wants

Last month in London, the month drew to a close with a short-lived heatwave and the London Masterpiece Fair – a glamorous event dedicated to bringing the exquisite and the rare of the art and furniture worlds to The Royal Hospital Chelsea. The show was crammed with wonders from gallerists and collectors around the globe but its highlight, to us, was being able to see up close this one-of-a-kind Swedish cabinet, by Austrian Modernist architect, furniture and fabric designer Josef Frank. A man who once wisely said, “standardised interiors would make people all too uniform.” The piece was exhibited by Stockholm gallery Modernity whose whole collection is highly swoon-able.

Although Frank created the cabinet in various models for Svenkst Tenn in the 1950s, as part of his Flora collection, he made this particular one for a private client in Stockholm who commissioned him and it’s crafted from mahogany with brass detailing. The finish is what gives it its most unique edge as Frank covered three sides of the piece with wonderful hand coloured pages taken from Sydenham Edwards’ book The Botanical Register (1815-1847). The paper pages were then covered in shellac to protect them and I can confirm having peered at the piece up close that it has aged remarkably well.

Frank had a strong interest in botany and developed may of his own illustrative floral prints, which are still available through Svenkst Tenn today and will be recognisable to many. He based such patterns on the colours, forms and natural repetition of nature and, although they may seem busy or vibrant to us in some ways, he is quoted as saying that, on the contrary, “the monochromatic surface appears uneasy, while prints are calming and the observer is unwillingly influenced by an underlying slow approach. The richness of decoration cannot be fathomed so quickly, in contrast to the monochromatic surface which doesn’t invite any further interest and therefore one is immediately finished with it.”

Unsurprisingly, his role model was William Morris.

This particular cabinet is worth around £110,000 and as mentioned, you do see other versions of it cropping up in all the most tasteful places. For instance, last year I spotted a smaller cabinet covered with one of Frank’s own prints in Tilda Swinton movie A Bigger Splash (full of other rather lovely things). Meanwhile, Copenhagen gallery The Apartment had its own Josef Frank cabinet in situ for a time – giving us all an excruciating flavour of how wonderful both it and Modernity’s piece might look in the home.

At the Masterpiece fair, Modernity positioned their piece against Farrow & Ball’s Sudbury Yellow which highlighted its own colours to brilliant effect. He may have been biased, but it’s easy to agree with Andrew Duncanson from Modernity who told me that this cabinet, “is more colourful and lovely than the ones that are more commercially available.”


Jill Macnair


Jill Macnair has worked as an interiors journalist for 13 years, contributing to titles including Elle Decoration, The Sunday Times and The Guardian. She set up cult interiors blog My Friend’s House in 2009 with Ros Anderson and continues to run the forum daily.

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