The newly turned wooden bowl made of fresh birch is so delicate that the sunlight shines through it. The wood is still damp, and the bowl will take on a unique, slightly wavy shape as it dries.
The scent of the forest fills the workshop in Alnö, not far from Sundsvall, where works of art made of timber are made by the Bonni Bonne studio. Bowls, cheese slicers, chopsticks and other items – all with an austere, almost challenging design idiom. It’s almost as if the objects are aware of just how beautiful they are.
Shalony van Stralendorff, designer and one-third of Bonni Bonne, puts a few bags of curly wood shavings in the doorway of the workshop to keep her dog inside. She sits outside with a cup of coffee, sunning herself on the steps. Shalony studied at the Swedish School of Textiles in Borås, but she reckons it comes as no surprise that she now works with wood.
“Wood is reminiscent of textiles in that different types of wood all have unique properties, surfaces and textures, just like textile fibres do. I love shape and natural materials, and I’m sure I’ll end up working with glass and clay in future.”
Moving effortlessly between materials, Shalony van Stralendorff seems to find business opportunities in much the same way. Just a few years ago, she had a couple of jobs working as a textile crafts teacher and a cashier; but now she specialises in designing interiors for exclusive restaurants such as Äng and does styling work for H&M Home.
“I reach out to the people I’m interested in working with, and a few of them take me up on what I’m offering,” she says.
Bread, jeans and weaving
When she was at school, Shalony knocked on doors with her friend, Emelie Ivarsson, and sold homemade bread in the local area in Sundsvall. Later, the two friends went on to co-found Bonni Bonne. In her late teens, Shalony designed jeans and won the Swedish championship for young entrepreneurs. While studying at the Swedish School of Textiles, she headed to India for six months where she worked with IM, Swedish Development Partner, in a women’s collective for leprosy sufferers, which used weaving as part of the rehabilitation process.
She certainly has plenty of drive. All this is founded on her passion for nature and natural materials as reflected in her book entitled Kontur [Contour], which was published in 2020 and heralded the launch of Bonni Bonne. This book can be viewed as a kind of manifesto for the business, and is a portrait of Shalony to a degree.
“For me, it’s all about my love of materials. About getting away from our throw-away society and trend sensitivity, and moving towards more sustainable products.”
In the book, Shalony’s home models her aesthetic. There’s a bouquet of flowers that many would call weeds, mushrooms that can be used in various ways, and recipes for classic northern Swedish flatbread. And everything is photographed in a minimalistic and consistent way, right down to the tiniest detail – and often in abstract ways, as if she’s trying to capture nature and the natural world in something she’s designed herself.
Maybe that’s the very essence of Bonni Bonne – a desire to embody nature in everyday items.
“My primary inspiration comes from my materials and what works for them. And the ideas I get often come about when I meet other people,” says Shalony.
That’s exactly what happened when Bonni Bonne’s first turned wood product was created, for instance. Shalony was enjoying a coffee with a friend, and they started talking about the cheese slicer sitting on the table in front of them.
“Every household in Sweden has about five cheese slicers. Of these, one will be good and one might look fab, but they never do everything you want them to do. And so I thought – let’s create a cheese slicer! And that’s how we ended up getting in touch with Björn.”
Precision cooperation to the millimetre
Björn Enqvist is the man who turns Shalony’s designs into reality on the lathe in his workshop. He was independent woodworker for six years but is now a Bonni Bonne partner.
“I listen to Shalony and suggest different ways of doing things. She’s really fussy, everything has to be precise to the millimetre! And we bounce ideas back and forth and give one another honest feedback. The product has to be good, after all,” he says.
Björn sharpens the turning tool again before making the final cut in the thin birch bowl so that he can create the finest finish possible. When the bowl is finished, he places it on a rough plank in his workshop.
“You might look at a board and think you might as well throw it on the fire, but when you work it, the material pops. That’s how I ended up developing an interest in wood,” says Shalony.
A life of their own
The online shop on the bonnibonne.com website offers not only turned wood products, but also ceramics, furnishings and textiles produced in partnership with artisans all over Sweden – and at the women’s collective in India. Holding the business together as Chief Operating Officer is Emelie Ivarsson, Shalony’s childhood friend and co-founder of the company.
“We’ve focused a lot on kitchen products, because both Emelie and I absolutely love cooking. And wood products are so beautiful when they’re used. They develop a kind of life, you could say. They might end up a bit worn, a bit stained,” says Shalony.
And what about the company name Bonni Bonne? Where does that come from?
“I can’t really explain it. We wanted the company to have a good, international name. We speculated for a long time, said things out loud, and in the end we came up with Bonni Bonne. Sometimes I wonder whether we should come up with a good story as to how it all came about. Everything about the company is so well thought out, except for the name!”