Mimmi Staaf is blonde in a way only Scandinavians can be. Her slight frame hides a strong, determined woman, and under her thick fringe sits a pair of almond-shaped eyes ready to take in even the smallest detail.
She has found her way thus far almost by fate: Life has somehow continually dropped breadcrumbs to reveal her path. She followed the signs and one day, she signed up for an upholstery course. She was completely taken with the trade from the beginning. So much so that she quit her job, enrolled in a degree course and crafted her profession.
Nowadays, she’s the proud owner of Möbelmakeri, a two-in-one store and workshop in which she refurbishes furniture that is then sold alongside other hand-picked interior design products.
She’ll never be a dancer as she dreamt of in high school, but she has found her passion in upholstery and nothing can get in the way.
Tell us a bit about your background. What made you start restoring furniture?
As a child, my best friend’s mum was an upholsterer and I remember being fascinated by all the things she created and worked on. I never thought about doing them myself, though. In fact I haven’t always been a creative person.
When I left home, I worked in a coffee shop but quickly realized it wasn’t my thing. I saw an ad in the subway announcing an upholstery evening course and I signed up for it. I needed to do something fun with my life. My boyfriend’s family really helped, too. They’re very creative and I feel really inspired by their work. Moving into my own place also helped; it made me start to think about colors and how to build.
What did you do before that?
I worked at the coffee shop and before that in a hotel. When I was in high school, I used to dance a lot and I had hoped to get into dance school.
A sustainable approach is becoming quite popular nowadays in design, but it was not very fashionable just a short time ago. In a way you’re a visionary, how did you manage back then?
I have to admit, I started when it got popular. Nevertheless, I remember when I was little my mum would always tell me to do things by myself. We would find stuff in the garbage and try to re-use it. Her environmental consciousness really had a big impact on me. The environment is very important in my practice.
Where were you raised?
I lived in Stockholm until I was twelve and then I moved to Trosa, just south of Stockholm, close to the coast. I stayed there until I was 18. For me it feels like I’m a bit of both: half city and half country girl.
What did you want to be when you were a child?
I recently talked to my mum about that. I guess I never had a fixed thing, but she told me that when I was about twelve I wanted to be an interior architect. My parents came from Småland, where all the furniture factories are. I loved going there with my grandmother.
What made you take the plunge and open your own store?
I had the idea from the very first time I took upholstery classes. Eventually I quit my job and started a daytime course. I completed a two-year full time degree in the field. In the middle of it all I started to get bored, so I decided to open my own store in order to help me, or rather force me, to stick with school.
One day I was walking around the neighborhood and saw the venue by accident. It was empty. And just for fun I mentioned to my friend how cool it would be to have my own place there. That was during the summer and by the time autumn came, the idea had started to grow on me. I contacted the landlord and found out it was empty. I was really excited about the whole thing. Besides, I had a lot of furniture and I didn’t know what to do with it! From the very beginning I thought it would be fun to mix new stuff with the furniture I made. Before opening the physical store, my boyfriend made me a web shop and it was met with a great response. That was the moment in which I realized I needed to do something with it.
Can you describe your work process? How do you choose a piece and then decide what to do with it?
During summertime I go to flea markets and auctions to select the models I like. I don’t have a given style that I look for, I just need to like the shape. With some pieces I can immediately tell what I am going to do. But with others I just see potential. Sometimes, it can take a whole year until I’ve made up my mind.
Occasionally, it’s the other way around: I see a fabric and I think about a certain style of furniture. The textiles are quite hard to find so that can become really time consuming. The process is unique for each piece. Usually it takes more time to figure out what to do with the item than to actually do the work.
When do you feel the most confident?
Well, that’s a hard question. Maybe when I have a really good day and I receive positive feedback from customers. When I realize something I made speaks to people. That’s when I think everything makes sense.
What is the best part of the process?
The flea markets are so much fun: finding all the stuff and deciding what to do with each item. Or when I get an idea and it feels perfect. That’s pretty cool too.
In the shop you also support other designers. How do you decide what goes in the store and what doesn’t?
I try to keep my stock fresh and always bring in new stuff. It’s important to find people who do things like me: unique stuff you don’t see in every shop. It’s always important to talk directly to producers because they are very passionate about their products. The person actually matters a lot. If I don’t like them I probably won’t like what they do. All in all there has to be a harmony. Everything has to fit perfectly. It’s challenging but fun.
You’ve recently moved. What made you stay in Midsommarkransen?
I am quite new to the city, so I feel comfortable here (laughs). I know the neighbors and I like the idea of living in a small place, knowing the people on the street. This also means I usually get customers who know and like my shop. There are not so many people who just walk in, which is ok because it can be quite hard to have a personal shop and keep having to justify your choices to strangers. When people come to Midsommarkransen to see my shop, they already know my work and they appreciate it. They understand my concept.
Being here also allows me to spend time in the workshop. If I was in the city I would have to spend the whole day in the shop, whereas at Midsosmmarkransen I get actual time to work in the workshop.
What is your most beloved piece of furniture?
Oh, that’s hard! I think it’s my carpet, but I don’t know if that counts as furniture.
How do you keep yourself inspired?
Mostly online, reading blogs. Also, I visit fairs to look at new stuff, things like that.
What influences your work?
All the DIY stuff I see online really inspires me to constantly seek and find solutions. Sometimes when I see something really good in a magazine I feel the need to go to the workshop and create myself. Color greatly inspires. It makes me want to create something with feeling.
What are your favorite places in Stockholm?
My favorite place and cafe is Vinterviken. It is great in the summer and you can even hire kayaks and go between the islands. It’s really nice and very easy! I also like Smedsuddsbadet in Kungsholmen’s Rålambshovsparken. My father lives there and it’s really nice to have a walk. You can even paddle there with the kayaks from Vinterviken. It’s surprisingly close if you go by water!
My favorite shops are Asplund in Östermalm and Betonggruvan. I like every restaurant from chef Melker Andersson’s from F12 Gruppen. He owns Grill, Trattorian and F12 amongst others and all have great interior design. I also like Judit & Bertil in Hornstull. It’s a small place, a bar that also serves light dinner. It is very local with a really good atmosphere.
Where do you usually travel for holidays or a weekend getaway? Do you prefer to stay in Sweden or head abroad?
I’d rather go away if I had the money! I would like to go to Berlin, I haven’t been there yet and I would love to. We were recently in Hong Kong for a vacation and now I would just love to visit Tokyo and Shanghai as well – that would be fantastic. But otherwise, if it’s just for a weekend, we often go to my mum’s down in Trosa and to Växjö in Småland.
What do you consider your biggest passion in life?
Running my company, the whole thing. And cats! But my boyfriend is really allergic, so that’s why I go to my mum’s all the time – she has two! So yeah, cats and animals in general, I love animals!
What would be your perfect day?
Right now that would have to be a day off from work, because I am working so much. Lately I just dream about doing something that doesn’t have anything to do with work. I think I would sleep until eleven and then I’d have a long breakfast with fresh scones and good bread. Then maybe I’d go for a walk and if it were summer, I’d go swim in a lake. I guess just relax – not make plans but still do things.
Best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
You have to dream big. If you love something you have to do it and you’ll succeed if you try. It’s really important that you believe in yourself and in your dream and that you have the courage to believe in yourself because that’s what will make it work. It will give you the energy and power you need.
This portrait is part of a series of women portraits, produced in collaboration with Esprit. As part of the series, interviewees wear their favorite Esprit styles. Find more information and additional pictures here.
Photography: Marta Vargas
Interview: María Solares & Adriana Bellet