It began in 1947. Gustav received a proposal from Ramnäs Bruk in Västmanland. They wanted a delivery of frames for sinks, to be shown at an exhibit. Rune and Göran asked to put together a quotation. ‘Yes, you take care of that, boys,’ said Gustav. The bid was accepted and the two of them began making frames until the early mornings. Someone walking past the workshop noticed the light was on. He knocked on the door and wondered whether they could mend a garden chair for him. And so the idea of making garden furniture was born.
The following year, they took over the business for 6 000 kronor. It was registered under the name of Svensson & Jonsson. Gustav had named all the children Jonsson, since John was his first name, and he thought Johansson too common.
There is a black-and-white picture of Rune and Göran. They are standing by the door of the joinery; Göran is wearing blue dungarees, a belt and a beret. They are young, smiling and in the midst of life. There is peace in the world, and spring farming is underway. Grållen has come to Sweden. The little grey Massey Ferguson tractor substitutes the horse and is now ploughing the fields around Kvänum. The country is being modernised and optimism budding; now is the time for creating the welfare state, once visualised by Swedish PM Per Albin Hansson as ‘the good home’. And it needs decorating.
The young men by the door to the joinery agreed to focus on kitchens and storage. They were going to do it by rational production; their dream was a factory. The two of them were interested in new technique, and had already installed a sawdust extractor, which had improved the working environment substantially.
Gustav had suffered from the dust himself. That was the reason he quit. But he never actually left. Every day he would come in with his hammer, morning, noon and night until the mid-1970s. His grandson Anders, Runes youngest boy, remembers one time when Gustav was raking leaves in the backyard. As always, wearing a felt hat and smoking a pipe. It began to rain. Gustav just turned the pipe over, put his collar up and continued raking.
The new factory, 1950s
Occasionally, he would handle personnel matters. When Sweden played West Germany in the 1958 World Cup semi-final in Gothenburg, the whole workforce went to watch the game. They could all fit into one car, two in the front and three in the back. Well on their way, Göran asked, ‘Do you have the tickets?’ Rune checked his pockets, but could not find them. They phoned Gustav from a telephone booth in Vårgårda. Gustav was away at a party, but somehow they managed to get hold of him. Gustav lent the car to Stina, who set off at express speed with the tickets to Gothenburg. Otherwise, Rune, Göran and the others would have missed Hamrin’s classic goal. The total for the whole event – including the journey, tickets, and coffee afterwards – came to 120 kronor.
Svensson & Jonsson’s manufacturing was mixed. The first veneered interiors were ordered by the local education authority in Gothenburg. The customer was very particular and carried out an inspection. A smaller delegacy arrived one day, when the interiors were being coated in the shade of the blossoming apple trees. The education authority had no objections to the arrangement.
In 1953, Svensson & Jonsson expanded. The new factory was built on the land bought from a neighbouring farmer. An aerial photo from that time shows the small brick building, surrounded by fields and meadows with heaps of hay. Today, the building is a small corner of the factory and houses today's planing mills. Gustav’s workshop was 105 square metres.
The sink frames for Ramnäs had whetted their appetite. Rune and Göran’s first kitchen was fitted in Rune and his wife Stina’s home. The first, big order came from a building contractor in Partille, outside Gothenburg; eight kitchens in a house that still stands. An even larger order was placed, and so the wheels were in motion. The factory grew, organically. Every six, seven years, an extension was built, often in materials typical for the period, like annual rings.
From the 1960s onwards, kitchens have dominated the production. In 1964, Kvänum was awarded ‘Kitchen of the Year’. The following year, this led to a collaboration with a timber yard called Stockholms Brädgård AB. The company had its own kitchen brand, Canadaköket, named after the neighbourhood Canada, north of Kyrkviken on Lidingö, where one of its branches were.
In the late 1970s, the kitchens were still sold in draughty timber yards on industrial sites. During the 1980s, electrical appliance companies began using entire kitchens to demonstrate their range of white goods. Nowadays, these are sold in discount warehouses, while Kvänum has gone upmarket. The development reflects the rise in popularity of kitchen interiors. Kitchens now equal status, and have their own show rooms in the fashionable parts of town.
There was limited export early on. In the 1970s, one kitchen was designed for SAS, Scandinavian Airlines, in Moscow, and a termite proof kitchen was sent to Sida, Swedish International Development Agency, in Iraq. The first catalogue, a simple A3 format in four-colour, came out in 1972. Svensson & Jonsson manufactured both Kvänum and Canada kitchens up until 1977, when the collaboration ceased.
The same year, Gustav passed away. A picture of the old joiner hangs in the office; he is wearing a suit and straw hat, pipe in mouth and umbrella in hand. It is summer. The family is gathered, children and grandchildren. It is Gustav’s birthday. He is sat alone on a bench, resting for a while, and suddenly it is evening.