When the tabloids reported that Madonna was moving back to New York after her 2008 split from director Guy Ritchie, one item of furniture wasn’t part of the settlement and stayed behind in London. But the queen of pop must have been attached to it because her office was soon contacting the designers, asking for a replica to be shipped. And what Madonna wants, she gets, right?
“We refused. We had to explain that we don’t make identical pieces. Everything we do is original, a one-off,” says Martin Nihlmar, who, with fellow Swede Jimmie Karlsson, is part of the wunderkind design duo Jimmie Martin. They are fast accumulating superrich entertainment and media-industry clients who want eclectic original pieces of furniture that are also installation art for their brownstones, penthouses and executive offices.
Working out of their Kensington studio in London, the pair sources antique pieces of furniture “because there is a character and craftsmanship we can work with as our canvas,” says Nihlmar. Using materials as diverse as 22-karat gold leaf and Swarovski crystal and Karlsson’s hand-painted graffiti and flourishes, they rebuild the furniture from the ground up and aim to create bespoke pieces that combine the baroque and postmodern—that are decadent and fun but also nostalgic and urban. “We like the idea of taking something old and making it new,” says Nihlmar.
A chair can require anywhere from 50 hours to transform, and the duo has also worked with beds, cabinets, busts and a signature mannequin lamp stand—not one piece is the same.
“At first we didn’t know it was Madonna who asked us to build the replica,” says Nihlmar. “After we said no, we persuaded [her office] to let us do something original with a similar antique piece. It was only later we realized.”
Nihlmar and Karlsson’s remarkable journey began in 2004 in London. Neither were working in design, but both had been indulging their quirky tastes, crafting items for their shared home. One day, as they were moving out, a neighbor spotted their handmade furniture and requested a piece. News spread by word of mouth and orders flowed.
About a year later, Jimmie Martin picked up the highly valued Design & Decoration rookie award. The duo’s latest projects include creating a capsule range of furniture inspired by Queen Elizabeth’s Diamond Jubilee and working with acclaimed photographer Terry O’Neill.
Now Nihlmar and Karlsson’s clients are asking for something extra, not just the pieces they design and build but also entire rooms, with walls that become a canvas for Jimmie Martin art.
Exactly how and from where Jimmie Martin draws its inspiration to continually create new unique pieces is hard for the partners to explain. But if the two are pushed on the alchemy they bring to their artistry, the word “fun” is an integral ingredient. “We started doing this for fun, for ourselves,” says Nihlmar. “And it is important to maintain that, to keep the fun in our work.”
The Jimmie Martin showroom is located at 77 Kensington Church St., London. For more information and designs, go to jimmiemartin.com.