Art & Design Interiors & Design

Inside the High Punk Aesthetic of Design Duo Jimmie Martin

With A-list fans including Madonna, the award-winning design studio’s approach makes a bold statement in the world of interiors

Jimmie Karlsson was modeling in Paris, Milan, and New York City, while Martin Nihlmar was working in an interiors store, when they met on the dance floor in a Swedish nightclub back in 1996. The encounter led to a relationship that has lasted more than two decades—first of all as romantic partners and latterly as designers acclaimed for their bold, graffitied furniture and colorful interiors, working since 2004 as Jimmie Martin.

Portrait of Martin Nihlmar and Jimmie Karlsson in front of a graffitied interior wall
Martin Nihlmar and Jimmie Karlsson are known for their rule-breaking approach to design, which often sees them turning tired interiors and antiques into surprising, street art-inspired showstoppers.

“I’ve always had an interest in interiors as well as fashion and art,” says Karlsson. “I moved away from home when I was 16 and was constantly redecorating where I lived, and also my mum’s house. I used to go to auction houses and buy antique furniture to paint and do up.”

We make art, customizing old pieces or new reproduction pieces and making them cool and contemporary—Jimmie Karlsson

This continued when Karlsson and Nihlmar moved in together. “We just started painting things for ourselves, for our apartment. Then one day someone saw us moving house and came running down the street and, looking at one of our pieces, said, ‘I need to sell your work in my shop!’”

A living room with dark walls and large purple velvet sofa by Jimmie Martin
The designers brought their unique aesthetic to this residential project in Belgravia, London, with unexpected artworks and opulent pops of color and texture in an otherwise monochromatic color scheme.

The stars further aligned when Karlsson was at a casting for a modeling job. “I had some photos of our work at the back of my portfolio and a hairdresser saw them and loved them.” She asked for a couple of pieces for the window of her salon in London’s Soho, “and within a month of them being there, one of the judges from the Design & Decoration Awards saw them and told us we should enter the competition.” Scraping together the money to enter, Jimmie Martin scooped the prestigious New Designer In Practice award.

The company originally specialized in hand-painted, upcycled furniture before expanding to produce its own pieces and moving into interior design. “I don’t look at being a designer or being an artist as defined things,” says Karlsson. “We make art, customizing old pieces or new reproduction pieces, and make them cool and contemporary with pretty painting, graffiti, and stuff… something fun rather than the standard beige and cream.”

Black walls, graffitied furniture, and a colourful statue at a London tattoo studio
Statement pieces: Graffitied interior design and striking splashes of color at the Wanda Tattoo studio in Soho, London.

Unsurprisingly, given their signature style, the pair would one day like to design a boutique hotel—they’ve already created rooms and suites for a number of places in the U.K.—and are currently working on a coffee table book all about their design journey.

They also produced a throne for Madonna’s 2012 Super Bowl appearance. “She has a few Jimmie Martin pieces in her homes,” says Karlsson. “When we met to discuss the throne, we ended up vogueing in her office.”

Banner image: A Jimmie Martin-designed living room in Kensington, London