After following her new Australian boyfriend halfway across the world, from Europe to Melbourne, Swedish-born Kristina Karlsson made a proposition that she didn’t quite expect him to take up.
But he did. And Karlsson could be forgiven for being a little shocked.
Her boyfriend, Paul Lacy, agreed to sell his Melbourne house to fund her fledgling stationery business, kikki.K.
“I didn’t have any money to open a store and I couldn’t get a loan because I was obviously foreign to the country, so that was the only way I could move forward,” Karlsson recalled.
“So, it’s been very much a joint venture and without that support there is no way I would be where I am today.”
The idea for kikki.K, a design-driven stationery empire that has grown from one store in Melbourne in 2001 to more than 100 in five countries 17 years later, was the result of what Karlsson called “the 3am list”.
“I’d arrived in Australia as a 22-year-old and was a bit lost and homesick and wasn’t really sure what I was going to do with my life. Waking up at 3am for what seemed like the 50th time, I decided to write a list of what I really wanted,” she said.
“I wrote that I wanted to drive to work, I wanted to have my own business, I wanted to absolutely love what I was doing and have a connection with Sweden and Swedish design and make $500 a week.”
After making her own dream happen, Karlsson is now on a mission to help others achieve theirs.
Her new book, Your Dream Life Starts Here (Hardie Grant Publishing, $29.99), features ideas, tools and stories from the likes of Karlsson, Stella McCartney and Michelle Obama. She’s hoping the book, alongside her Dream Life podcast, workshops and keynote-speaking talks, will inspire 101 million people worldwide to go and chase three dreams.
She’s thinking big with sales of the book as well, aiming to sell a million copies. “The reason I want to sell a million books is that I am giving US$1 from the sale of every book to an incredible lady called Dr Tererai Trent, who is Oprah’s all-time favourite guest and who has a foundation improving education and schools in Zimbabwe,” she said.
All of this begs the question: is Karlsson, who lives with Lacy and children Axel, 10, and Tiffany, 7, in Melbourne, living her own dream life?
“Absolutely,” she said. “A dream life is never a perfect life because we all face challenges along the way, but it’s about doing the best you can do with your life and living one that is true to yourself.”
Typical Saturday morning
I like to do as little as possible on the weekends. So, for me, that means getting up early before the family wakes up. I like to journal and read and drink endless cups of tea and perhaps go for a walk.
I often have a raw-food snack or some almonds in my bag. I eat very healthily. I’m not a junk-food person. Even on planes, I bring my own food. I am very particular.
I love to cook soup. A favourite is my lentil and vegetable soup, which we lived on when we first started kikki.K. We didn’t have any time or money but still wanted to eat healthily so we ate a lot of this soup.
On my bedside table
I’m a very minimalist person who doesn’t want a lot of things around me. So I just have books and a glass of water on my bedside table. I read four or five different books at a time.
Fantasy place to live
I really feel like I’m already living my fantasy in that I am fortunate to live in Melbourne and Sweden. I had a dream to spend three months in Sweden every year so I made that happen. We escape the Melbourne winter and go back at the end of June and stay until the end of September.
I live a very full life outside of home so when I’m there, I actually prefer silence. But there’s a Swedish artist from my hometown called Johan Orjansson who I love.
Happiness at home
Tea, books and peace and quiet.
Secret domestic skill
I rarely follow recipes. Instead, I’m really good at throwing lots of ingredients together and whipping up a healthy meal in minutes.
My favourite things
This is my Egg chair by (the late) Danish designer Arne Jacobsen. I grew up surrounded by Scandinavian furniture. I love the simplicity and beautiful quality and design. I’ve loved this particular chair since I was small and had it on my vision board for as long as I can remember. When I won the Telstra Australian Young Business Women’s Award in 2007, I got some prizemoney, and decided to celebrate that win by buying this chair. It was a hard decision because I could have used that money for a lot of other things that were probably more needed at the time but it was a lovely celebration and I’m so glad I did it.
This is a Swedish Dala horse, which are from the Dalarna region in central Sweden. I think every Swedish home would have a Dala horse. It’s like an unofficial symbol of Sweden. I really missed home when I first came to Australia in 1995 — remember, this was before the internet — so I spent all my money on phone calls and the occasional visit home. It was really hard. It probably took me five years to get over that painful homesickness. But one thing I’ve always loved about Australia is the weather. I’ve never really liked the cold and am much more of a warm-climate person, so Melbourne suits me in that regard. I feel very lucky that I now get to follow the summers and spend three months of every year back in Sweden.
Travel wallet and passport
I travel frequently and couldn’t live without my travel wallet. It’s where I keep my Australian and Swedish passports and everything I need for a particular trip. I love travelling. It’s one of my passions and I love meeting all of our customers around the world. I even considered a career in the travel industry before I came up with the idea for kikki.K. The hardest part of travelling is leaving my family behind, so we travel together as much as we can, or if we can’t do that, I’ll take one child with me. I get them involved by doing the food ordering or organising the Ubers or finding out particular local knowledge. They are very well-travelled. The downside of travel is the jet lag. I feel like I’m constantly in different time zones.
My partner (and kikki.K co-founder) Paul and I love art. Paul was in Hong Kong and went along to an exhibition by Australian artist David Bromley. He then called me and said he had bought a painting for me. He had it shipped over and when it arrived, I discovered that it was actually a very large painting, not the small one I had been expecting! I love it, though, and we managed to find space in our living room to hang it. I am used to Paul doing crazy things like that. He’s an amazing gift giver and always seems to find things I love. I look at this painting every day and feel grateful.
I love family photos and this one is a beautiful memory of us visiting Uluru about three years ago. I was really pleased we got to go there because we travel so much around the world but there are amazing places close by in Australia that you sometimes don’t get around to visiting. I met Paul, who is Australian, in a ski resort in Lech, in Austria. I was working in a hotel and he was there snowboarding for a few weeks. I was more than happy to continue to travel on to Australia. Initially, I wasn’t sure if I would stay here but I loved it, so I did.
In Sweden, it is dark for a lot of the year, so everyone burns candles. And it’s something I do here in Australia. Every morning, the very first thing I do, even in summer, is to light a candle. They create an ambience, as well as light. I feel really good having them around and if we haven’t got any burning, it feels kind of strange.