Erik Karlström studied interior architecture and furniture design at Tekniska Skolan, which today is Konstfack University of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm under a.o. Carl-Axel Acking. After graduating in 1948 Karlström moved to Copenhagen where he studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts under Kaare Klint until 1949.
Back in Stockholm Karlström got employment in the architectural office of his former teacher Acking where he participated in the interior design of a.o. the Hotel Malmen in Stockholm. In 1952 Karlström was recruited by architect Peter Celsing, who at the time was the manager of Stockholms Spårvägar (Stockholms tramways). Here Karlström was appointed to design a standard for the interior of the Stockholm Subway, while also working as a teacher at Konstfack.
In 1954 Karlström got a scholarship which allowed him to travel to Scotland where he studied the work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh, and to Finland to get a deeper understanding of Alvar Aaltos work. During the late 1950’s and the 1960’s Karlström worked on the interior archictecture for Helge Zimdahls ABF-house and Peter Celsing refurnishing of Operakällaren. For the later Karlström was responsible for the interior architecture and also worked with Celsing and Åke Axelsson on the design for the Opera chair in 1960.
The following year Karlström founded his own studio, from where he worked as a consultant interior architect for several major projects such as the Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg and the House of Culture in Stockholm. For the later Karsltröm worked once again with Celsing, designing a.o. the Club armchair for the house’s reading room.
For the community center in Örebro, designed by Erik and Tore Ahlsén during the early 1960’s Karlström designed several furniture together with Åke Axelsson, such as a the modernistic chair in steel and leather that is a part of the collection at the Museum of Furniture Studies.
In 1969 Karlström designed the Spika shelf for KF, which became a big sales-success. The simple bookshelf made of uncoated chipboard and assembled by the customer with nails, was sold in over 1,3 million copies.
Erik Karlström passed away in 2005 at the age of 88.