Great Danes – 10 Danish chair designs you MUST know

An exhibition of Danish chairs is now on at the Design Museum, Copenhagen, Denmark. To celebrate its opening we’ve compiled a list of the 10 designers every collector should know about

KAARE KLINT, THE FAABORG CHAIR, 1914

KAARE KLINT, THE FAABORG CHAIR
Juhl’s work was inspired by contemporary art. Photo credit Pernille Klemp and the Design Museum Denmark

Kaare Klint was born in 1888 in Frederiksberg and designed his first furniture in 1914, for the Faaborg Museum. He is considered a pioneer of modern design, combining craftsmanship, functionalism and beauty. As part of a collaboration with architect Carl Peterson, Klint designed what is known as the Faaborg chair in 1914.

The design of the chair was determined by its function – it had to be light enough to be able to be repositioned viewing the museum’s exhibitions. Klint chose rattan for his original design, the open weave allowing the tile work on museum floor to be more visible, as well as lighten the chair itself. A curved top rail supported the occupant from all angles, combining the armrest with the back in a sweeping curve.

BØRGE MOGENSEN, J39, OR THE ‘PEOPLE’S’ CHAIR, 1947

HANS WEGNER, THE ROUND CHAIR, 1949
Mogensen studied under and later worked for Kaare Klint

Among the great mid-20th century Danish furniture designers, Børge Mogensen distinguished himself with his adherence to traditional values of craftsmanship. While Hans Wegner, Finn Juhl and Arne Jacobsen designed some of the most striking and now iconic furnishings of the era, Mogensen made pieces that were simple, durable and comfortable — and in the long run perhaps more useful and better loved.

Mogensen studied under and later worked for Kaare Klint, whose chief tenets were quality of construction and simplicity of line. Hence Mogensen designed for function more than sculptural effect.

POUL KJÆRHOLM, PK22, 1956

POUL KJÆRHOLM, PK22,
Kjærholm’s use of industrial materials heralded a fresh approach

The PK22 chair was designed for the Danish manufacturer E Kold Christensen, in 1956 and was an immediate commercial and critical success. A trained cabinetmaker, Poul Kjærholm’s use of industrial methods and materials in the 1960s brought a fresh, graceful, sleek new style to Danish modern design. Kjærholm’s background was as a cabinetmaker, but he was fascinated by the steel furniture of international modernism.

Like his teacher Hans Wegner, he was greatly impressed by Mies van der Rohe’s Barcelona chair from 1929. In 1955 Kjærholm launched a new low chair in mat steel on which the steel was put together with visible Unbrako (Allen) screws. The first version was upholstered with Pomeranian linen or leather.

ARNE JACOBSEN, THE ANT, 1952

ARNE JACOBSEN, THE ANT, 1952
The Ant was designed for the canteen of the newly-built factory Novo

Arne Jacobsen graduated as an architect and began to design houses in the Danish neoclassic style, but soon turned towards international modernism. As much as possible he insisted on designing all the furnishings for the houses he built and it was through this that most of his designs were created. The stacking chair The Ant, which was designed for the canteen of the newly-built factory for the drug company Novo, became the first successful mass-produced chair in Denmark.

The design was inspired by the experiments made inter nationally by designers such as Alvar Aalto and Charles and Ray Eames. During the next two decades The Ant had six ‘siblings’ with different shapes for the back rests. The most popular was ‘series 7’. To date more than seven million of the series have been produced.

FINN JUHL, DOUBLE CHIEFTAIN CHAIR, 1949

FINN JUHL, DOUBLE CHIEFTAIN CHAIR
Juhl’s work was inspired by contemporary art. Photo credit Pernille Klemp and the Design Museum Denmark

Finn Juhl was a central exponent for the organic modernism during the decades after WWII and furnished several buildings abroad, including the UN in New York. He was also an important figure in the breakthrough of Danish Modern in the USA. His strongly sculptural hand crafted furniture was inspired by contemporary art, the tools of indigenous peoples and antique Egyptian furniture.

The thin upholstery of the visually light sofa, the apparently hovering horizontal planes and the use of teak for indoor furniture became a part of the Danish Modern furniture style, which was initiated by the Chieftain Chair and sofa in 1949.

HANS WEGNER, THE ROUND CHAIR, 1949

HANS WEGNER, THE ROUND CHAIR
The round chair was influenced by Chinese designs. Photo credit the Design Museum Denmark

Hans J. Wegner was trained as a cabinetmaker and had only attended the School of Arts, Crafts and Design for two years before he was employed by the architects Arne Jacobsen and Erik Møller. Wegner’s work, which encompassed more than 500 chairs, was often based on different historic types of chair with shapes inspired by old work tools like axe handles, scythe handles or oar.

The Round Chair, which became a major work in the international breakthrough of Danish design in 1949, was based on Wegner’s work with historic Chinese chairs and the Danish tradition for classic chairs with a round backrest. The Round chair was named The Chair in American magazines and became an important representative for the organic modernism which made Danish design internationally known in the 1950s and sixties.

VERNER PANTON, PANTON CHAIR, 1960

VERNER PANTON, PANTON CHAIR,
The Panton chair fulfilled the dream of a onemould, one-material chair

Verner Panton is one of the most acknowledged Danish designers. Unlike his colleagues he was not inspired by historic types of furniture but by new technology, consumer culture and sixties music. The greater part of his work concerned a total ‘look’, arranging complete interiors.

The Panton chair is the natural end goal of a dream that had been prevailing since the beginning of the 20th century when the production of chairs in bent steel tube without the rear legs had began. In the industrial age the ideal had become a mass produced chair in one mould and one material. Panton became the first to realise the dream of a shell chair cast in plastic in a mould.

NANNA DITZEL, THE TRINIDAD, 1993

NANNA DITZEL, THE TRINIDAD
The Trinidad achieved new heights in pressed wood

The Trinidad is a stackable chair designed by Nana Ditzel, who was educated as a cabinetmaker and furniture designer. She was one of the few women who managed to succeed the male dominated furniture business. She was inspired by new materials and had great insight into production methods being the first designer in Denmark to use a computer numeric control led (CNC) milling machine to cut Trinidad’s characteristic thin lines.

While Arne Jacobsen, with his simple and naked Ant chair wished to create lightness, so as not to disturb the eye wandering through the room, Ditzel made the chair itself transparent. The characteristic fan-shaped carvings of seat and back produce a light, summery effect that gracefully interacts with the light play in the room. The chair won the 1995 ID Prize.

GRETE JALK, SLØJFESTOLEN, THE BOW OR ‘RIBBON’ CHAIR, 1963

GRETE JALK, SLØJFESTOLEN, THE BOW OR ‘RIBBON’ CHAIR
The ribbon chair explores the possibilities of bent laminated wood. Photo credit Pernille Klemp and the Design Museum Denmark

Before her education at the School of Arts Crafts and Design, Grete Jalk was trained as a cabinetmaker and designed handmade chairs as well as industrial furniture. She was a pupil of Professor Kaare Klint and under his influence tended towards the function and produc tion method of furniture.

She was also preoccupied with exploring the possibilities of laminated wood. The bow-shaped chair represents the culmination of the development of bent laminated plywood chairs. Jalk designed the chair at the same time a set of three nesting tables, which repeat the same curves.

OLE WANSCHER, THE EGYPTIAN FOLDING CHAIR, 1934

OLE WANSCHER, THE EGYPTIAN FOLDING CHAIR,
Wanscher was influenced by travels in Egypt

Ole Wanscher turned to the ancient world for his inspiration. He was a student of Kaare Klint, and later followed in his footsteps when he became professor at the Furniture School at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen. Trained as a cabinetmaker, he discovered the study of furniture design on trips to Egypt and travelling throughout Europe with his father.

In addition to Egyptian furniture, Wanscher was heavily inspired by English period furniture, Greek and Chinese furniture. Along with other designers, like Finn Juhl and Børge Mogensen, Wanscher was influential in developing the technique of the ‘unsupported arm’.

The folding stool mimicked the shape of a 3,000 year old stool, a form he probably came across on his early travels.

Take a Seat – The Expert’s View

Peter Kjelgaard Jensen, head of design and 20th-century decorative art at the Copenhagen auctioneers Bruun Rasmussen, considers the market for Danish Modern

Which designs would you add to our top ten?

The list includes all the ‘blue chip’ names of modern Danish design. One name I would add is that of Flemming Lassen (1902-1984) whose easy chair The Tired Man broke both Danish and international records for the designer when Bruun Rasmussen sold one for DKK 1.846,000 (€248,000) in 2014. According to Lassen the aim of the chair was for the occupant to feel “like a polar bear cub held by its mother in the middle of an ice cap.”

In general we are seeing an increased interest in Danish Modern from the earlier period – The Tired Man was designed in 1935. Flemming and his brother Mogens Lassen (1901-1987) were architects whose influence rubbed off on Arne Jacobsen and the three of them went on to be responsible for some of the best Danish designs of the period. Many people have only become familiar with Flemming’s work in the last few years, since which time his pieces have sold at extremely high prices.

What makes Danish furniture of the period so special?

The golden age of Danish furniture was from 1945 to 1965. This period combined forward-thinking designers with traditional craftsmanship, which created a tension between international modernism and Nordic humanism. What designers of the time understood very well is the ‘human’ element to making furniture: as well as looking modern, functionality is very important. The needs of modern living were always fundamental to the design.

How has the market changed? 

I have been involved with the market for the last 20 years and the movement has been largely circular as designers come in and out of fashion. For example, these days Panton might be regarded as ‘too plastic’ while Paul Kjærholm could be more in vogue. As mentioned, the current trend is for work from the earlier designers which is very rare to come to market and, when it does, greatly sought after.

Do you see these designs ever going out of style?

Fashions may change, but the way people live has not altered significantly since the 1950s. We are not living an era of dramatic change, such as those periods which provoked the new styles of art deco or art nouveau. The way we decorate our homes is still the same. For this reason I don’t see the market changing, mid – century remains collectable in a way that other antiques are not.

Who are the Danish designers that make a good investment?

For me, one name and one design stands out. It is as collectable today as it was 20 years ago. Finn Juhl’s 45 chair has always been, and remains, a great investment piece.

DISCOVER MORE

Danish Homestore is a Nottingham-based specialist buying and selling Danish furniture from the midcentury period to modern-day, visit www.danishhomestore.com. Hackney-based Archive Furniture specialises in a range of Danish furniture from the period, www.archivefurniture.co.uk. The website www.danishmodern is a terrific resource for anyone hoping to identify Danish mid-century modern furniture, or research the subject further.

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