Termoskande (thermos jug) from Ole Palsby Design

 

When the designer Ole Palsby died in 2010, his son Mikkel Palsby decided to take over the studio, and took on responsibility for his father's design legacy. A number of projects were on hold, still to be taken through to commercial production, including a thermos jug designed in 2007.

That jug, or termoskande, is now being manufactured for the Coop group in Denmark under their Enkel label and was shown by Ole Palsby Design at the design fair northmodern in August. The shape is simple and beautiful and the jugs have a soft matt finish for the outer surface and, for obvious practical reasons, a high gloss finish to the inner rim and pouring lip. If talking about a plastic jug as beautiful sounds slightly excessive - the exaggeration of a design obsessive - surely the proportions are almost perfect and the profile incredibly elegant.

As with all kitchen-ware designed by Ole Palsby, the jug fits perfectly in the hand; it is well balanced and there are carefully thought-through details like a slight depression for the thumb at the top of the handle which makes perfect sense in terms of ergonomics … the jug  can be held securely and can be tilted at the right angle to pour out the contents steadily and safely ... in other words it functions without the user actually having to think or analyse why or how.

Mikkel Palsby kindly agreed to be the 'hand model' for photographs to show how the jug pours perfectly.

 

the new FDB Møbler furniture store in Lyngby

Sofa J149 by Erik Ole Jørgensen from 1978 and table by Poul Volther designed in 1951

 

On the 1st September FDB Møbler, part of the Coop group of companies, opened a furniture store in Lyngby - a suburb of Copenhagen some 12 kilometres north of the centre of the city. The opening seems to have been relatively modest, with no fan fares and little in the press, but this could mark a very important shift in the furniture market in Denmark and beyond.

FDB Møbler are part of the COOP and the company was important through the 1950s and the 1960s for producing reasonably priced but well-made furniture designed by some of the most famous designers then working in Denmark including Poul Volther, Ejvind Johannsson, Erik Ole Jørgensen, Mogens Koch, Jørgen Bækmark, and Børge Mogensen.

More recently Johannes Foersom and Peter Hiort-Lorenzen and Thomas Alken have designed furniture for the company.

Many of the most famous pieces from the 50s and 60s are being made again and under the banner Tradition of design at democratic prices

Relaunched in 2013, still under the Coop brand, the first pieces sold well … in fact it is said that they sold in a couple of months what the company had planned to sell in a year. Presumably that encouraged them to relaunch more designs and to open the store.

The quality of the products is high and the choice of colours and finish - natural wood with matt oil or strong pastels or deep colours, again with a matt finish - have been chosen to be more appropriate for contemporary taste. 

J46 designed in 1956 by Poul Volther

J52 designed by Børge Mogensen in 1950

J149 and J146 by Erik Ole Jørgensen

J81 by Jørgen Baekmark

J48 designed in 1951 by Poul Volther

Mikado chair from 1996 by Johannes Foersom + Peter Hiort-Lorenzen

Household items by Ole Palsby and Grethe Meyer are being produced under the Enkel label of the Coop and are available in some of the supermarkets in the group and on line through the Coop site.

It will be interesting to see if and how this is all rationalised in terms of marketing and it will be fascinating to see if new designs are commissioned. IKEA have clearly become very popular for their competitive/low prices and, in part because of their success, some design companies have had to try and compete at or close to that price level and some major Danish furniture companies have moved, in part, to the premium end of the market so it will be very interesting to see if FDB can march into the gap and claim the middle ground. 

With my grasp of Danish being so shaky - to put it mildly - I’m struggling to sort out the history of FDB or Fællesforeningen for Danmarks Brugsforeninger. 

Basically the association of cooperatives dates back to 1884 when the first cooperative was formed in Zealand and various co-operative groups have joined, changed names and then acquired or developed other businesses so the group now includes the Danish supermarket chains Super Brugsen, Fakta and Irma and since 2001 everything has come under a holding company called Coop Denmark although that larger holding has united with NKL in Norway and KF in Sweden as Coop Norden. 

 

FDB Møbler, Klampenborgvej 248, 2800 Kongens Lyngby

Else-Rikke Bruun at northmodern

It has been quite difficult to write about these complex and sophisticated pieces. For a start they are stunningly beautiful. Of course that shouldn't make it difficult to describe them or talk about this furniture but then the superlatives start to stack up and begin to slide into hyperbole and loose their impact.

Also the pieces occupy an interesting middle ground: this is furniture - or at least they are pieces designed to furnish a room, which is slightly different - but in some ways they are closer to being sculpture than most furniture because they explore so carefully ideas about volume and space and explore the role of light and shadow in defining both.

Harlekin in birch

Veneer in birch

A strong feature of the screens is their texture although it may seem slightly odd to describe something on this relatively large scale as texture. As well as through touch, of course, texture is usually revealed by light playing across a surface to highlight changes on the surface that show that it is not smooth - so the texture of rough concrete or, and more appropriate here, the texture of a woven fabric or the texture of the surface of a woven rush mat or of a basket.

Nor are conventional definitions of style particularly appropriate here. The screens are minimalist in that they have a relatively simple repeat pattern and are made in a material with a uniform tone and colour and there is no added decoration - any pattern is formed by the technique of construction and not applied - but rather than being minimal - which often now just implies simple or basic - these pieces are better described as being restrained or sober and controlled.

Certainly the gentle curves of the chairs, when seen in profile, are complex but there is a purity of line and that is what, in part, makes them so beautiful … and that is said with no apology for slipping into hyperbole.

Nor do the pieces really conform to a strict sense of period or location because although they are, in some ways, typically Scandinavian - pale wood and high-quality construction for a start - they can also be seen to relate to Japanese and Chinese techniques of carpentry where separate elements are held together by intersecting and locking the parts into place rather than being fixed together by using carpenters joints or screws or glue.

Nor are these forms and shapes specifically related to timber, in its most natural form, because Else-Rikke Bruun exploits, in a very sophisticated way, the intrinsic qualities of the plywood that she uses and plywood is manufactured rather than being timber that has simply been felled and then sawn and planed smooth. But also the screens reminiscent of origami and could be made in paper or card although, of course, then they would be of a different scale.

These pieces show Else-Rikke Bruun exploring and testing, in different ways, both a material and the different technique or ways of working with that material … here the shaping and bending of plywood so that it retains a complex shape. Plywood can be bent and then held under tension, as in the screens, or, with the construction of the chair, sheets of plywood can be shaped with heat and pressure so at normal temperatures the separate sections are flexible but retain the shape of the curve of a former or mould.

The screens and the chair are important because they illustrate another aspect of the design process. It is fascinating to see the work of a designer who knows instinctively that they have reached a point with the design when it is absolutely right. Many designers would have to think carefully before being able to explain to someone why one part of their design is not longer or not a sharper curve or a thicker dimension but by instinct and through experience they know or they feel when something is absolutely right for what they are trying to achieve. And that really is difficult to explain.

 

Veneer was shown at the Biennalen exhibition of Kunsthåndværk og Design - the Danish Craftwork and Design Association - at Carlsberg Byen in Copenhagen in August 2015

Else-Rikke Bruun

Bended by Else-Rikke Bruun

This chair was inspired by Arabic lettering and, when seen in profile, the curves of the separate parts certainly have the fluidity of ink lines drawn with a pen or a fine brush as in calligraphy.

It is formed from flat, two-dimensional, sheets of plywood that have been cut to shape and bent and moulded to follow complex curves but what is also important, particularly for the view from the side, are spacing and joining pieces that keep each of the four main parts of the chair separate so that they appear to run parallel for sections but then curve away without actually seeming to touch.

Back, seat, front support and the back support together form an elongated X in section when the chair is seen from the side but it is an X where there are not just two main lines simply intersecting but four curved parts that slide together with different amounts of overlap and changes of angle.

There is a strong contrast between the view of the chair from the front or back - which shows something very solid - because the elements are bold unbroken shapes - and the view from the side where the chair is thin, linear and very elegant. The proportions of the parts and balance or relationship between them is crucial and there is a dynamic between the lines and the solid planes in any view from an angle.

 


In terms of the broad history of chair design the structural form of Bended is fascinating.

Roman and medieval stools used either an x-shaped frame or intersecting and crossing pieces but generally the X shape was seen from the front, not the side, and the person using the chair was either sitting between the arms of the X or on a seat that rested across the top of the X. 

Some designers in the early modern period, such as Gerrit Rietveld, used flat sheets of plywood to form the seat and back of a chair and in the 1930s Alvar Aalto designed chairs with shaped seats or backs in plywood but this was only bent in one plane, basically forming a scroll, and these plywood seats were invariably supported on bentwood frames.

All these designs look inelegant when compared with the chair designed by Else-Rikke Bruun.

 

 Gerrit Rietveld (1888-1964) 

Red and Blue Chair 1917

Plywood is an industrial or manufactured product that was first made in the early 19th century and was seen as primarily utilitarian. It has layers of thin sheets of wood that are cut by turning a tree trunk against a long thin blade and often smaller or poor-quality tree trunks are used. These slices are glued together with a number of layers to form sheets of varying thickness. Plywood is strong, relatively light and relatively inexpensive so it can be used for boat building, covering industrial buildings, such as sheds or factories or farm buildings, or used for the backs of furniture such as wardrobes or over frames it is strong enough for the sides and fronts of cupboards - particularly for what was sometimes called utility furniture in the middle of the last century.

In the second half of the 20th century, several designers in Denmark produced chairs with a seat and back in plywood that had been curved or moulded into relatively complicated three-dimensional seats, perhaps most notably Arne Jacobsen, but generally these plywood shells were supported on a separate frame of wood or metal.

folding chair by Kaare Klint 1933

Chair PK25 by Poul Kjærholm 1951

The BENDED chair is low and in its form and in the position of the sitter it is reminiscent of two very distinct designs from the middle of the 20th century ... the deck chair by Kaare Klint from 1933 and the metal-framed chair PK25 by Poul Kjærholm designed in 1951 or his slightly later PK22 from 1955.

Several designers have, however, explored the possibilities of using plywood for the whole chair, both the seat and back and the support, and have moulded plywood into far more complicated shapes to create more complex pieces of furniture. 

Sori Yanagi (1915-2011) -  Butterfly Stool 1954. Deceptively simple with two very complex pieces that mirror each other.

Greta Jalke (1920-2006) chair in plywood from 1963. There are two main parts to the chair that are bent to particularly complex shapes - almost like strudel pastry or pasta.

 

Nanna Ditzel (1923-2005) a prototype chair in Oregon pine from 1962 for Poul Christiansen. The seat is a separate piece housed into back with a line of square mortise-and-tenon joints.

Dansk Møbelkunst at northmodern

The 1950s and 1960s are often described as the Golden Age or as the Classic period for Danish furniture design. That’s useful to help spotlight the importance of works from this period or even as a way of making us concentrate and focus a critical eye because it is lazy to simply accept a label of greatness, applied by someone else, without trying to see why or how a designer or a design is important. But then there are also several problems with the perpetration of such a view … the view that a certain period was great … which seems to imply that other periods were not. When I have told people here in Denmark that I moved to Copenhagen to write about architecture and design then the too-common response is something along the lines of … “you should have been here in the 60s or 70s … now that’s when the Danes really knew how to design furniture.” That’s actually slightly shocking, when it’s said by Danes, and of course it writes off all the superb furniture designed and made in Denmark in the 1920s and 1930s - the vital precursors of that Classic period - and not only disregards all the good Danish furniture from the 19th century, or the 18th century and earlier but also, of course, blatantly ignores all the amazing furniture designed and made now by young Danish companies. 

But somehow more insidious is the grumble from some young designers themselves about all the well-established manufacturers simply reproducing the ‘old’ designs, living off a back catalogue, and not giving the current cohort an opportunity. That is in part simply a generational grumble that looks back, through the obvious successes, to what they assume must have been an easier time when, in reality, if you read about the way that Hans Wegner or Arne Jacobsen, for example, worked, then they too were having to work very hard to build reputations; they too were trying and not always succeeding in getting a commission or having to fight to get a design made in the way they wanted.

Dansk Møbelkunst is a major dealer in these great works of the great designers and cabinet makers of the 20th century and at northmodern they showed an amazing selection of masterpieces … examples of the very best of furniture from the 20th century. Here it was possible to look closely at and marvel at the details of workmanship and the small details of careful and precise design in these pieces and to see not just the quality of this furniture but to see the ways that the designers and the makers of the pieces played with ideas; tried different solutions to recurring problems or simply revelled in the possibilities they could see in the materials themselves. 

 

 

Above all, the display of these classic pieces of 20th-century design provided a broad and solid context for current design and production and, of course, they set a standard. New designs can be as good and some will be better if judged by the standards and expectations of our own period … not exactly on the shoulders of giants and all that but more about building on and being part of a very strong heritage.

 

experts on the web

Dansk Møbelkunst, with showrooms in Copenhagen and Paris, deal in major examples of Danish furniture and decorative arts, of the highest quality and specifically from the period from 1920 through to 1970. 

They have produced a number of outstanding publications on Danish furniture design and monographs on a number of Danish designers including Jacobsen, Klint, Kjærholm and Wegner.

Their web site is a good source of information where they profile pieces of furniture that are currently in their show rooms but their blog also includes assessments of important historic buildings in Denmark where they are associated with major designers from the 20th century or have important schemes of decoration.

 

 

People who deal professionally with furniture or ceramics or glass build up a considerable expertise in part because they are actually handling and examining and assessing an amazing number of items. More and more, this expertise is published by them on web sites and blogs and can provide important and interesting insights for the general reader. There is now so much material out there, available on the web, that occasionally pointers or suggestions might be useful.

1934 are an English company who also deal in 20th century furniture. They have an accessible style of writing on their site and have good photographs of pieces that have not been scrubbed clean and lost their patina … the pieces they sell may seem more realistic if your budget does not stretch to museum quality works. They also write general pieces about the period … for instance a good article on the Frankfurt Kitchen.

 

 
 

OEN  imports into England and sells mainly Japanese ceramics and wood wares but also a selection of books and some glassware and some metalwork. Looking through the site reveals just how close Danish and Japanese design can be, in terms of aesthetics and in the way natural materials are appreciated and their characteristics and qualities exploited with such care by real craftsmen makers. The photographs, particularly the high-quality photographs of details of the works themselves, and the growing number of videos on the site of makers working are particularly informative and revealing. 

Artzul at northmodern

 

There seems to be a general perception that all Danish furniture is wood. Pale wood.

At northmodern this year there were designers and manufacturers who clearly defied or ignored the convention, producing furniture in different materials and mixing materials. And, of course, even through the 20th century not everything was made in oak ... there was frequent use of glass and steel for furniture and several designers, notably Poul Kjærholm, produced pieces with a hard precision and, some would say, a severity that technically has more in common with engineering than the work of Copenhagen cabinet makers.

Low tables by Christian Halsted of the Copenhagen design studio Artzul have simple but beautifully-made frames and legs in wood but these support elegant slabs of Italian or Portuguese marble. The Neptune Tables are cubes of brushed steel forming angular and sculptural blocks and the Artica chairs have blocks of Italian terrazzo slotted into a steel base like a stone and metal version of the Rietveld chair.

 

Artzul

Fredericia at northmodern

 

With such a large number of designers and manufacturers showing their work at northmodern it is a good place where you have to revise a few of those myths about Danish design.

For a start Danish design is not all about white walls or, when colour is used, it is all safe, soft muted.

Fredericia took the opportunity at northmodern to show their work with Uffe Buchard from Darling Creative Studio to create the ‘Double F Hotel’.

Shown in May in their city-centre store as part of 3daysofdesign, the spaces created represent a bar, a hotel lounge and a dining room. Publicity material from Fredericia talks about the ‘bright colours, unexpected textiles and … homey atmosphere, which today’s traveller demands … A home away from home.’

All the furniture is from the current Fredericia range but here shown against very strong colours and with dramatic use of lighting and plants and some furniture is shown with new textiles.

The concept is inspirational. 

Design hotels all over the world are a target market for any major design or furniture company, not just for the contract itself, but of course many travellers now seek inspiration from where they stay on holiday or business trips … a stay in a hotel is a chance to actually try out a new design or see a new idea for fittings or decoration or different and sometimes outrageous fitting out of bathrooms … and then try to reproduce the look or track down the furniture for their own homes. 

Colours chosen by Uffe Buchard and the very confident juxtaposition of certain classic designs could certainly be copied in larger apartments in Copenhagen or Oslo or Sweden and particularly in older buildings with higher ceilings and large sash windows but would be equally dramatic in the new harbour-side apartments with their dramatic light reflected back up off the water. A large apartment only because in a small or cluttered space the use of such strong dark colours can be claustrophobic but maybe I'm still too cautious about using colour in this way ... maybe all that’s needed is inspiration … and maybe a little courage … or conviction.

Fredericia

Silica Visions - Round Tower, Copenhagen

Silica Visions is an exhibition of work by the students who have graduated this summer from the ceramic and glass course of the Danish Royal Academy design school at Nexø on Bornholm.

The quality of the work is impressive but what is so amazing is the diverse approaches to the materials and the extensive experimentation with techniques.

In some, strong sculptural form is the result while in others, with fractured surfaces, the pieces seem close to their origin as minerals while in the work of others, smooth trails of colour or globules of material emphasise and exploit the high temperatures required to produce all these works. 

Obviously, each student is only represented by one or at most a few pieces of their work but does indicate where, right now, their interests are focused and it will be intriguing to track careers and fascinating to see who, if anyone,  moves into commercial design work and who, in the coming years, set up studios or workshops.

Of course the exhibition is not in the Round Tower itself but in the large gallery space above the church and reached from an upper level of the tower. There is generous space to see the works and the natural light from the windows can create beautiful and at times quite dramatic effects.

gallery of images

Silica Visions continues until the 27th September

OneCollection at northmodern

At northmodern OneCollection showed the recently re-released France Chair that was designed by Finn Juhl and produced by France & Son from 1958.

Known originally as Chair FJ136, it was delivered as a flat pack which seems to have contributed to its popularity, particularly for the export market. 

More restrained than many of the designs by Juhl, the complex curves of the seat and back of the chair are a development of the 108 Chair of 1946 and the pronounced but gently-curved elbow rests on the arms are reminiscent of the arms of the Chieftain Chair from 1949.

OneCollection, France Chair

 

C W F France was an English businessman who from 1936 ran the Danish company Lama at Ørholm with the cabinet maker Eric Daverkosen, producing mattresses and furniture. After the War, the company expanded rapidly and at one stage, by the mid 50s, produced up to 60% of Danish furniture exports. The company changed its name to France & Son in 1957.  The working relationship between Juhl and France & Son was fascinating … Juhl was certainly not the most commercially focused designer of the post-war period.

It would be interesting to see production numbers for the chair because it was, possibly, the most overtly commercial of Juhl's designs. Clearly, this was not 'flat-pack' furniture as we think of it now but, unlike Borgensen and Wegner and most other major designers of the post-war period, Juhl did not produce furniture for the lower priced, more popular, sector of the market so he did not design for FDB - the Danish COOP.

 

A book on the France company - and their work with major Danish designers, including Finn Juhl, Grethe Jalk, Ole Wanscher and Hvidt & Mølgaard - has recently been published: France & Søn – British Pioneer of Danish Furniture by James France from the publisher Forlaget Vita.