On a walk down to the shopping centre at Fisketorvet on a good Autumn afternoon and happening to have a camera, it was a good opportunity to take photographs of the apartment buildings at Havneholmen.

These are part of the extensive redevelopment of the south end of the harbour as industries have moved away and most of the industrial buildings demolished.

Much of this area, on the west side of the lower harbour, has not, in fact had a long history as the extensive area on the seaward side of the main railway line was only reclaimed from the sea and coastal marsh from the late 19th century onwards.


There are two courtyard blocks here designed by the architectural firm of Lundgaard & Tranberg that were completed in 2008. The courtyards are slightly angled as the plot is a trapezium with a change of angle on the water front. Clearly water side blocks have the highest values but to over develop the quay side would have reduced the light and air of the courtyard so for both groups the courtyards are arranged with continuous blocks along the road and down each side but with the fourth side to the water ostensibly open but with a free-standing block at the centre. These smaller blocks project out over the quay, breaking the line of the angled edge and there are inlets with moorings for boats cutting right into the courtyards … clearly a reference to the complicated arrangement of many of the warehouses and the boat yards and so on of the commercial buildings of the harbour where boats were pulled alongside the building or into the building.

This is a large development with 236 apartments and many of them large with up to 200 square metres of floor space and with large balconies - some apartments with more than one balcony - and some with double-height rooms. This scale and density is achieved by taking parts up to eight storeys under long mono-pitch roofs.


Balconies are in part enclosed with parapet walls - rather than glass or open railings - so form complex patterns of projecting boxes which works well on the courtyard fronts, particularly with the bold and solid wood decking and steps of landing stages for boat moorings but the effect is slightly less satisfactory from the water where these same elements appear to be slightly overcrowded and confuse the underlying solidity and geometry of the blocks themselves. Keeping the wall finish to white with thin wood frames for windows and doors is successful and is a reference back to the style of sea-front architecture of the Art Deco period.


why don’t we talk about architecture more?

extension to the museum at Ordrupgaard by Zaha Hadid


Relaxing with friends - maybe when sitting around a dining table at home or sitting in a pub or in a restaurant - people discuss music or talk about food or fashion at length. If the conversation becomes animated it can reveal high levels of interest, often a fair bit of enthusiasm and frequently strong opinions expressed with partisan conviction that suggests a reasonable level of knowledge. At the very least, most people can distinguish rock from pop, classical from jazz; most will have an opinion on the latest restaurant to have opened or talk about the different beers brewed in their city and - even if men say they don’t know anything at all about fashion - they have clear preferences for one make of jeans over another and can explain precisely why. 

But rarely does there seems to be an equivalent interest or general knowledge when it comes to architecture and yet we all live in buildings and all, or nearly all of us, work in buildings. We visit large, expensive, modern buildings, that might be well-designed or badly-designed, when we shop or to go to a concert. Most of us walk along streets every day and architecture impinges on almost everything we do.

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the glassmaker Rick Gerner


In the Autumn there were two opportunities in Copenhagen to see the work of Rick Gerner: at northmodern he was one of eighteen young designers from Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi Designskolen (the Danish Royal Academy schools of design) who showed their work in an area entitled Talents and Schools and then, in September, graduate students from the Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi School of Ceramics and Glass on Bornholm showed their work in an exhibition, Silica Visions, at the Round Tower in Copenhagen.

Rick Gerner is from the Netherlands and started his design training there but began to question if his studies, and the approach to what he was doing, was right for him and right for what he wanted to achieve. He discovered glass making; realised that the very direct, hands-on approach of training within a craft discipline, rather than dealing with design as simply a stage in the production process, was what he really wanted to do and he transferred to Bornholm.

Understanding that, you can see in his work the enthusiasm and the determination of the convert … there is a focus and an intensity in his work but also the sense that he is testing and pushing the boundaries as he tries to understand the material he has chosen to work with.

He has gone back to basics; not just looking at glass itself as the raw material - looking at what can and cannot be done with molten glass in the process of making a glass vessel - but he has also analysed how he uses the tools needed to gather the glass; form it into shapes and crimp or cut or finish the vessels he has formed. He has made the tools he needed and for his graduation project he has photographed and analysed how he uses those tools. 

This is like a young poet exploring the sounds and rhythms of the words of their language or a professional musician finding what they feel to be exactly the right instrument for them to play and then exploring and experimenting and finding the limits of what they can do with the sound and with the strengths and the limits of that instrument.

He works with a straightforward, almost basic, glass that has tones of green with slight changes in that colour - other minerals and chemicals have to be added to make glass that is sharply clear or deeply coloured or to make it perform in different ways in its molten or finished state - and this gives his finished work a warmth with slight irregularities and slight inconsistencies that bring the pieces to life … it is the impurities that gives the glass the qualities that show it was made by hand and not formed and moulded in perfect regularity by a machine but it is also the irregularities in glass that give it its reflective qualities. 

Of course, perfectly consistent glass, with each piece produced being exactly the same as the first and the last, has distinct benefits and qualities for certain work but the character and the qualities of the glass are different to the glass made by Rick Gerner. In some ways this is comparable to the differences between stoneware and porcelain in ceramics; between copper and steel in metalwork or between raw linen and fine cotton in textiles. That is not to suggest a judgement based on quality or intrinsic value but a distinction between different types of material that vary between a softer irregularity or a sharper and more consistent regularity. And it’s not to say that one is better and the other worse … just different. The individual materials have inherent qualities that the designer has to understand and exploit.

The shapes and forms in the glassware produced by Rick come directly from the methods and techniques of the production itself and there are clearly links back to the shapes and forms of decoration in honest and straightforward glassware from the late medieval and the early modern period of the 16th and 17th century … that period when the glassmakers of the Netherlands and the north German states and, further afield, in Bohemia, began to develop successful and very productive glass industries producing everyday glassware for the table. But the forms and decoration developed by Rick Gerner are only similar because the material and the techniques he uses are much the same now as then but he is bringing to his craft his own tastes and his own distinctly contemporary eye. As said so often now on this web site, this is not about reproducing historic designs but about starting with well-established craft skills and taking them in a new direction that has to be appropriate and relevant to modern life and modern needs.

Rick Gerner


Søren Ulrich

Søren Ulrich was at northmodern in August to show his furniture along with a display of the large selection of high-quality carpentry and cabinet-making tools that he sells through his company.

His furniture is made with great attention to the character and grain of the timbers he uses and his work has, of course, the quality that you would expect from a hugely experienced and skilled craftsman.

The style of his furniture is interesting - not looking back to usual sources of inspiration in the ‘classical’ period of modern Danish design from the 1960s and 1970s but a step further back to look at vernacular furniture for inspiration … to the best of everyday Danish furniture … to the simple, practical, well-made furniture of farmhouses, and working homes and to the sort of furniture that must have filled the many apartments built in Copenhagen after 1870.

For the shapes of the backs to chairs or for the form or construction details of legs or frames - these pieces are reminiscent of furniture from 1900 or 1910. This is robust, well-made, long-lasting furniture that makes use of the best carpentry techniques, for forming frames and for finishing the pieces, but makes it relevant to a modern home rather than being simply a copy or reproduction.

Søren Ulrich



the carpentry tools:

Part of the display at northmodern included a length of trunk from an oak tree that had been split down the middle and was used as a display surface for a selection of wood-working tools.

A friend with some woodland had offered Søren an oak that was about to be felled but he accepted on the condition that he could cut down the tree himself, using a traditional axe, wanting to take the timber through all the stages from the standing tree to the finished furniture … but, he confessed to me that, half way through cutting down the tree, he began to feel that maybe it was one of the toughest jobs he had ever undertaken.




The old English word for household items such as spoons and kitchen utensils that are made out of wood is TREEN … a word that also implies woodworking that was possibly undertaken outdoors, out in the woods, but was certainly the sort of task undertaken in the farm or village workshop.

At northmodern Søren Ulrich had a large squared-off block of timber that was standing upright as part of his display. It had a series of round holes drilled carefully and deliberately in a line just below the top.

While Søren was answering questions from someone else I stood looking at the block - curious and slightly perplexed. Given that there were a number of clamps on or near the block Søren must have thought I was either rather naive or even pretty thick when I asked what the holes were for. He took up one of the clamps and instead of a pad at the opposite end to the part that screwed in and out - the sort of clamp I have used - there was a prong or spike pointing horizontally out which was slotted into one of the holes and then the screw part tightened down to clamp a piece of wood … so in fact this block of timber was a transportable work bench to be used for carving.


Recently, Søren has made a range of wooden bowls and spoons and ladles and so on … treen. Some of these were in the display at northmodern with various pieces of wood showing the different stages of the production … the first a roughly shaped piece of wood, the second after an initial work with a plane, the next marked out with the shape of the proposed implement in pencil. As, at that point, there was no one else wanting to speak to Søren, he picked up one of the marked out pieces and clamped it to the top of the bench and started deftly to form a spoon. 

It was hardly surprising that, as he worked, a crowd formed to watch but I tried to take photographs of the sequence. Søren used a series of gauges and chisels to hollow out the shape, quickly swapping from one to the next, supporting the piece with a thumb as he cut down and round, using the angle of his body to lean into the cut, using body weight to provide the force but his hands to guide the cutting edge.


This must have been much like it would have been watching a village carpenter in the 19th century or the 18th century or the 17th or, in fact, any country carpenter back through the Middle Ages supplementing his income and using smaller pieces or off-cuts of wood between jobs for local families making them benches or tables or chests.  

That’s not to say that the spoons and bowls and ladles made by Søren Ulrich are some sort of charming curiosity of a rural craft that is more part of a museum demonstration than anything else because the shapes and forms of his pieces are distinctly modern … just that they are very much part of a long and admirable tradition.



the finished work

bikes at northmodern


Most of the posts here about the design fairs at northmodern have focused on furniture, and on design and craftsmanship but each fair has an extensive range of exhibitors showing products that are more broad in their context … what is sometimes described as lifestyle design.

Of course for Copenhagen you can’t get anything more ‘lifestyle’ than bikes. Danes may have a reputation for the design and quality of their lighting and their furniture but when it comes to spending their hard-earned money and treating themselves to something special, design wise, it’s just as likely to be a bike as a lamp or a chair that they buy … it’s difficult to appreciate just how many bikes there are in the city. Not just bikes but extremely expensive bikes. And an amazing number of bike shops.

At northmodern this August there were a fair few designers and manufacturers showing their latest bikes. Several showed bikes with amazingly small but incredibly powerful motors that are supposed to take away some of the effort but having had to leap for the side as people zoomed past trying out the bikes in the aisles of the exhibition, with rather broad grins on their faces, the boost was slightly more than a gentle push.

Two companies stood out. The first was, but don’t repeat this, not Danish but, scandal of scandals, French but the colours of the bikes from Martone Cycling Co are amazing.

The other company is actually from Copenhagen. Butchers & Bicycles make what appears to be THE luxury cargo bike but the real selling point is that their bikes are built to tilt™. Watching their videos, articulation of the frame allows the rider to lean inwards as they ‘bank’ around a sweeping corner … rather like motorcross and not that much slower.

Is it possible that Queen Boudica … Boudica of the chariots with knives attached to the hubs cutting a swathe through the enemy … spent her Hen Night in Copenhagen and took inspiration from the cargo bikes she saw in Christiania but just took the idea a tad too far?

Ole Palsby Design


Ole Palsby Design was at northmodern at the Bella Centre in August where they showed their ICHI range of cutlery and the recently-released thermos jug that is now being produced by the Coop in Denmark.

Mikkel Palsby, the son of Ole Palsby, also showed several historic pieces including the clear glass carafe that was designed for Georg Jensen.

Towards the end of one of the days, there was an opportunity to ask Mikkel a few questions about the way that his father worked when major designs were commissioned. In an earlier post on this site there are comments on the Eva Trio range of kitchenware and it was clear that Ole Palsby established a strong relationship with the manufacturer but Mikkel explained that what was crucial was work with production teams in the factory workshops who, working with his father, made the initial trial pieces. These were tested extensively, both at the factory and at home in the Palsby kitchen, to ensure that they functioned properly, making sure that each piece felt absolutely right in the hand, for weight, for balance or grip, and to be certain that the quality of the material was of the standard that Ole Palsby knew was necessary.

Mikkel Palsby has established a similar and close working relationship with the family of Kazonsuke Ohizumi, who own the workshops in Niigata in Japan where ICHI is made ... crucial in order to realise the designs for ICHI and to complete important final details that had not been resolved for the complete range of different pieces before Ole Palsby died in 2010.

With the new cutlery range this has been crucial because several of the pieces try new shapes or modified and clearly less-conventional shapes because Ole Palsby rarely accepted that something should be like that simply because it had always been like that. Obvious examples of this rethinking are the shape and angle of the bowls of soup spoons; the flexible but also sharp blades of knives for spreading and the longer centre tines of forks so they stick into and hold food before the main part of the fork breaks it open.

It was interesting to hear that changes might even be made to a design for technical reasons after an item had gone into full production so, clearly, Ole Palsby monitored his own work even after he had moved on to another project. For instance, Mikkel could remember one kettle where the base plate had not performed as well as expected and several months after the kettle was available, a revised version was designed where the thickness and composition of the bottom was changed to improve the transmission of even heat … a crucial feature for all cooking pans … and on another occasion one manufacturer had reduced the thickness of the metal used for a range of pans, some time after the launch, and Ole Palsby had insisted that the manufacturer went back to using the original gauge of steel. 

It seems astounding that he could keep such a tight control over the quality of the pieces coming off the factory production line but then Mikkel explained that when a design was completed, and after any modifications completed and agreed but before the piece went into production, one sample was sealed into a box that was then signed by both Ole Palsby and the factory. The contract stated that in the event of a dispute about changes, made subsequently by the factory, then the box would be opened for a direct comparison and the manufacturer was obliged, under the terms of the contract to revert to the agreed specification. Mikkel Palsby could not actually recall many disputes over ongoing production quality as presumably both Ole Palsby and the factory knew exactly what was in the box.

As a prolific designer, continually trying out new ideas, there are projects, drawings and trial pieces in the family archive that were not, for various reasons, produced commercially before Ole Palsby died and the long-term aim of the company is to go into partnership with appropriate manufacturers to see these realised and it is hoped that several designs that were popular in the 1970s or 80s will also go back into production.

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