Ant Chair in the permanent collection of Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen
The Ant Chair was designed for the canteen of Novo Industry - the pharmaceutical company - or rather - the story is that Arne Jacobsen had designed the chair but Fritz Hansen were not convinced that it was viable commercially. When a director from Novo visited the drawing office to discuss work on the design of new buildings for Novo and admired the chair, he asked Jacobsen about the design. Jacobsen told him it was for the canteen at the new factory and so secured an order for 200 that convinced Fritz Hansen that the design should go into production.
This was not an industrial design, as such, but the design for an industrially manufactured chair for everyday use.
It was launched by Fritz Hansen on the 24 October 1952, on the 80th anniversary of the company, and was shown first at the Danish Society of Arts and Crafts exhibition in Zurich and then at the Danish Museum of Decorative Arts in January 1953.
When the chair first went into production there was a choice from four types of plywood - beech, oak, walnut and teak - and a version finished with black lacquer. Later palisander and Oregon pine were added to the range and there was a version with coloured felt glued to the front face of the seat and the back.
Jacobsen designed the chair with three legs and despite requests for a version with four legs, he objected to the idea and it could not be put into production until after he died.
The legs in steel are held in place at the centre of the underside of the chair with rubber spacers so that they do not sit against the plywood but also to stop the legs twisting or moving sideways if someone using the chair shifts their weight.
The Ant was the first Danish chair that was made with a single shell in plywood that is curved in both planes to form a seat and back in a single piece of laminated wood.
Charles and Ray Eames and Eero Saarinen experimented by cutting slits into the plywood to form a complex shell but Jacobsen achieved a sharp curve between the seat and back while also forming spoon-shaped hollow curves across the width of the seat and the back by reducing the width of the shape at the centre. That is the simple if unromantic reason for the distinct shape of the chair.
The Ant Chair is light in weight and stacks so it was used in public spaces like meeting rooms and lecture rooms. People remark that the chair has a decorative effect particularly when a number are set out in a space together in rows which creates a strong and undulating pattern reminiscent of fish scales.
In an interview Jacobsen revealed that he had considered using plastic rather than plywood but had rejected the idea because it would have made the chair too expensive - mainly because production of a moulded plastic shell requires an investment in expensive machinery.
designed by Arne Jacobsen
made by Fritz Hansen and still in production
laminated wood shell (plywood) and legs in tube steel
a version was made with the legs covered with light grey fluted plastic
height: 77 cm
width: 51 cm
depth: 51 cm
height of seat: 44 cm