chair for the Bellevue restaurant by Arne Jacobsen 1934

 

one of the chairs designed by Arne Jacobsen for the Bellevue Restaurant and now in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen

 

Kinesiske stole og dampbøjede stole / Chinese chairs and steambent chairs

 

Designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1934, this chair was used in the restaurant at Bellevue - part of a large complex of buildings, including a theatre by Jacobsen completed in 1937, set just back from the beach at Klampenborg, 10 or 11 kilometres north of Copenhagen. 

Jacobsen used the chair again in the town hall at Søllerød - a major building 9 kilometres north-west of Klamenborg that he designed with Flemming Lassen. Work there started in 1939 and was completed in 1942.

Made by Fritz Hansen, the chair is interesting because it is one of the first commercial furniture designs by Jacobsen that was put into production and is important because it appears, in terms of its style, transitional - reminiscent in some ways of standard chairs for dining rooms from the early 20th century but at the same time novel and modern in that it looks relatively simple, with no carved or inlaid decoration, but uses innovative and experimental forms of construction. Using new materials or established materials but in a new way marks chair design in Denmark in the second half of the 20th century.

 

 

Bellevue Restaurant. The main dining room has not survived with the space now divided up by cross walls

 

The Bellevue Chair has a frame in wood but rather than having either a simple plain seat in wood or an upholstered seat of some kind - as in traditional dining chairs of the period - the seat is formed by a single piece of thick leather that is stretched across and over wood bars or rails on each side that are set between the front and the back legs. The leather is fixed with closely spaced nails along the bottom edge of the side rails but is not fixed across the front or the back.

Red Chair designed in 1927 by Kaare Klint (1888-1954) and made by Rud Rasmussen that has a more traditional arrangement of cross rails and has exposed nail heads fixing the leather upholstery

chair designed in 1931 by Rigmor Andersen (1903-1995) who was taught by Klint with leather-covered upholstery over separate frames droped into the chair seat and back

both chairs were photographed in the new display of chairs at Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen

 

Leather was used for covering the padded seats of more expensive chairs, particularly for library chairs or formal dining chairs, and in some contemporary examples the upholsterer set the nails in a continuous line along the bottom of the front face of the frame of the seat as a decorative feature - but this chair by Jacobsen, with the seat suspended, has more in common with camping chairs or folding safari chairs from this period although those were normally covered with canvas rather than leather.

By not having a padded or covered seat one stage of work that had to be undertaken by a skilled and specialised craftsman was avoided. Upholstery was a separate and usually the last stage of production, when the chair was either covered over the wooden frame made by the cabinetmaker, as in an upholstered arm chair, or padding and covering for a seat, and possibly for a padded panel for a back rest, were made with separate frames that were then dropped into the open frame of the seat of the chair made by the cabinetmaker.

One advantage of upholstery over a separate wooden frame for a seat for dining chairs was that when it was in place it reinforced and strengthened the framework of the chair which meant that the chair itself could have a lighter structure that you could see but there could also be plates or short struts across the corners under or inside the seat cushion that can not be seen but reinforce or strengthen the finished chair.

Some features of the Bellevue chair are unusual simply because they had to compensate for that omission of a seat frame. So the pair of cross rails at the front are certainly distinctive. Many chairs, if they have a strong seat frame and relatively strong legs, omit cross rails at the front completely but here, in the Bellevue Chair, the upper rail provides the strength that would have been provided by a seat frame but because the front legs and rails are relatively thin and are round in cross section, that restricted or limited the thickness and therefore the strength of the cross rail, so a second rail was added to stop the front of the chair distorting or twisting to left and right as a person sitting in the chair moves. 

The upper cross rail had to be set low enough so that for someone sitting on the seat - even if the leather sags down - they do not feel the rail in the back of their leg - somewhere just above the knee - and the lower rail had to be high enough so that if someone tucks their feet back under the seat - particularly when they shift their weight forward to stand up - then again they should not feel that their legs are against that rail.

The tops of the front legs are proud of the seat, so that the mortice for the side rail is not at the very top so with a possibility that the wood could split, and the top of the legs are also carefully rounded as some people will rest their hands here and push down as they stand up.

details of the Bellevue chair - note the square section of the back leg for the stronger housing of the side and back rails and then the transition to a round cross section above the seat

 

The side rails of the seat are relatively robust - the width is limited by the width of the front and back legs into which they are housed but they have to be thick enough to take the line of nails along the underside without splitting. Their height is determined in part for how they look - for aesthetic reasons - so the chair, when seen from the side, has to actually look as if it is supporting the weight of the person.

These side rails are relatively strong but the side frame of the chair is given additional strength and rigidity by having cross rails towards the bottom that run back from the front leg to the back leg just above the floor. With heavier chair frames - where the side pieces could be thicker and the mortices and tenons holding them in place more robust - these rails can be omitted but here they are necessary to stop the front and back legs splaying apart when someone sits down and stops the sides of the chair distorting as someone leans back. The strength of a mortice and tenon join comes in part from the  sharp cutting of the shoulders of the tenon and these are obviously more difficult to cut precisely when the mortice is set into a rounded timber.

The leather of the seat runs across just in front of the seat back and is not fixed along the back edge.

The back legs are in a single piece from the floor to the underside of the back rest and these timbers, in profile, are curved, partly to make them appear more elegant when seen from the side but also for simple practical reasons … a straight vertical back is actually slightly unstable because the chair can tip backwards more easily as someone sits down or if they lean back in the chair. The back leg splaying out forms a sort of buttress and does change the tipping point for the chair. The lower parts of these back legs, below the seat, are square in section for additional strength and to take a strong cross bar that is set down, out of sight, below the seat and this piece not only makes the back part of the frame stronger, so a lower rail across the back towards the floor can be left out, but the back rail also has to be strong enough to take the long mortice for the bottom of a simple central splat that forms the back rest of the chair.

This splat - a thin plank of wood - is gently curved in profile and runs up to a top rail that is too thin to be described as a head rest. Again it is round in section and is set across the splat like the top cross bar of a letter T. Was Jacobsen suggesting that this top rail could actually be used like a handle for the lifting and moving the chairs across the restaurant?

Above the seat the wood of the back pieces are rounded in section and they are housed into the underside of the cross bar just in from each end. Again, as with the front legs, if the side pieces and the cross bar met at a corner, rather than with an overlap, it would have made the joining of the pieces of timber a potential weak point in the chair frame and this was, after all, a commercial chair for use in a restaurant where it would be subject to heavier use than in a home.

In fact the whole design can be seen as an interesting exercise in balancing the ergonomics of the design with experimenting with construction details so there is, at each stage, a sort of careful trade off between the appearance and the strength of the chair. A sort of reductionism within practical constraints: thinning down parts of the frame makes it more elegant and stylish but it is not taken so far that it makes the chair weak or unsteady and, particularly in a public restaurant, the last thing a young designer needs is people ending up on the floor where chairs have collapsed.

 
 

designed by: Arne Jacobsen (1902-1971)
manufactured by Fritz Hansen Eftf

height: 82.5cm
width: 50.5cm
depth: 54.5cm
height of seat: 42.5cm

Designmuseum Danmark catalogue

 

additional notes:

The Theatre and the adjoining restaurant at Bellevue were designed by Arne Jacobsen and were completed in 1937. They are set just back from the beach on the west side of the coast road that runs north out of Copenhagen. 

 

the Bellevue theatre from the beach with the restaurant to the left and beyond the apartments of Bellavista

Klampenborg is at the edge of an ancient forest that had become an important public park by the 19th century and the park and Bakken, an amusement park in the forest, were served by a suburban railway that terminated here at Klampenborg. With the building of the railway Klampenborg developed into a prosperous suburb.

The park and the beach here, with changing rooms that were also designed by Jacobsen, were a popular destination for people from the city and through the 1930s there were also launches or boats that brought people here for a day out to swim or go to the amusement park or go to the theatre. 

Immediately south of the theatre is Bellavista, apartment buildings also by Jacobsen and also dating from the 1930s, and south of the apartment buildings houses again by Jacobsen.

High stools for the bar in the restaurant - with butterfly shaped back rests - and seating in the theatre - with curved wooden backs forming undulating lines across the auditorium - were even less conventional than the dining chairs.

the buildings in Klampenborg by Arne Jacobsen

NV 44 by Finn Juhl 1944

 

In 1944, Finn Juhl was in his early 30s when he designed the NV 44 Chair. NV are the initials of the cabinetmaker Niels Vodder. Juhl first collaborated with Vodder in 1937 and they worked together on many designs through until 1959.

From 1930 to 1934 Juhl had trained as an architect under Kay Fisker at the Royal Danish Academy and then worked in the architectural firm of Vilhelm Lauritzen for ten years although increasingly he focused on interior design and on designing furniture. 

This chair came at a turning point in his career and in 1945 he left Lauritzen to set up an independent design company and his reputation now is based on his furniture designs rather than his work as an architect.

The NV 44 chair is quite a virtuoso piece with shapes and lines curving and flowing through different planes. An English form of chair called a balloon back has a similar line for the back with the back legs flowing up in a single curve into the rounded arch of the top of the back rest but here the arm rests also flow round and through the same shape so it looks almost as if it should be made in a mould rather than constructed from separate pieces of shaped wood.

There are interesting technical details like the side braces that, rather than running between the back and the front legs, are set at a sharp angle to run up from the back legs to the centre of the front frame of the seat forming a V shape. This means that in silhouette the space between the legs looks uncluttered.

On balance, the design seems more dated, more fixed in the 1940s, than Wegner’s comparable chair, The Round Chair, from 1949. Perhaps it is the deep leather-covered seat although that too is given a rounded shape … earlier leather chairs would normally have had flat front and side rails with the leather fixed by a line of nails along the bottom edge … as with the Red Chair and the arm chair from Rud Rasmussen both designed by Kaare Klint in the late 1920s.

This comparison with the work by Klint shows just how much the form of armed chairs in Danish design changed over less than 20 years from something solid and robust, still linked to cabinetmaker’s work of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, to a style that was fluid and sculptural.

 

NV 44 by Finn Juhl in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark

 

 

in 2012, to mark the anniversary of the birth of Finn Juhl, a limited edition of the chair was produced by OneCollection

 

 

photographed at Illums Bolighus in Copenhagen

 

The Chair by Hans Wegner 1949

 

the version of The Chair with upholstered leather seat first produced the following year - so from 1950 onwards

Hans Wegner showed this chair first at the Annual Exhibition of the Cabinetmakers’ Guild in 1949. 

Made in oak by the cabinetmaker Johannes Hansen, it was identified in subsequent catalogues as Chair JH501 but it was Wegner himself who described it as the “round one” and in Denmark it is known generally as The Round Chair. Exported to America, it is now known there simply as The Chair. It is still in production but is now made by PP Møbler and in their catalogues is chair PP501.

The chair shown in the cabinetmakers’ exhibition had a woven cane seat and cane was wound around the back rest to cover where the wood of the arms was joined to the piece of wood that formed the back. It was not until 1950 that an alternative version was produced, with leather upholstery rather than cane for the seat, and the form of the back and the joins that were used were altered so that the chair could have a plain wood back and arm rests without cane work. That version appeared in catalogues as the JH503 from Johannes Hansen and is identified now as the PP503 by PP Møbler.

Both the PP501 and the PP503 are available now in cherry, walnut or ash, as well as in oak - like the first version - and the finish - which makes a considerable difference to the character as well as literally to the feel of the chair - can be lacquer or an oil finish and the ash and oak can also be finished with a soap treatment. In part, it is these options for different timbers and different finishes that help make this chair so enduring and still so popular. *

There is something of the chameleon about the design so, in a dark wood, that has a high polish and with a leather seat, it has more than enough style and sophistication for either a boardroom or for a more formal dining room but in pale oak, with a matt finish and a cane seat, it looks decades younger and fits happily with a contemporary arrangement for a family room alongside furniture of very different design or period.

an early version of The Chair with cane around the back rest

Chair 501 with a cane seat but without cane wound around the back rest - photographed in the new gallery of chairs at Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen

 

The Round Chair was one of the first pieces of furniture that was designed after the second world war for commercial production. Clearly, it was not a cheap factory product but certainly marked a new direction away from the skilled but small workforce found in a cabinetmakers’ workshops and who were producing all high-quality furniture before the war. 

In February 1950, the influential American magazine Interiors published an article that showcased work by Finn Juhl, Borge Morgensen and Wegner but it was The Round Chair that was featured on the cover. The Round Chair was selected for the Good Design Exhibition - organised by the Museum of Modern Art in conjunction with The Chicago Merchandise Mart - that ran from November 1952 through to February 1953. That was the second year of the exhibition when the display was arranged or designed by Finn Juhl. ** The price tag on the chair appears to have been $125. ***

The Round Chair featured again in an exhibition in New York in the Georg Jensen store on Fifth Avenue in 1959 that focused on the work of Wegner and although it was the Round Chair that was on the cover of the catalogue it was, curiously, the cane version and with cane around the back so the original JH501. 

So, The Round Chair was one of the first important and one of the first commercially successful pieces to be produced in what is now referred to as the classic period for modern Danish furniture but when asked about The Chair, Wegner commented that, personally, he thought that it was his best achievement … “not because of its export success, but because I have been more thorough with it than anything else.”

Many people have written about just how modest, genuinely modest, Hans Wegner was so this statement is revealing. If he says he was thorough then it was almost-certainly a lot of hard work combined with experience and presumably a fair bit of determination. Understanding that is crucial to seeing why the design of this chair is so important. The proportions and the gentle curves of the chair look simple but simple does not mean easy and certainly does not mean basic. So part of being “thorough” was getting those lines and those dimensions and those relationships of the main parts of the chair right. Not perfect - to create an ideal - but right for this particular chair. That is, in part, about compromise … not compromise in the modern sense of doing what you can get away with but compromise in the sense of balancing what is gained or what is lost as elements of the design are changed. Here there are several broader points of compromise or balance or trading off that makes the chair such an important example of how the design process should work. So each part is reduced down … to put it crudely a straight leg with a square cross section could do the same job of supporting the seat and the arm of the chair … but take too much away and the leg looses its strength and the places where joints have to be cut to house the seat frame into the leg are weakened. The choice of wood for this specific design is an important consideration from the start … so the same design could not be made from birch. It is not hyperbole to say that the design reflects what Wegner knew about what good Danish craftsmen could do with good Danish oak … though again most Danes would be too modest to state that in that way. So from the start, the design built on well-established and well understood expertise. The quality is another and a very deliberate compromise although it might seem odd to describe it as a compromise in quality with a chair like this but in fact it was a very successful compromise. Cut quality and it is less likely to survive in commercial use but focus on it having to be a robust chair for the board-room or restaurant and it becomes too expensive and possibly too heavy and solid for domestic use in the home. It would be interesting to see if figures are available to show how many of these chairs are in restaurants and how many are in homes. Finally there was a careful balance between what could and should be done to use factory methods in the production … to simplify the design and to use machines to increase the numbers that could be made. This chair was aimed at large scale production for export or at least the production of more chairs than could be made in a small workshop … but from the start it seems to have been an important but difficult part of the design brief - to again use anachronistic and modern marketing jargon - to produce a chair in relatively large numbers but to produce a chair that showcased Danish craftsmanship and quality. 

The separate parts of a Round Chair shown in the introduction to their new display of chairs in Designmuseum Danmark

 

The vertical elements of the chair are all elegantly tapered and with the smooth and subtle curves of the back rest and the strong but thin profile of the arms this is one of Wegner’s most beautiful if not the most beautiful of his designs. 

Elements are shaped and cut back but not so much that it weakens the structure. Nor are the shapes imposed on the wood … the shaping of the arms and the rounding of the end of the arms, where they over sail the front legs, all exploit the way that the grain in a good piece of timber means that it can be cut and shaped and sanded smooth. One detail that shows well the techniques and skills of the cabinet makers is the shaping of the underside of each arm piece at both ends to form integral housings for the top of the leg. The on-line site for PP Møbler has photographs of a craftsman cutting or finishing that shape with what is called in England a spoke shave … a special plane for rounding and tapering a spindle with a cutting blade in the centre and handles on each side so the cabinet maker uses it with both hands.

For stability, all four legs of The Round Chair are set to be angled inwards diagonally at the top, or perhaps it is better to describe them as splayed outwards to the foot. This means that the joints between the legs and the seat frame have to be cut sharply and accurately, particularly the shoulders of the tenons, but these angles reduce the chance of tipping the chair backwards, as someone sits down, or sliding sidewards as someone stands up if their weight is not evenly distributed. It is also important visually so, even when no one is sitting in it, the chair appears to stand firmly and confidently on the ground. 

Faaborg Chair by Kaare Klint (1914)

Windsor Chair by Hans Wegner (1947)

 

To understand what this means, look at the Faaborg Chair designed by Kaare Klint in 1914. That chair has front legs that are cut square and tapered but vertical and the back legs are flared or curved out at the bottom to provide that stability but it makes the balance of weight for the chair appear rather precarious ... almost too delicate for the oddly solid and rather heavy back despite it being in cane. 

The low and quite wide silhouette of The Round Chair, when seen from the front, links it with Wegner’s design for the slightly earlier Windsor Chair from 1947 although in that chair the arm pieces are designed with a very different form being ramped up to just below the top rail that is housed between the back leg pieces, just below the top, and the back legs are not straight but given a slight change of angle at the point where there are the joins for the side frame and back frame of the seat. So, Wegner, through a series of designs for different chairs, was experimenting … trying to produce a simple but strong and stable design but one that combines straight legs with curved and rounded shapes that trim back the main vertical elements of the chair to the thinnest and most elegant profile possible without compromising the strength of the chair particularly at that crucial point where the legs are joined to the frame of the seat. Ultimately, what confirms that the design is both strong and stable, despite it’s relatively light weight, is that Wegner could avoid having stretchers of any form below the seat.

For The Round Chair, the complex shape and flowing form of the back and arm rest has been described by some as a propeller shape, because it reminds them of the complex curves for the blades on the first wood propellers on very early aeroplanes. The back and arms of The Round Chair although it reads as a single if complex shape is constructed with three separate pieces of curved and shaped wood that are then joined together … if it was cut from a single piece, it would not only waste timber but would snap or split where it curved round against the grain. 

Early versions of the chair had cane wrapped around the centre part of the back rest, in part, to link visually with the seat but also to disguise this fact that the back and arms were not a single piece of wood but a composite. The second version of the design is strong but, more important, more honest as the joins are made into a feature of the design. In several chairs Wegner made this strengthening of the joins even more obvious by inserting dramatic angled tails or combs in a contrasting wood to make them a strong visual feature.

 

the original form of the back with cane covering where the arm is joined to the back piece. Drawings by Wegner show an early version of the chair with cane also wrapped around the arm rests  

 

the modified design where the arm piece is run into the vertically set back piece with a marked and strong join that has become a distinct feature of the design

 

However, it is the first version of The Round Chair with a cane seat that shows off so clearly the skills of the cabinet makers … upholstery can be used to cover all sorts of tricks in the design of the frame to make it stronger or cheaper or easier to make but with a cane seat, there is really nowhere to hide anything. In a good, high-quality chair, the joints and the finish have to be perfect because everything can be seen. Although, of course, having said that, the upholstery on the 503 hides nothing for the leather seat is dropped into the frame as a pad rather than resorting to the common practice of taking leather or fabric right over the frame and fixing it with nails to completely cover the substructure of the seat.

There are several different ways to hold in place the canes of a woven seat. In the cheapest form of chair, panels of pre-woven cane are fixed across the seat frame and held down in a channel with a thin rod of cane but it can be difficult to stretch the cane work tight across the seat. In some chairs a series of vertical holes are drilled down through the front, the back and the side pieces of the seat and the canes are taken up through one hole, stretched across the seat to the opposite side and taken down a hole and then up through the adjoining hole and then back across the seat either straight across or commonly across a diagonal which then produces the popular honeycomb pattern. In other chairs, the cane can be taken over the outside of the frame and doubled back underneath - copying the usual method with rush seats - but that can make the cane work look rather solid or baulky.

For The Round Chair, the method used to fix in place the cane seat is rather more complicated. The cane is taken over the edge of the seat frame but then doubled back through long slots through the vertical face of the frame. These slots cannot be cut the full length of each piece of the seat frame because that would undermine the strength of the frame and make it difficult to cut and would weaken the joints where the frame is housed into the legs so these slots stop short at each end.

 

Because of these foreshortened slots the densely woven area of the cane seat is consequently set in from the frame but this becomes a strong feature of the design with adjoining canes crossed over in pairs to form a line of elongated Xs as an open border to the more-densely woven area you sit on. It becomes a positive element of the weaving pattern and, as with the earlier Faaborg Chair by Kaare Klint, it gives the seat a lighter look and a more distinct relationship with the floor which can be seen through the cane work.

There is a downward curving cross brace, running front to back under the seat of the cane version, that is important as it strengthen the frame but few people will even notice it - in part because the outer ends are also wound in cane so it is less obvious when seen from above through the cane work of the seat.

the underside of the chair showing how complicated the cane work really is with the stretchers of the seat actually in two pieces so that the cane is taken round twice to return to the outer face of the frame before being taken back across the seat. The stretcher running front to back braces the frame and keeps the cane work taut when someone sits down. The ends are wound with cane where they can be seen from above through the more open border of the seat

Wegner clearly saw the checkerboard pattern of the cane work on The Round Chair as both an integral and an essential part of the design.

So The Round Chair looks good; was in the vanguard of the rapidly developing style of modern Danish furniture in the early 50s; marked a change to producing not just cheaper furniture but more expensive pieces commercially rather than in a cabinet makers’ workshop and it helped establish an international market for Danish design but is it comfortable? In the end, ergonomics should be the test for any chair.

For a start, there is a marked drop or curving down of the centre of front rail and this gives the seat a slight hollow shape that takes a backside more comfortably.

Looking down on The Round Chair from above, you can see that the broad curve of the back forms a wide and generous seat - The Round Chair is 630mm wide overall so not the widest of dining chairs but the Wishbone Chair, designed in 1950, is just 550mmm wide. In some ways again, The Round Chair is reminiscent of the Faaborg chair although where that chair, designed by Kaare Klint in 1914, is different is that it has a level and continuous, horizontal line to the top of the back and arms, when seen from the front, which encloses the person sitting in it …  it seems to force your arms up higher to a more stilted angle to the body or you can just rest your elbows on the sides but then your hands should be set demurely together in your lap. That is perhaps the key to the comfort of The Round Chair, so, to put that the other way round, the shape of The Round Chair, with arm rests lower than the top line of the back, allows the person sitting in the chair to rest and support their arms on the side pieces of the chair, in a lower and more natural position.

 

The back rest itself is deep, set as a strong vertical but is gently curved in plan to provide a broad band of lumber support but the arm pieces, as they curve round from the back, twist to the horizontal with a slight swelling out, close to the back, to support the elbows, but then the arm pieces taper in and continue to a slight and chamfered or undercut lip beyond the front legs. That projection or over sailing helps to make the join, between the arm and the top of the front leg, stronger but also the fingers of the person sitting in the chair, drop naturally and comfortably over the end of the arm and that feels like a natural and relaxed way to sit …. with the arms along the top of the side pieces and then when getting up out of the chair it is easy to use your arms to steady yourself and then give a slight pressure downwards as you stand up. So …. easy to sit down in the chair, wide enough to fidget around if you are uncomfortable or bored and about as easy as possible to get out of.

 

 

 


Notes and context:

 

Wegner presented three chairs at the Cabinetmakers’ Exhibition in 1949 and they could not have been more different. Along with The Round Chair, he showed the Folding Chair JH512, designed to hang on a wall in a small apartment, and the dramatic tripartite Shell Chair, which has an amazing combination of bold cut-outs in thick plywood and a complicated bentwood frame. These were all virtuoso pieces and presumably for Wegner, then in in has mid 30s, they marked his coming of age as a furniture designer.

 
 


his photograph of The Chair was taken at the Wegner exhibition just one good chair at Designmuseum Danmark in 2014. It shows that Wegner, from this point on, returns to themes or ideas or techniques … not to copy or repeat a design but he back tracks to an interesting point where he could explore a different sequence of choices through the design process to take a design to a very different end. The Cow Horn Chair JH505 dates from 1952 and has shortened arm rests so that when not in use the chair can be pushed closer to the table. Office Chair JH502, with its dramatic deep back rest and a metal frame, was designed in 1955 and shows a development of the back of the Round Chair that provides more support for the spine and over a slightly wider range of positions as someone may have to use an office chair for much of the day whereas sitting on a dining chair is normally for a much shorter period. Wegner became interested in ergonomics and in the early 50s worked with Professor Egill Snorrason who had undertaken research on posture, particularly for patients who had polio.

When people talk about The Round Chair, many comment on just how comfortable it is which is said to be the reason why John F Kennedy requested Wegner’s chair when he appeared with Richard Nixon in a television interview in September 1960 - the first ever Presidential campaign debate - and an appearance for the chair that gave it considerable status.

 

John F Kennedy had aggravated a pre-existing back problem while on active service in the American Navy during the war although that was not widely publicised as it might well have been seen as a sign of weakness that could have been exploited by political opponents particularly as he was dependent on a number of strong pain-killing drugs. Kennedy was one of the first politicians who understood the importance of image so if he realised that if he moved around in his chair during the broadcast, simply because he was in pain and uncomfortable, it might be interpreted as being nervous or even evasive as he answered questions.

A Round Chair with cane seat was added to the collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1953 (MoMA Catalogue 486.1953) and was the first of seven different chairs designed by Wegner that have been acquired by the museum.

 

* In 2015, the shipment of fake Wegner chairs made in China and destroyed by officials when they arrived in Norway were copies of The Round Chair.

** The first Good Design exhibition from November 1950 through to February 1951 was designed by Charles and Ray Eames.

*** A check-list in the MoMA archive of pieces in the exhibition includes just one chair by Wegner described as “Chair, Oak, Cane Hans Wegner” that must be The Round Chair and the retail price is calculated as about $125. One web site that calculates inflation suggests that $125 in 1951 would have been equivalent to about $1,280 or 9,000 Kroner or just over £1,000 now in 2017.

This post was edited and expanded and new photographs added in February 2017

 

PK25 by Poul Kjærholm 1951

Poul Kjærholm designed some of the most beautiful and most striking chairs of the modern period of Danish design.

At the age of 15 he was apprenticed to a cabinet maker in his home town of Hjørring in Jutland but moved to Copenhagen in 1948 where he continued his training at the Kunsthåndværkerskolen - the School of Arts and Crafts - that was then based at Kunstindustrimuseet - now Designmuseum Danmark. 

It was Hans Wegner who introduced him to the industrial design of Germany and introduced him to to Ejvind Kold Christensen, who was then establishing a company that would go on to manufacture pieces by both Wegner and then Kjærholm. 

The younger designer moved across almost completely to using industrial materials rather than wood for the frames of his chairs although he used natural materials for upholstery, particularly leather, with amazing and almost stark effects that emphasised the clean and precise lines of the furniture. His designs moved rapidly away from the styles and forms of the work of traditional cabinetmaker and close to the precision and the techniques of engineering.

The PK25 was made from a single sheet of steel that was cut and then shaped in a hydraulic press, and given a matt chrome finish and with a single length of halyard or sailing rope wrapped around the metal frame to form the seat and back.

 

Lave hvilestole / Easy chairs

photographed at Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen

 

 

designed by: Poul Kjærholm (1929-1980) in 1951 (as a graduate project)
manufactured by Fritz Hansen Eftf 1952-1956
manufactured by E Kold Christensen from 1956
manufactured by Fritz Hansen Eftf from 1982materials: steel and halyard

height: 75 cm
depth: 73 cm
width: 69 cm
seat height: 40 cm

Designmuseum Danmark catalogue

 

Shell Chair by Grete Jalk 1963

chair by Grete Jalk in Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen

 

Skalstole / Shell chairs

Grete Jalk (1920-2005) studied under Kaare Klint and many of her designs are conventional with much of her furniture made by France & Son and by P Jeppesen. The plywood chair, designed in the early 1960s, is unique or almost unique for it is usually paired with side tables of a similar form that came in three sizes and marketed as a nest of tables.

It sounds like a simple concept to design a chair in shaped and folded laminated wood that has just two pieces - one for a slightly curved seat - with the ends bent under and down to support the seat - and the second piece gently curved to form an almost vertical back rest - with the ends tucked around behind and then bent down to the ground - and with the two pieces bolted together. In reality the folds are complex and the plywood shapes look more like something that could only be made from giant sheets of pasta left to dry.  

Because of the complexity of the design originally only 300 were made although the chair is now back in production.

This is perhaps the most imaginative and unusual chair produced during the classic period for modern Danish furniture and shows how materials and techniques of working with wood could be pushed to new limits to create very new types of chair.

 

made originally by P Jeppesen
now made by Lange Production

height: 75 cm
width: 63 cm
depth: 70 cm
height of seat: 33 cm

 

 

PK 15 Poul Kjærholm 1979

chair in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark

 

Kinesiske stole og dampbøjede stole / Chinese chairs and steambent chairs

 

A chair in compressed beech that has a more traditional bentwood form and is interesting because it echoes and almost mimics the earlier chair in metal tube, the PK 12, that was designed by Kjærholm in 1962.

The basic form of the chair has one long curve forming the back and arms of the chair that is then turned straight down to form the front legs and an inner and lower curve, parallel but much narrower and turning down to the back legs. With less strength in the timber over any length, the PK 15 has two features that were not required in the steel chair … a small link piece at the centre of the back and an inner loop just below the seat and inside the legs to make the frame rigid and to stop the legs spreading outwards when someone sits down or moves in the seat.

In the first bentwood chairs from the Austrian company Thonet in the 19th century the seats were a circle but here the shape of the seat is broader and flatter across the front but not as pronounced as a Reuleaux triangle or even as distinct as the earlier metal chair but I don’t know if these follows a recognised mathematical form such as the super eclipse used by some designers but what is clear is that the success of the design depends on a very very careful graded use of various curves or quadrants in the bending of the chair frame.

The seat is in woven cane … a well-established and popular material in Denmark.

Made originally by Kold Christensen and more recently by PP Møbler.

 


designed by Poul Kjærholm
made originally by Kold Christensen and more recently by PP Møbler.

ash with cane seat

height: 70 cm
width: 50 cm
depth: 46 cm
height of seat: 44 cm

 

8000 Series Chair by Thygesen and Sørensen 1981

chair in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark

 

Kinesiske stole og dampbøjede stole / Chinese chairs and steambent chairs

 

The 8000 Series Chair by Rud Thygesen (born 1932) and Johnny Sørensen (born 1944) was designed in 1980 for Café Victor in Copenhagen. It is said to be a reworking of the famous bentwood cafe chairs that were produced by Thonet in Austria in the late 19th century but it also looks to the rather different use of wood and rather different developments in wood technology from Finland in the 1930s in the work of Alvar Aalto and his experiments with laminated wood and plywood.

The light, compact chair by Thygesen and Sørensen has a round seat that is formed with an outer ring or frame in wood that is rebated to take circles of plywood in the top and bottom and both are slightly concave or dished and held apart by an internal spacing piece at the centre. Sinking the plywood into a rebate gives the edge of the seat a thin and clean profile.  

There are four legs in wood that are bent at the top to form a knee or elbow and they are housed into the side of the seat. The upper end of the leg is tapered to form a tenon and the housing in the seat is also shaped. An aqueous glue is used to fix the leg in place so the parts swell to make a secure join. The designers patented this system of assembly for fixing the chair together without using screws or dowels. *

The back of the 8000 Chair has a gentle curve - wider than the seat itself - and the centre is flat on the face to provide a more comfortable support for the spine. The top of the vertical supports for the back and the bottom part of the legs are flared or curved slightly outwards to give a more sophisticated profile but also give the chairs more stability.

Light but strong for commercial use, the cafe chairs can be stacked neatly in a tight and vertical stack. One promotion drawing shows the chair with the back hooked over the edge of a table top to lift it up clear of the floor when cleaning the room.

 

produced by Magnus Olesen
made in laminated and lacquered beech

height: 70 cm
width: 53 cm
depth: 40 cm
height of seat: 44 cm

note:

* In contrast, for Stool 60 - and the chair in the same series by Alvar Aalto - the top of the leg is bent over to form a knee with a short horizontal section and the seat is fixed on top of the legs with screws up through the legs into the underside of the seat.