chair for the Thorvaldsen Museum by Kaare Klint 1923

 

This chair was designed by Kaare Klint in 1923 for the office of the Thorvaldesn Museum in Copenhagen * and made by N C Jensen Kjær. In style, it looks back to the chair that Klint designed for the museum at Faaborg in 1914. 

Made in burl oak, the frame has a distinct, sharply-curved, and high back support. As with the chairs for the museum in Faaborg, both the front and back legs are continued up to support a curved and horizontal rail for a back rest and there are intermediate rails, half way between the seat and the top rail, but with the upper parts here filled with thin curved panels of wood held in channels in the frame - rather than the cane work of the Faaborg Chair.

However, the seat is cane and that supports a separate leather cushion - rather than giving the chair  full upholstery - so, as a consequence, the chair is lighter and the frame of the seat can be thinner. 

As with a traditional chair of the Klismos type, both the front and the back legs curve or flare slightly outwards to the floor to provide more stability but they also make the chair rather more elegant than if they were straight. The precision of the cabinetwork means that there is enough strength in the frame for cross stretchers between the legs to be unnecessary.

When seen from underneath, it is obvious that the carpentry, where the rails of the seat are joined into the leg of the Thorvaldsen chair, is more precise and stronger so the slightly crude blocks across the leg and frame on the underside of the seat to strengthen the join on the Faaborg chair can be omitted here.

Above the seat, the legs are made thinner with chamfers that reduce the cross section from square to octagonal and the rails are also chamfered on the outer side. Again, this seems to be a development or refinement of the Faaborg chair where the legs above the seat are just reduced in thickness on the inner face. This cutting back from a square cross-secyion of the frame makes the chair look less heavy but these thin chamfers also have a marked visual effect, with the different surfaces catching light in different ways so it is like a stronger line on a pencil drawing that reinforces an outline.

Kaare Klint is rationalising and refining his design although there is one change from the Faaborg chair that appears to be retrogressive … on the Faaborg Chair the back rail of the seat is curved, to follow the semi circle of the back rest, whereas here, on the chair for the Thorvaldsen Museum, the back rail of the seat is flat so this chair follows more closely the form of the historic Klismos type where the back support over sails the seat in a distinctive way when the chair is viewed from the side. 

But then, of course, the chair was for a major public building that dates from the 1840s so Klint may well have considered the slightly old-fashioned form more appropriate.

 

note:

 * In May 1914, after working with Carl Petersen in Faaborg, Klint married and travelled with his wife to Java for an extended trip and did not return to Copenhagen until the Spring of 1916. He worked first with the architect Povl Baumann and then with Carl Petersen again - on alterations to the Thorvaldsen Museum and work for the David Collection in Copenhagen - and when Petersen died in 1923, Klint continued with both projects.

 
 

chair photographed at Designmuseum Danmark

 
 

 

designed by Kaare Klint (1888-1954)
made by the cabinetmaker N C Jensen Kjær

height: 77.5 cm
width: 53.5 cm
depth: 59.5 cm
height to seat: 49 cm

 

The Red Chair by Kaare Klint 1927

chair in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen

 

Chippendale stole / Chippendale chairs

 

A Red Chair by Klint shown in the design museum alongside an 18th-century Chippendale style chair

Designed by Kaare Klint for Kunstindustrimuseet - the Danish Museum of Art and Design - now Designmuseum Danmark.

A large version of the chair was used in the lecture theatre in the museum but there are two different and smaller versions to fit at a table or desk and also versions were made with arms - one with plain wood arms and another with padded or upholstered arm rests.

It is too easy now to dismiss this chair as 'old-fashioned' or at least not particularly relevant to what is happening now in modern chair design and that is, in part, simply because it is not a type or style of chair that is now popular.

Klint himself acknowledged how much the chair was inspired by a so-called Chippendale chair - an English chair that dates from the middle of the 18th-century and was in the collection of the museum when Klint taught there. That is, the Red Chair is inspired by the style of the earlier chair, that was well made, solid and sitting confidently and square to the floor, with a hard wood frame and upholstered seat but what is crucial is that in his reworking of the design Klint analysed and re-assessed the details of the construction so, for instance in the use of plain but carefully positioned stretchers between the legs of the chair that not only makes it stronger but gives it a balance as well as contributing to that sense that it is a well-set chair.

The Red Chair is also important because it has a carefully contrived simplicity - which means that it is carefully designed and is more complicated in its construction than might appear. It has a conventionally upholstered seat that is not straight, flat or horizontal but dips down at the front and the back legs are not set square or vertical but are angled back from the back of the seat so again making the chair much more stable but also making it more difficult to make. And the solid comfort of the chair also expresses a sense of quality … a sense that this is a sensible and robust chair for relatively heavy use in a public space but certainly not that it is a cheap chair.

What you see here is how Klint brought to his furniture design an almost clinical analysis of form and construction and that was new.

The chair was also produced in relatively large numbers so although it could not be described as a factory product it must have been seen as a significant and prestigious commission for the cabinetmaker Rud Rasmussen.

Rud Rasmussen included the chair with their work shown at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1931. A review of the exhibition noted that, unlike other contributors that year, Rasmussen and Klint did not show the furniture in a room setting but exhibited working drawings and photographs on the wall behind the furniture - so clearly this was a much more academic presentation.

A comment in the Copenhagen newspaper Politiken has resonance now for the reviewer of the exhibition pointed out that ….

"… the fact that Danish chairs have become more comfortable as well as more beautiful is an indication that we are on the right track. There are even a few new types which would have had great sales potential if only they had been created in a somewhat larger country than Denmark" *

… but he also went on to note that this chair had become a successful and profitable export piece. Klint designed a number of chairs that were a variation of the Red Chair and other designers also produced chairs of this Red Chair Type - discussed in a separate post.

 

note:

* quotation taken from Dansk Møbelkunst Gennem 40 År, volume 1 1927-1936, page 118

 

At least one set of the chairs was covered with red Niger goat skin - hence the name Red Chair.

The leather is stretched over the upholstery and nailed, with precisely-spaced nails along the bottom outward-facing edge of the seat and around the edge of the front of the back rest. The nails are each covered with leather and are a decorative feature that comes directly from the method of upholstery.

Seen from the underside, the upholstery of the seat is over a strong webbing and the thicker back rail means that the verticals of the back are clasped to make a stronger join.

Down the front and side of the front legs is a shallow but elegant and symmetrical wave moulding and the stretchers and cross rail have a shallow rounding so the frame appears to be simple and straightforward but has a subtle and understated finish from the cabinetmaker.

 

 

designed by Kaare Klint (1888-1954)

cabinetmaker Rud. Rasmussen

height: 90 cm
width: 58 cm
depth: 55 cm
height of seat: 46 cm

 

Karmstol by Edvard Thomsen 1930

chair by Edvard Thomsen in Designmuseum Danmark

 

This chair, designed in 1930 by Edvard Thomsen (1884-1980) is interesting because it has features that suggest that its design is transitional … in part looking back to the style of older chairs that were an interpretation of classical forms and historic styles but in part the chair incorporates modern ideas and modern joinery.

It is not a modern chair, if you apply the simple criteria that no one would assume that it was made recently, but then neither was it an expensive chair made with complicated joinery by a cabinetmaker using expensive timber that would make it more typical of sn earlier period. The shape of the back rest clearly looks to an earlier type - what is called a Klismosstole - particularly the arched and splayed back posts of the chair and the vertical of the back legs that continue up to support a boldly curved back rest - but the front legs are turned and straight so they look much more modern … close to the type of simple turned leg used by Hans Wegner or Børge Mogensen - and the plywood seat is distinctly modern.

When seen from below it is also obvious that the chair was designed to be made relatively quickly and easily with parts fixed with screws, rather than with traditional joints, and the frame of the seat is reinforced with triangular plates that are fixed across the corners in a channel cut on the back of the rails of the seat - a form of reinforcement or strengthening still used for the seat frames of chairs.

In contrast, the chairs that Thomsen designed for the Royal Academy of Fine Arts at Charlottenborg in 1924 now appear to be much more old fashioned - more certainly a revival or reinterpretation of a classical style that looks backwards rather than looking forward in anticpation to Danish chairs of the 1930s and 1940s or onwards.

 

Chairs designed by Thomsen for the Royal Academy for Charlottenborg in Copenhagen are of the type referred to as a Klismos chair or Klismosstole with a strongly curved back rest and extravagantly curved legs that splay outwards to the front and back

 

chair for Kvinderegensen by Rigmor Andersen 1931

chair in Designmuseum Danmark

Kvinderegensen, Amager Boulevard, Copenhagen

 

Chippendale stole / Chippendale chairs

 

After studying technical drawing for a year in 1922 Rigmor Andersen entered the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts where she was a student under Kaare Klint in the new School of Furniture and then, from 1929 to 1939, worked in Klint's studio. Her designs for the furniture for Kvinderegensen, a residence for women students on Amager Boulevard in Copenhagen was one of her first major projects and included this chair from 1931.

It was made by Rud Rasmussen, the cabinetmakers who produced much of the furniture designed by Kaare Klint, and is in mahogany with leather for the seat and back rest so immediately it is clear that this was a chair that was well made in an expensive imported wood and made to last … mahogany and leather are not just robust but age well. The chair is also unfussy and that seems to make sense when you find that it was made for an educational building.

The Kvinderegensen for female students was designed by Helge Bojsen-Møller and was completed in 1931 or 1932 in a stripped back, almost stark classical style in brick with good proportions … so rather like the chair, of it's period but anticipating the simple forms and reduction in decoration found in more recent design.

With the chair much depends on the quality of the cabinetmakers work with crisp sharp lines to the legs and stretchers with precise joins and with a neat crisp chamfer along the bottom front edge of the frame of the seat and down the inner edge of the legs where the chamfer runs out at the top precisely where it meets the frame. In part, this is a visible demonstration of the time and care spent making the chair but it also has a visual impact giving the wood a crisp line along the edge where the light catches the angle of the chamfer. It works in the same way that a bead or very thin rounded moulding works along the edge of a drawer that insets into the frame of the carcase or a thin quadrant moulding works on the edge of a door or drawer that stands proud of the frame. It is like putting a thin but strong line in darker pencil on a drawing to reinforce the edge of a shape or volume and here gives the chair a sharper or more precise outline.

 

designed by Rigmor Andersen (1902-1995)
made by the cabinetmaker Rud. Rasmussen

height: 116 cm
width: 48 cm
depth: 43 cm
height to front of seat: 43 cm

 

deckchair by Kaare Klint 1933

chair photographed at Designmuseum Danmark when it was part of a major exhibition on Kaare Klint

 

 

This is not exactly a recliner - you don't lie back in a horizontal or almost-horizontal position - but by having the foot rest raised level with the seat you are 'sitting with your feet up' to use a slightly old-fashioned English phrase that is more than a straight description of how someone is sitting but implies just a bit of pampering or self indulgence.

The chair looks as if it would be most appropriate for the deck of an ocean liner but when it was first shown at the Cabinetmakers' Guild Furniture Exhibition in 1933 it was described as suitable for a garden terrace.

It is a clear example of Klint's interest in ergonomics - with a careful focus on dimensions and angles so that, for instance, the angle of the back rest, although fixed, was comfortable and the head rest was at the right height for someone of an average size and the arm rest not only has to be in the right relationship to the seat, in terms of height, but the right length so that the hands are naturally close to the ends so, with palms down and fingers over the ends, the weight of the body can be raised slightly and transferred forward to stand up. It seems odd to bother to describe that movement … we change our centre of gravity automatically without analysing what we are doing as we stand up from a chair … but if the designer gets it wrong then we feel uncomfortable or awkward without  perhaps understanding exactly why.

However, the chair also illustrates well two other aspects found in the design of modern Danish furniture but rarely discussed as much as either the craftsmanship or the aesthetics of a piece.

First the chair is ingenious. This is clever and deliberately complicated design. The foot rest is supported on a relatively thin and light prop and when raised it doesn't just support the feet but forms a continuous curved line that runs from the ground at the back to the front edge. So the foot rest has a practical function but also contributes to the clear aesthetics of the design.

But when the prop is tucked back, the foot rest hinges down and the chair can be used more conventionally with the feet down flat on the floor.  So ... beautiful and practical.

The back is slightly concave and almost the same curve is picked up for the strut that forms the front leg and the support of the arm rest. The seat has a frame which also acts as the front and back rails of the chair and the seat extends back beyond the line of the back rest and the bottom cross piece of the back rest is raised so that neither sticks into you. Then the whole chair actually folds up so each of the pieces, if not actually fitting snugly together, has to at least be the right length to work with the hinge points or the chair would only half fold or, worse, might fold in on itself with someone sitting in it. So every line and every angle has to work when the chair is open and when it is folded. That's the ingenuity. To design the chair was, in effect a very complex mechanical puzzle and was about the resolution of engineering problems even if the workmanship is that of a cabinetmaker.

And the second aspect that was and still is important in Danish furniture making, though rarely discussed, is what can be described as the engineering of fixings and joins. So here in this chair, the success of the piece depends on the finely-made brass hinges and pivots that hold the chair together. Not only do they have to be strong enough to take a lot of weight - not just dead weight but in some parts weight acting on a lever - but these must have been designed with some form of locking nut … not that the parts are locked in place, as the sections have to open and close, but they have to lock onto themselves so that over time they do not work loose.

The simple form of this is to have two nuts on a bolt so that one is held against the piece and a second bolt is added and then the two bolts turned in opposite directions to lock them into place against each other but leave a constant and hopefully unchanging space between the inner nut and the head of the bolt on the other side of the piece being held. But these brass fittings are much much more sophisticated than that.

What you see in the deckchair is not the use of ordinary bolts and fixings but pieces that were almost-certainly made specifically for these chair and they are carefully recessed, so they are flush with the surface of the timber, and even the positions of screw heads were determined to hold the fitting in place without splitting the wood.

The Devil - as always - is in the detail.

 
 

designed by Kaare Klint  (1888-1954)
made by the cabinetmaker Rud. Rasmussen
exhibited at the Cabinetmakers' Guild in 1933

teak or oak with rattan seat and back rest
brass fittings, quilted and covered cushion and head rest

height: 91cm
width: 58cm
depth: 150cm

chair for Nyborg Library by Hans Wegner 1938

chair in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen

 

Windsorstole / Windsor chairs

This is an early chair by Hans Wegner and is one design where he sticks closely to the form of construction and the details of a traditional chair … here an English style of chair known as a Windsor chair. When he was a student he had to measure and draw an old Windsor chair as part of his training.

For a Windsor chair with a high back there were two types … one with a length of steamed and bent wood forming a high loop with the space filled with vertical spindles or, as here, with one piece of curved wood set horizontally at the level of the arm rest and a shorter timber at a higher level, normally as a head rest, with spindles from that down to the top of the arm / back rest.

As here, the standard `Windsor chair had a solid wood seat - rather than a frame with cane or upholstery - and the seat was usually shaped rising to a slight ridge on the top at the centre to the front.

There are stretchers running back from the front to the back legs on both sides but not across the front or the back although there is a central stretcher across between the side stretchers forming an H shape below the seat to reinforce the frame of the legs. Both side stretchers are turned with a distinct swelling or bulge at the centre with simple holes drilled to take the ends of the cross stretcher.

The library in Nyborg (on the east coast of the island of Funen) was designed by Erik Møller and Flemming Lassen, following a competition in 1935, and the building was completed in 1939 with furniture designed by Hans Wegner. Erik Møller worked together with Arne Jacobsen on the town hall in Aarhus and again it was Hans Wegner who worked on drawings for the furniture and the fittings.

 

English Windsor chair from the mid 19th century. Perhaps not the most typical example but it was in the museum collection and was studied and drawn by the students of Kaare Klint. Note the form of the stretcher that appears in chairs by Hans Wegner

background:

In England this type of chair was made all over the country and mostly for farmhouses and cottages but was generally known as a Windsor as some of the best were made in the area of Berkshire around Windsor.

The spindles were usually in beech and were turned in the beech woods up on the chalk hills by men working with rudimentary lathes driven by a sapling or long flexible pole bent over the lathe to act as a return spring with a rope running down, looped around the work being turned and then on down to a plank that acted as a pedal. The pedal was pushed down whipping the spindle round then released quickly to raise the pedal back but with the piece of wood continuing to spin in the same direction. More complex turned pieces for legs could also be turned in the forest and then these parts were carried down into a nearby town where the chairs were put together.

The seat could be made elsewhere and was often a different wood … sometimes oak or even yew.

FH1783 by Hans Wegner 1944

photographs of the chair in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark

 

Kinesiske stole og dampbøjede stole / Chinese chairs and steambent chairs

 

Chinese chair c.1800 in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark

the series of chairs designed by Wegner that were based on the form of the Chinese Chair with the Y or Wishbone Chair to the right. This was part of the exhibition just one chair at Designmuseum Danmark that marked the anniversary of the birth of Hans Wegner 

There is a Chinese chair in the collection of the design museum that seems to have fascinated Danish furniture designers. Dating from about 1800, it has a box-like lower frame with square and square set legs with stretchers that are only just above the ground. Flat, shaped pieces are used -  inset from the frame of the seat and the legs as reinforcements - almost like angle pieces or angle brackets - but what seemed to have intrigued designers in Denmark was the complex curve of the back rail or back rest that is bent round and down towards the front ends and this is supported at the centre of the back by a thin plank or splat that is housed in the top of the back rail of the seat and in the underside of the curved back rest.

Hans Wegner produced several chairs of this form - at least seven through the 1940s - with some going into production and some remaining as prototypes. Christian Holmsted Olesen in his book Wegner just one good chair illustrates these and explains the sequence of development that was to lead on to the design of the Wishbone Chair. 

This sequence was set out in one section of the major exhibition on the work of Wegner that was at the design museum in 2014 to mark the anniversary of Wegner's birth.

Wegner was in his late 20s and early 30s when he was working on these designs so, in many ways, what you see here is a process through which the designer learnt his craft. He was working with cabinetmakers in close partnership and much of this was a learning process for them as well as they pushed materials and shapes and wood-working techniques to new levels but above all it was actually commercially led so was about not just novelty but about how you could produce good chairs in larger quantities.

In the Chinese Chair here you can see some features that were awkward or difficult to construct in wood.

The splat or very thin plank at the back supports the back of the person sitting in the chair but the relatively wide top sits oddly with the curve of the back piece and, in this early example of the chair, actually emphasises the fact that the complex curve is not quite symmetrical around the centre line … so the later Wishbone Chair was given a Y-shaped back in part to get around that but of course it also made the back less dominant.

The curve of the back rail here in Wegner's chair is complex - forming first an arch and then curving round and then up on both sides to form, in one piece, the arm rests but again this is simplified in the later Wishbone Chair by forming a simple single curve - though it's a sharp curve - to be made in bent wood but simply tilting it down at the front.

The complex double curved shape of the vertical pieces that support the back rest of the Wishbone Chair is found first here but instead of being an extension up, in one piece of wood, from the back leg, on the Wishbone Chair, it is here a separate piece that runs down from the arm and then appears to be halved over the outer side of the seat rail and bird-mouthed over the top of the side stretcher and the stretcher itself is shaped so that all-in-all this is a very complicated point in the construction.

 

The side rails of the seat are set close to the top of the front legs so again make a potentially weak point in the frame as the mortice cut in the leg could be split by the tenon on the end of the rail that forms the join of the two pieces and the slightly lower front rail of the seat and the tenon for the side stretcher are also close together.

The stretchers are flattened ovals in their cross section and the side stretchers are set quite close to the floor which follows the Chinese original but now appears slightly dated … this arrangement of stretchers is common in mass-produced dining chairs made in the 1930s and 1940s.

The legs of the chair are rounded in section but straight (not tapered) and are set vertical so again reflecting a simpler but strong form of construction. If chair legs are angled out and certainly if they are tapered in shape then the shoulders of the tenons become more difficult to cut and the angles of mortices and tenons become more important.

 
 
 

height: 79cm
width: 58cm
depth: 57cm
height of seat: 43cm

 

note:

The modern Chinese Chair by Wegner was one of the favourite designs of Ejnar Pedersen - co-founder of PP Møbler - and in 1976 the company reissued the chair.
It is still in their catalogue - PP66 - and an upholstered version - PP56 - was added in 1989

 

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

 

tripartite Shell Chair by Hans Wegner 1949

the Tripartite Chair now in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark

note: 

because I had spent some time looking at the chair, a member of the staff, who was trained in conservation, asked me if I would like them to remove the sheep skin to look at the screw fixings of the seat and back rest - these are very important and very valuable pieces of furniture and should not be touched by the visitor 

 

More often than not, when someone describes a chair as unique then it is either hyperbole or they are writing for an advert or a sponsored post ……

…. but the tripartite shell chair - designed by Hans Wegner and shown to the public at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1949 - really is unique because just one chair was made by the cabinetmaker Johannes Hansen and after the exhibition it was not sold but taken by Wegner to use in his own home - the design was never put into production.

Wegner had previously designed furniture with shaped and curved laminated wood for Fritz Hansen - Chair FH1936 and a bench or sofa version FH1937 and the tripartite chair was not the only chair in plywood in the 1949 exhibition because Børge Mogensen, Wegner's colleague and friend, also showed a shell chair.

Although the form of the tripartite chair seems simple - a wooden frame with three separate pieces of laminated wood that are shaped and curved for a seat, back rest and head rest - it is difficult to describe the shape of the chair and almost impossible to describe the frame that supports that seat, back rest and head rest.

This is a very wide chair and, in terms of the sitting position, quite low so, in some ways, it's an early version of the Halyard Chair from 1950 and, like the Halyard, the Tripartite Chair has a generous width for twisting and sitting at an angle.

The seat, back rest and head rest of Wegner's tripartite chair are formed from relatively thick pieces of laminated wood that were shaped to form extended or flattened ovals and all three parts are curved but only across the width so only in a single plane.

The head rest is the simplest and smallest part with the shape of an extended oval, padded and covered with leather and fixed directly across the upper parts of the two side frames.

The largest of the three laminated parts support the back of the person in the chair and is shaped almost like the dish shape of a large military shield.

The seat is wide with hand holds cut out on each side - either to help when you want to move the chair or possibly as grips to help when standing up. 

Neither the back nor the seat are fixed directly onto the side frames but are supported on small inverted cones so that the two main laminated parts are set parallel to the side frames but hover just above them. Large screws are counter-sunk into the front face of the plywood and go through the cone and down into the frame - for Wegner a slightly crude fixing showing the design was, to some extent, experimental and a first stage … the seat and back are normally covered with a sheep skin that adds to the comfort but also hides those screws.

 
 

Viewed from the side the frame is almost like medieval window tracery and each side is made from two pieces of steamed and bent beech. The basic shape is rather like a lower-case letter h but with the upright leaning back and within that h a separate piece of beech bent like a lower-case n … within the h but not touching at all points. The inner part takes a tighter curve and the outer part swings wider before the two parts come back together at the lower ends … for the legs.

Wegner returned to this form of  frame - that divides and then comes back together - in the Skalstol or two-part Shell Chair from 1963.

At the top of each side frame are lugs, almost like serifs - to keep up the analogy with type face letters - that are an integral parts of the frame, cut from the same piece of wood, and they form the supports for the head rest. What is amazing is that below the top, the long pieces of wood are split up the middle and the back half, cut shorter, is bent down and out to form the outer part of the back leg and the longer part is curved up and runs under the seat and then is bent down to form the outer part of the front leg.

If viewed from above, the two side frames are not set parallel but are set to angle inwards towards the back and they are linked by cross bars at the front and back that are shaped so in profile they narrow towards the centre … like the cross bars Wegner used for Chair FH1936 in 1948 and for the Shell Chair he designed in 1963.

 

If you compare the Wegner chair from 1948 (top) and the chair by Børge Mogensen from 1949 (below) with the sketch drawn by Wegner for the Tripartite Chair you can see strong similarities. All three chairs explore ideas about how to resolve problems with the construction - so how to fit the curved laminated parts to the frame. In all three chairs, the curves of the laminated parts sit on a solid, pyramid form of legs - a tapered and truncated pyramid - to give a strong base and a visually stable base. Being stable and looking stable are not always the same thing. For Wegner, in the design for the Tripartite Chair, there is a game between strong diagonal lines and curves.

In 1948, Wegner, in the chair for Fritz Hansen, had used a form of tab, shaped like a spoke shave, cut from the same piece of wood as the cross rail, to support the seat and to fix it to the frame. That same detail is shown on the sketch for the Tripartite Chair with those tabs appearing to be fixed through slots in the seat, back and head rest but, at the work bench, that must have been impossible to reconcile with the process of bending the beech: cutting such an elaborate profile from a single length of timber and then steaming it and bending it around a former must have made the timber split. The solution was to use the cone-shaped spacers and fix the seat and back rest to the frame with screws down from the top, through the spacer and into the frame.

 
 

If the Tripartite Shell Chair has a problem, in terms of comfort … I have not sat in the chair so it has to be an assumption … it would seem to be in the relationship of the angles at which the three parts are fixed. The seat is sloped down to be lower at the back - although hardly more than on many chairs - but the middle section supporting the spine of the sitter is at approximately 45 degrees to the ground so anyone in the chair is certainly laid back more than in most chairs, though not as far as in a recliner, but then the head rest is almost vertical … so it would seem that you sit back in the chair but with your head upright looking forward so potentially with your chin forced downwards towards your chest … and that is not a natural or a comfortable sitting position but might be one that would be easier if the head rest pivoted to adjust the angle.

In fact, a design by Wegner for a metal-framed version of the tripartite chair - the sketch is published by Christian Holmsted Olesen on page 169 of his book Wegner - just one good chair - had one interesting detail shown on the sketch that suggests that Wegner appreciated that there was a problem with the version with a bent-wood frame but one that could be resolved in metal because the sketch of the metal-framed version has a head rest that appears to be pivoted along its central horizontal axis so that its angle would adjust if the sitter tipped their head to look forward or laid back in the chair looking slightly upwards.

Perhaps the conclusion has to be that the tripartite chair was seen as a prototype - a chair to try out ideas that were modified in later and more-easily reproduced designs so the chair was showing off the skills of Wegner and Hansen but, like provocative or outrageous runway designs by a fashion house, with features and new techniques that were to reappear in more user-friendly or maker-friendly forms.

 

Generally, reviews by journalists and critics of the furniture shown by Hans Wegner and Johannes Hansen at the cabinetmakers' exhibition in 1949 seem to have been favourable:

Borge Glahn in Arkitekten wrote in a general comment that:

"The use of materials was clear and lucid, the fervour of the makers was evident in the craftsmanship, and the idea underlying the composition was clear and consistent."

And then added, writing specifically about the shell chair:

"There was a very large easy chair which differed markedly from the rest of the furniture as regards materials and construction. It was not quite convincing in the present version but it bore evidence of an unrestrained and almost Baroque delight in materials and forms and in the interplay between them."

Svend Erik Møller was rather more practical and wrote in Nyt Tidsskrift for Kunstindustri that:

"Their large easy chair should be made in a factory to make the price somewhat less prohibitive - it certainly has great potential."

It was an important point that Hakon Stephensen writing in Politiken also took up when he pointed out that:

"It takes a skilled craftsman to make a chair like this, and perhaps the amount of work that has gone into it is getting dangerously close to the acceptable limit for a single piece of furniture. It must be remembered, however, that the exhibition pieces are models, just like the dresses made by the great Parisian fashion houses. They are an indication of the type of designs which will eventually be reproduced in less complicated versions ….. "

 

Chair 7 by Arne Jacobsen 1955

Skalstole / Shell chairs

 

Designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1955, this is perhaps the classic shell chair and is still in production. 

It is made in remarkably thin laminated wood with either a wood veneer or the shell is painted. There are also upholstered versions.

Thin metal legs are bent and meet at a central circle of wood applied to the underside of the shell and with a cover, originally metal and later plastic. There are spacers before the elbow of the leg to hold the legs in position and dampers that ensure that the seat is neither too rigid, making the chair uncomfortable, nor too flexible making the sitting position seem unstable.

The chairs are light and they stack which makes this a popular option for institutional use, such as meeting spaces or temporary lecture rooms but, of course that can be useful in an ordinary home if space is tight or if extra seating is only needed occasionally.

Model 3107 was also produced with arms (model 3207) and with a swivel base for an office chair and the shell can be fixed directly to a step or beam in an arrangement for theatres or auditoriums.

 
 

designed by Arne Jacobsen
produced by Fritz Hansen Eftf

shell laminated wood
legs tube steel with chrome finish

height: 79 cm
width: 45 cm
depth: 40 cm
height of seat: 44 cm

 

read more in an earlier post - design classic: Series 7 Chair

 
 

PK12 by Poul Kjærholm 1962

 

Kinesiske stole og dampbøjede stole / Chinese chairs and steambent chairs

More than his contemporaries, the designer Poul Kjærholm worked with metal, rather than wood, and generally with flat strips of solid steel that were either kept straight to form frames for chairs or table or bent to shape as the support or for the runners of chairs but with the PK12 made by Kold Chistensen they used steel tubing bent to form the legs and back of the chair in a style that echoes deliberately the form and character of bentwood chairs.

As with a bentwood chair the seat is formed with an enclosing hoop that sits within the legs although here the frame of the seat itself is a steel band. With bentwood the legs sit hard against the outside of the hoop of the seat and are fixed directly to the seat, often by bolts that run through the leg and into or through the frame, but here, for the PK12, there are short neat spacing pieces that are welded between the leg and the seat frame.

The seat itself - in most versions covered with leather - is not round and not an ellipse but is narrower at the back than at the front so it forms what is, in effect, a rounded triangle and the spacing of the back legs, respecting this shape, are much tighter or closer together than the front legs creating a distinctive form when seen straight on and a more dynamic form when the chair is seen from other angles.

The back of the chair has two curves of tube that are horizontal and parallel but not connected … the lower element curved round and then bent down to form the two back legs and an upper tube bent to form the back rest and the arm rests as a single curve and then bent down at the outer ends to run straight down for the front legs of the chair.

In some versions of the PK12 the upper tube of the back is bound round with leather tape.

Normally chairs with vertical legs appear rather narrow or pinched and actually slightly unstable - they can be tipped backwards quite easily if the back legs are not angled or curved outwards - but here the generous width of the chair; its solid weight and the presumed strength of the steel tube together create a strong sense of stability.

The chair photographed here is in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen and was a prototype from 1962 but books generally give the production date for the chair as 1964.

 

designed in Poul Kjærholm in 1962
produced by E Kold Christensen from 1964

height: 68 cm
width: 63 cm
depth: 52 cm
height of seat: 44 cm

 

Chair by Marcel Breuer who was head of the furniture workshop at the Bauhaus. Tube steel frame with seat and back in wood with cane designed in 1928

 

context:

The best-known furniture in steel tube from the early modern period came from the Bauhaus in Germany and furniture in metal tube, often with a chrome finish, was popular in The Netherlands and France but the style does not seem to have been widely copied in Denmark.

Although there was no major steel production in Denmark, shipbuilding was important with highly-skilled engineering work for making engines so there was certainly the machinery and the technical knowledge to work with steel tube for furniture ... so this must simply reflect a general preference for the work of cabinetmakers in wood rather than for the more industrial look of some furniture in northern Europe in the Art Deco period.

Several Danish designers did use narrow steel tube or bent steel rod for the legs of chairs and tables and there are examples of the use of bent steel tube … Mogen Lassen designed a bold chair with a tubular frame supporting a wicker seat in 1933; in 1967 Henning Larsen produced the FH9230, a striking version of a bentwood armchair in steel, and also for Fritz Hansen in the same year Grete Jalk designed an unusual upholstered chair on a bent tube frame, the FH9000. Hans Wegner used bent steel tube for the legs and the supports of the back of his office chair, the JH502 from 1955, and for the later version the JH522 from 1965 and he also used metal tube for the the Queen Chair and the Ox Chair in 1960 for Erik Jorgensen where the steel forms a base and legs for an upholstered chair rather than the whole framework. The Flag Halyard Chair by Wegner from 1950 has frame, seat and legs in shaped metal tube but in this unique design the seat and back are woven rope and the legs and the supporting frame are expressed as a separate part - by being painted - so the chair is not strictly of the bentwood / bent tube group.

 

CH36 by Hans Wegner 1962

chair in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen

 

Shakerstole / Shaker chairs

 

A chair that appears to be simple but actually is very sophisticated - where the design takes as a starting point the Shaker type of chair.

It is part of an interesting trend with Danish furniture design through the whole of the modern period where designers seem to tread a course between being simple and robust as in being a country chair and being simple and functional as in being  a 'modern' chair. Not mutually incompatible ideas but not actually the same when you try to assess the character or the style of the furniture.

The construction here in the CH36 is almost the most basic form possible for a chair - so two vertical front legs and two vertical back legs that are taller (otherwise it would be a stool) with four pieces of wood forming a frame for the seat and four pieces of wood below as stretchers  - to keep apart and keep together the legs - to stop them splaying apart under the weight of a person sitting down - and with a simple piece of wood either fixed between the upper parts of the back legs as here or, even simpler, fixed across the front of the two back legs, as a back rest for the person sitting in the chair.

The most basic chair could be made with squared and planed parts nailed or screwed together. Here all the parts are either turned or shaped and curved.

So where this design is actually incredibly sophisticated is in balancing changes or refinements that have been made for aesthetic reasons with the need to consider the technical details of how the parts of the chair are made and how they are joined together.

The tapered front legs are very close to the form of the legs on the famous Wishbone Chair by Wegner and have the same domed top. The rails of the seat are set down from the top of the leg and the widest part of the leg is at the top and the position of the front and side rails of the seat are staggered so that the tenons of the joins do not weaken the leg too much or split apart. The top of the leg is rounded because most people on standing up will put their hands down to their sides, palm down, and either steady themselves or even press down on the chair as they transfer their weight forward to stand. If you don't think this is important try standing up from a chair with your back kept vertical and without using your hands.

Again, the back legs are also thickest at the centre where the seat and the rails or stretchers below the seat are fixed so mirror the profile of the front legs but taper again towards the top and are also rounded or domed at the top like the front legs. The back rest may look very simple but actually it is curved and also although it is vertical at the legs it gradually angles outwards to the centre to reflect the angle of the upper part of the spine of the person sitting on the chair.

The front and back rails for the seat are set lower than - rather than above - the side rails which forms that much more comfortable hollow or scoop shape of the woven seat. Here the arrangement of the side and front and back rails of the seat allows for the most straightforward form of paper-cord seat with the characteristic X pattern, when seen from the top, where the cords pass over or under each other before going round the opposite rail and returning underneath.

The side rails are deeper than they are wide, for greater strength, and are deeper at the back than at the front to give the same tapered or angled line as on the Wishbone Chair … although on the Wishbone Chair it is the underside of the side stretcher that is level and the top that slopes down to give a slightly different dynamic to that chair when seen from the side whereas here it is the top edge that is level.

The front and back stretchers are staggered with the front set closer to the underside of the seat, so it is possible to sit with the feet tucked slightly back under the seat without the stretcher pushing into the back of the legs. Again this is not just reflecting how we sit but how we stand up from a sitting position: if you stand up when sitting on a box then normally you find your heals are pressed hard against the box-  simply as part of that process of moving forward the centre of gravity.

At the back, the stretcher is set slightly lower than the side stretchers - again so that the mortices do not weaken that point but also you can see here an aesthetic consideration so the back of the chair looks less cramped … Wegner had that often-quoted maxim that a chair should look as beautiful from the back as it does from the front.

 
 

designed by Hans Wegner
manufactured by Carl Hansen & Son

height: 81 cm
width: 52 cm
depth: 48 cm
height of seat: 45 cm

 

PK24 / ECK24 by Poul Kjærholm 1965

photographed at Designmuseum Danmark in 2015 in their exhibition 'Reclining'

 

 

This has to be one of the most elegant recliners and one of the most stripped down and spare. It is simply a frame in sprung steel covered with a taut skin of woven cane and supported on the thinnest possible steel frame. 

There is a separate frame of steel that folds under the centre section of the seat - running parallel to the cane work but separated from it by spacers. This forms what looks like a sledge or from the side runners that rest on a simple frame … a third rectangle in flat steel strip but with the ends bent upwards but at an angle to form a cradle.

The round table PK54 designed by Kjærholm in1963 - with square frames in steel slotted together to form a cube - or the glass table PK61 designed in 1956 - with four L-shaped pieces of steel together forming a frame and legs - play the same intellectual game to produce sophisticated three-dimensional forms out of minimal elements … almost like an artist marking an edge or a shadow with a slightly heavier weight of line, to define a volume, and then obliterating everything else to rely just on that emphasis of the edge.

Here the use of cane is equally unique. Not the material itself, of course, but on all other furniture with cane work you are aware of a frame first that is filled in with a lattice of cane - the cane does not exist without the frame. On the PK24 you see first a sheet of woven cane and it is only when you look again that you work out what holds the curved form because without the steel, keeping that shape would be impossible. All that is visible of the steel frame of the seat and back is a small square of exposed metal at each corner.

The chair comes also in leather and the same holds true … you see first a swoosh of leather and then have to work out how that shape is formed and held.  

There is a leather covered head rest with both chairs but where other recliners have pillows held in place by knots or belts with buckles this head rest is a simple roll with a counterweight of steel on two straps slung over the top of the back rest.

 

 

designed by Poul Kjærholm (1929-1980)
PK24 made first by E Kold Christensen and then from 1982 by Fritz Hansen Eftf

steel, cane, leather-covered head rest

height: 87 cm
width: 67 cm
length: 155 cm

exhibition Reclining at Designmuseum Danmark in 2015

Fritz Hansen

 

PP112 by Hans Wegner 1978

 

Windsorstole / Windsor chairs

chair photographed in Designmuseum Danmark

 
 

height: 76cm
width: 70cm
depth: 62cm
height of seat: 38cm

Hans Wegner, through his long career, continually returned to ideas or details of construction … not because he lacked new ideas but what you can see clearly is that as he developed a design he made a sequence of changes or refinements that almost form a route or map of rational consequences through the design process so make one part slightly thicker, and therefore stronger, and it might make it possible, for instance, to make another part thinner or even to remove a piece completely that would otherwise have been needed to strengthen the frame … such as a cross rail. Returning to an  idea, Wegner could then take the design through another route or sequence to create a very different chair.

PP Møbler, who make the 112 chair, describe it in their catalogue as a hybrid because here Wegner is combining the line and the single curve of the back of what is normally described as a Chinese style chair with the vertical rails of a Windsor chair … the common form for a Chinese chair is to have a broad curved splat at the centre of the back between the seat and the rail of the back. Here the front and the back legs are taken up to support the back rail and the space at the sides and the back are filled with vertical spindles. These are not straight dowels but turned so they are slightly thicker at the centre with a slight taper to the ends. 

The seat is relatively wide and slightly lower than on a side chair or dining chair so the 112 also has a slightly different sitting position closer to that of an easy chair.

There are stretchers to the sides and to the front and back and these are taller than they are wide - to give a tall but relatively narrow mortice into the legs - and are rounded across the top and the bottom. The side stretchers are deeper than those to the front and back, giving additional strength to the frame, with the front stretcher set up higher from the floor and closer to the seat - so the person sitting in the chair can tuck their feet back under without pressing against a stretcher. The shape and the arrangement of these stretchers is different to the traditional Windsor chair where,  generally, there are turned and tapered stretchers, similar in profile to but thicker than the spindles, and often the front and back stretchers are omitted and then there is a cross stretcher between the side stretchers to form an H shape of stretchers under the seat.

The back rail of the seat of the PP112 is rounded and the front and side rails of the seat gently curved with the back narrower than the front.

All four legs are thicker towards the centre and have a distinct elbow or angle at the thickest point to take the mortices for the frame of the seat. The legs taper to the foot and to the top where they are housed in the underside of the back rail.

The front rail of the seat is set below the side rails, in part to stagger the position of the mortice-and-tenon joints in the leg and partly to create the distinct scooped front line. As the seat is paper cord, this staggering of the rails creates a very distinct arrangement at the front corners and also the unusual combination of cord seat and Windsor rail means that there is a complicated arrangement with some cords being taken down in front of the spindle but most going on and around the rail before returning underneath the seat. This gives the distinct stripe effect on the outer faces of the side and back rails with bundles of cord alternating with exposed wood.

This complicated pattern in the weave of the seat must make the work itself much more difficult particularly in making sure that the tension in the cord is constant … if the cords are not tight they will shift around the frame and sag but if the tension is irregular then the cords will tend to bunch up to form ridges across the seat.

The back rail of the seat is set lower than the front of the seat so that there is a more pronounced backward lean … again appropriate for what is an armchair or easy chair rather than a side chair or dining chair.

The centre of the back rail is flattened off - so that it does not dig into the spine or shoulder blades - and the ends of the top back rail and the bottom ends of the legs are cut almost flat - rather than being rounded - adding to the character of the chair. It gives the chair a simpler and cleaner look making it more modern and more robust. This might seem like an insignificant detail but look at how Wegner rounded the ends of the arms and the foot of the legs on the Wishbone Chair or the Round Chair to create a different and rather more sophisticated character or feel to the finished chair. That is not to imply that the PP112 is unsophisticated … it is a very careful design that creates a strong honest country look … and after all, that is exactly what the original Windsor chairs were … strong, honest chairs that were the staple furniture in a good farmhouse or cottage kitchen. 

 

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