chair for the museum in Faaborg by Kaare Klint 1914

Now, in many ways, this chair appears to be old fashioned - looking backward to earlier styles of furniture as a reinterpretation of an historic type of chair - but it should be seen to mark or define the start of a distinctly modern approach to furniture design.

Faaborg is a small town on the south coast of the island of Funen - just over 40 kilometres from Odense. A new museum there was founded in June 1910 to display the work of a group of artists known as the Funen painters and in 1912 it was the artists themselves who proposed that Carl Petersen should design a new gallery to be built along one side of the summer home and garden of Mads Rasmussen … a wealthy businessman who had made his fortune through canned food.

Petersen was a leading figure in the architectural movement known as New Classicism. That might sound like yet another or simply the next revival of a historic style but it was the architects of this group who instigated major changes as Danish architecture moved towards both Modernism and Functionalism. They included in their designs some of the features of classical architecture - so columns and cornices and mouldings inspired by classical buildings in Greece and Italy - but generally, and more important, they used an arrangement of identical rectangular windows across simple, regular and well-proportioned facades that provided an appropriate sense of order to new buildings of greater and greater length that were designed to exploit new structural forms possible when using concrete and a beam and post construction that normally dictated equally spaced bays. It was architecture that was, above all, rational and essentially mathematical … very much an intellectual exercise rather than to do with instinct or romanticism.

Kaare Klint joined Carl Petersen as an assistant in December 1913, as work on the new gallery started, and his first designs were for furniture for the archive - a room at the end of the sequence of new galleries with wide doors onto the garden. Drawings are dated February 1914 with designs for a sofa, bookcases, a bureau and chairs. 

The first working drawings for this chair for the main gallery are dated June 1914 and then a small model and a full-sized prototype were made.

The starting point for the design was a Danish form of chair known as a Klismos that had first appeared in the late 18th century and was derived from ancient chairs that were depicted on classical vases and sculpture. The distinctive feature was the legs that had a marked curve between the seat and the floor - almost as if the legs are splaying or sliding out at the ground under the weight of the person - and with the back legs continuing up above the seat as posts to support a sharply curved back rest.

Klint designed a chair that was a distinct improvement on earlier designs and was certainly much lighter both in weight and appearance than many versions … designed to be light so that it could be moved around the gallery by any visitor so they could sit down directly in front of a painting to study the work.

 

photographs taken at Designmuseum Danmark in the major exhibition from June 2014 through to October 2015 on the work of Kaare Klint

in the exhibition the prototype, with out-turned front legs and vertical back posts, was shown with the footstool designed by Klint to also be used in the galleries at the museum

 

 

 

 

 

 

designed by: Kaare Klint (1888-1954)
made by: N M Rasmussen, Rud. Rasmussen and N C Jensen Kjær

oak, cane, leather

height: 72 cm
width: 56 cm
depth: 57 cm
height of seat: 43 cm

The Faaborg Chair is still in production
and is now made by Carl Hansen & Son

Klint acknowledged that Petersen had suggested changes to the design and implied that the most serious discussions were about the way that the top of the back rest should or should not curve outwards.

Key dimensions of the chair fit within the system of the classical mathematical proportion known as a Golden Section or, by extension, Golden Rectangles so the overall radius of the arc of the back and the height from the ground to top of the seat rail are the same dimension and are directly related to the overall width of the front of the seat as a Golden proportion. Such a precise mathematical framework must surely have come from teaching by Petersen - by then a leading architect of the New Classical architecture movement in Denmark.

A model for the new chair was made but does not survive - lost in a fire - but there is a photograph of the model and it shows an early stage in the development of the design. In that model, Klint proposed that the back posts should be continued up, above the line of the back rest, with a higher parallel but shorter rail with a panel or plaque in the void between the two horizontal rails and that echoed a tripartite subdivision of the front rail of the seat that, in an early version, broke forward for the centre third but in the final version was removed and replaced with a simple flat and flush line for the front rail of the chairs that were made for the museum.

There was another and more significant change. A full-sized prototype has front legs that curve outwards below the seat … not forward as was found with a Klismos type … but out to the sides and the back legs in that version were vertical. In the final version the front legs are vertical and the back posts are splayed or curved out below the seat but because the posts are set at 45 degrees, on the arc of the back rest, the curve or splays run out at an angle. It is this detail of the construction that gives the chair a lighter and more elegant and stylish form where four straight and perfectly vertical legs could well have looked severe and actually too narrow and therefore, visually at least, potentially unstable.

The seat of the chair and the back rest and sides had split cane, in part to keep the chair as light as possible and, in part, to keep the chair visually as light and open as possible so that they did not form a hefty and dominant feature of the gallery. It has also been said that the back rail was kept simple and horizontal, rather than with a slope down the arm rest, so that again it did not draw the eye and distract from the paintings. For the same reason the wood of the frame was given a soft natural finish rather than the heavy varnished or dark polished finish more usual at that period.

 
 

Kaare Klint and Poul Henningsen were related by marriage and Klint gave Henningsen the important commission to design lighting for the Design Museum although that did not prevent a certain amount of banter from Henningsen.

There is a well-known photograph from 1927 in Kritisk Revy, the journal Henningsen published, where he is balancing a chair from Thonet on an outstretched hand.

Years later - in 1962 - Henningsen explained that it was, in fact, a comment on Klint and the Faaborg chair:  

"By making this chair five times as expensive, three times as heavy, half as comfortable, and a quarter as beautiful, an architect can very well win himself a name." He went on to say that he could not sit in the Faaborg chair "without becoming melancholy about the past. What pointed to the future in that chair was probably first and foremost thoroughly conceived and executed craftsmanship."

In English that is said to be damning with faint praise but actually the point about thorough conception and execution is a key to not only the subsequent work by Klint himself but is an important way to understand and appreciate the quality of modern Danish furniture both in design and through production.

chair for Dansk Kunsthandel by Kaare Klint 1917

Designmuseum Danmark

 

 

In 1915 the furniture designed by Kaare Klint for the Faaborg Museum on Funen - along with drawings and even a section of tiled floor for the main gallery - were exhibited in Copenhagen in the Danish Museum of Art & Design that was then still in its original building on City Hall Square.

Clearly this was good marketing for Klint then went on to design a number of chairs of the Faaborg type for a number of important and influential clients in Copenhagen.

The original Faaborg Chair from 1914 has cane in the panels of the back and there was a rather heavier looking version of that chair, with solid panels in the back rest with a top rail that flares out in a more marked way, that was made by the cabinetmaker N M Rasmussen in 1916 for Aage Lunn and then in 1917 a version of the chair in Cuban mahogany was made for Dansk Kunsthandel in Copenhagen by N C Jensen Kjær.

This chair is much heavier and more robust than the chair for the Faaborg Museum with deeper pieces for the frame of the seat and the back rest has a much more pronounced outward curve to the lip or top rail. As with the Faaborg Chair, the front legs are tapered but vertical and the back legs are set at 45 degrees to the curve of the seat and back and are not just tapered but are also curved or flared outwards following the form of a Klismos chair.

All round, this is a much more robust chair. There is a third rail around the back above the cane seat but below the top of the cushion and the upper part of the leg does not cut in or reduce until it is above this point … in part meaning that the tenons of the rail are housed into mortices in the thickest part of the leg but also to link visually the cushion and the seat rail and create a series of closely related curved lines from the top rail down.

Another variation of the Faaborg Chair, with a fixed leather seat, was produced in the 1930s.

 

 
 

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

Cuban mahogany, cane seat, leather cushion

height: 77 cm
width: 53.5 cm
depth: 62 cm
height of seat: 46 cm

 

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

 

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 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

Church Chair by Kaare Klint 1936

Church Chair by Kaare Klint in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark

the chairs in the nave of Grundtvigskirchen in Copenhagen

 

Side Chair 1936

Several versions of the chair were produced. The Church chair above has a book holder across the back - a wide shallow box in thin wood where the person sitting in the row of chairs behind could place bibles and prayer books - and there are extra spindles across the space under the seat to hold a hat during the service. 

A version with arms was made by Bernstorffsminde Møbelfabrik from 1939 onwards. 

In the church, the chairs can be linked together with a long pole slotted through leather loops behind the front legs.

 

designed by Kaare Klint (1888-1954)
made by Fritz Hansen Eftf and Bernstorffsminde Møbelfabrik A/S

oak or beech

height: 81cm
width: 45cm
depth: 40cm
height of seat: 44cm

 

a church chair by Kaare Klint in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark

 

a Shaker rocking chair in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark

an English ladder-back chair with rush seat that was made in north Gloucestershire or Worcestershire about 1800 that shows clearly that the origin of the Shaker chair was an English type

 

Shakerstole / Shaker chairs

 

In the typography of chairs in the new display at Designmuseum Danmark, a distinctive group are the chairs influenced by Shaker furniture made in the United States from the late 18th century onwards. This was simple but well-proportioned and well-made furniture with styles and forms taken with them by members of the religious group when they emigrated from England to America to establish independent communities leading a simple and devout life.

One type of chair made in the 1820s in the Shaker settlement at New Lebanon had turned legs and spindles and a high back of the type usually called a ladder back although the cross pieces of the back rest tended to be thin but flat, curved and shaped pieces of flat wood rather than spindles or rungs. 

Decoration was kept to a minimum and was usually restricted to what could be done with turning so with knops or rings on the turned legs. Most cross rails and stretchers between the legs were turned and seats were often woven from ribbon width lengths of natural coloured textile … cotton or linen webbing.

There was an example of a Shaker rocking chair in the collection of the design museum and this appears to have been an inspiration for the church chairs designed by Kaare Klint in the 1920s for Grundtvigskirchen and for Bethlehem Church in Copenhagen.