chair by Søren Hansen 1930

chair photographed at Designmuseum Danmark


designed by Søren Hansen (1905-1977)
made by Firitz Hansen Eftf

steam-bent beech

height: 79 cm
height of seat: 46.5 cm


chair by the Viennese company Thonet - made from the middle of the 19th century onwards

it could be transported in separate parts and assembled at the destination

the seat is cane rather than plywood

Fritz Hansen Eftf produced a number of chairs in bentwood and plywood between 1928 and 1948. Generally, these bentwood chairs in beech are referred to as DAN chairs. 

This chair from 1930 was designed by Søren Hansen - the grandson of Fritz Hansen who founded the furniture company. It takes as a starting point the famous chairs by Thonet - the Austrian company - that date from the 19th century but simplifies the form. In both chairs, the back posts and the back rest are made from a single piece of steam-bent wood but, in the Danish version, the back rest forms a more generous and perhaps an even-more extravagant loop. 

The chair by Søren Hansen has a rounded but not circular seat - with a piece of plywood that was dropped into a rebate in the frame - and, like the Austrian chair, it has a closed bentwood hoop below the seat that reinforces the frame and keeps the legs in place so has the function of the stretchers in a traditional wood chair.

From below it is possible to see that there is also a robust cross bar to the loop of the back that supports the back edge of the seat and carries much of the weight of the person sitting in the chair. 

Rather than using traditional mortice-and-tenon joints - normal in the work of a cabinetmaker - the separate parts of this chair are fixed together with screws and bolts so, like the Thonet chair, it seems to mark an intermediate stage between cabinet making and the later industrial production or factory production of furniture that did not require workbench woodworking skills.

The back of the chair is lower and broader than the Austrian design so supports the back more and the pronounced backward curve of the back posts of the DAN chair have more than an echo of the the Klismos type and the downward angle of the truncated or incipient elbow rests surely show a form that was picked up by Wegner for his Chinese chairs and the Wishbone Chair twenty years later.


chair by Søren Hansen 1943

chair in Designmuseum Danmark

From the late 1920s and through into the 1940s, the furniture manufacturer Fritz Hansen Etft experimented with new materials and tried out new manufacturing methods. They made chairs with frames in steamed and bent wood, producing several chairs based on chairs produced by Thonet in Austria from the middle of the 19th century with a bentwood frame for the seat and bentwood legs with a plain seat cut from plywood and without upholstery.

This chair, designed by Søren Hansen, uses plywood in a much more ambitious and much more obvious and prominent way. 

The boldly-shaped back of the chair was cut from plywood and bent into a curve around the bentwood frame of the seat and then fixed in place with screws. It might appear to be rather crude in form and it looks as if it would spring apart or even collapse if you lent back in the chair but the design is relatively strong with the arm rests made from a single piece of bent wood that loops around behind the back to provide support.

Søren Hansen was a grandson of the founder of the furniture company and, with his brother, took over control of the company in the 1950s so it would seem that he took this interest in plywood or laminated wood forward so the shape of the plywood back should look vaguely familiar ..… surely this is an early version or a preliminary stage of a shape that was to develop ultimately into the more sophisticated and much more famous Chair 7 by Arne Jacobsen? The main difference is that the back of this chair by Hansen is curved in just one plane and it must have taken quite a few trials and experiments before the workshop could perfect the complex form of the later shell chairs that are curved in two planes to form a seat and back together in a single piece of plywood.

The year of the design also explains, in part, the reasons for the experiments with plywood and bentwood for making chairs. Through the Second World War, good high-quality timber for making furniture was scarce and of course the situation meant that most people were spending much less or no money on new furniture. But, actually, the war also saw rapid improvements in cutting and shaping plywood as it was used for building light-weight planes and boats with thin sheets of laminated wood pinned over a wood frame. Alvar Aalto had designed several chairs in the 1930s that used bent plywood but with the curves in a single plane … essentially a long scroll … but it was in the United States that the designers Charles and Ray Eames developed designs of shell-shaped chairs in plywood and plastic in the late 1940s and early in the 1950s.


designed by Søren Hansen (1905-1977)
made by Fritz Hansen Eftf

steam-bent arms and plywood seat and back ash
height: 86cm
width: 53cm
depth: 53cm