NV45 / FJ45 by Finn Juhl 1945

photographed at Galleri Feldt at Nordre Toldbod in Copenhagen

 

Chair NV45 was shown at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1945 - with other furniture including a desk and sofa designed by Finn Juhl and made by Niels Vodder - in a room setting that was described as a "room for a managing director."

Obviously this was not cheap furniture … a review in Berlingske Tidende noted that the furniture was designed for a deluxe office and added that not only had it been awarded first prize but had been sold in advance to an American customer.

In a review of the exhibition in the magazine Arkitekten, Erik Herlow wrote: "As opposed to Ole Wanscher, he [Finn Juhl] does not base his work on the improvement of traditional models. Instead he analyses each problem in terms of its functional requirements which will, in turn, determine his choice of form."

Is that right? Surely that phrase 'functional requirements' implies furniture rather more utilitarian than this chair where the design seems to be more about testing boundaries or rather testing the limits and skills of the cabinetmaker.

There is a thin curved shell for the seat and back that rests on a cross bar underneath, between the side stretchers, so the design separates the supported and the supporting elements of the chair.

The shape of the shell may have been Influenced by a chair designed by Edvard and Tove Kindt-Larsen and made by Gustav Bertelsen that was shown at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1940. Set in a room with furniture centred around an open fire, the chair won first prize that year * but the frame appears to be heavy and clumsy when compared with the later chair by Juhl.

 
Finn Juhl.jpg

The frame designed by Finn Juhl demanded considerable skill from the cabinetmaker. The shaped arm rest forms a narrow L shape at the outer end where there is a join for the front leg and in other sections of the frame Juhl reduces and stretches parts that are under stress or carry weight. It would be interesting to have an assessment of the frame from an engineer because the join where the back leg meets the underside of the arm rest would appear to be under stress because the leg is set at an angle and the post of the back rest acts as a lever because, although the shell is supported on that cross bar under the seat, the back rest is fixed at the very top by a thin lug so someone leaning back would put pressure down through the post to the top of the back leg. It is also not clear how a pair of thin angled struts, that run out and down from the centre of the cross bar under the seat to the front legs, could stop the legs being forced apart at the bottom or the arm rests being forced apart if someone heavy stands up from the chair and supports their weight or pushes down on the arm rests … a fairly normal stance when standing up.

The curve of the shell has a relatively thin layer of padding and required a textile with a more open weave to stop the cover bunching up around the inner angle.

Juhl returned to some of these ideas for the design of later chairs and, for the Chieftain Chair from 1949, he pushed the challenge for the cabinetmaker further. In the Cheftain the seat and back are upholstered over plywood but the shape of the arms was too complicated to form in wood so they are plates of metal that were hammered into shape, as in a car bodywork, and then upholstered.

In 1952, in the design of a chair for Bovirke, the BO98, Juhl returned to the shell shape of the NV45 but added a cross rail between the front legs that supported the front of the seat and moved the cross bar back under the angle of the shell to omit the struts and the upper part of the back post of the back rest and fixed the frame to the shell at the angle of the arm rest and the back leg.

notes:

 * Dansk Møbelkunst Gennem 40 År 1937-1946, Grete Jalk, pages 108-11

This chair was included in the room setting that Juhl designed in 1951 for National Museum of Decorative Arts (Det Nordenfjeldske Kunstindustrimuseum) in Trondheim in Norway. The room had a fitted bookcase on one wall; full length windows along almost all of one long side and a wooden floor in Swedish Kalmar pine. It was furnished to represent the best of Scandinavian interior design - with a rug, a sofa and two chairs by Juhl with a light by Vilhelm Lauritzen and, rather interesting for the contrast, a Stool 60 by the Finnish designer Alvar Aalto. Juhl himself acknowledged the influence of contemporary American interiors. The full description of the room by Finn Juhl is reproduced in Danish Furniture Design in the 20th Century by Arne Karlsen and is an important lesson in the value of considering these major pieces of furniture in a context the designer envisaged.

 

designed by Finn Juhl (1912-1989)
made by Niels Vodder, Søren Horn, Niels Roth Andersen, Hansen & Sørensen
shown at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1945

walnut
later versions in rosewood Mahogany teak and cherry

height: 72cm
width: 87cm ?
depth: 78cm
height of seat: 38cm

 

relaunched in 2003 by OneCollection

walnut, teak, oak

height: 88cm
width: 66.5cm
depth: 73cm
height of seat: 42cm

 

Påfuglestolen / Peacock Chair by Hans Wegner 1947

 


Now, we tend to use the term masterpiece for paintings … particular those by one of the 'old masters' … but it actually refers to a work made by an apprentice, journeyman or master craftsman to show off their skills. So surely, this chair is a masterpiece by Hans Wegner?

It's not exactly flamboyant or even particularly egotistical but it does show a number of real skills and an amazing command of design in three-dimensional space.

It takes a traditional type of chair - an English Windsor chair - and shows just how it should be done.

A Windsor chair normally has a hooped back with spindles although other chairs with a back rest or rail for a head rest can be called a Windsor as it is now a generic term.*

The spindles across the back of the Peacock Chair are shaped and flattened at the point where the shoulder blades of a person in the chair would rest but they extend in an arc out to the side spindles so it is also decorative. They resemble the 'eyes' on the tail feathers of a peacock and the name was soon applied to the chair.

chair photographed at Designmuseum Danmark

 


It is a wide chair with a relatively low seat so this is an easy chair rather than a dining chair. The seat is paper cord and at first glance it appears to be the traditional pattern with the cords taken across the seat and across the underside with their intersection forming a diagonal cross but on most chairs the cord is taken completely over the rails of the seat but here the wood pieces of those rails are unusually wide with a narrow slot along the centre with the spindles of the back housed in the outer part of the seat frame and the cords of the seat taken across and down the slot before returning on the underside. It is only across the front rail of the seat and at the front ends of the sides - in front of the vertical supports of the arm rests - that the cords are taken across the whole width of the side rail in the area where someone would put their hands down to steady themselves as they stand up from the chair.

 


The legs of the chair are turned and are housed in holes that go right through the frame of the seat where the end is cut and split with a wedge in dark wood to hold the leg in place. There are side stretchers between the front and back legs and a cross stretcher between them forming an H shape below the seat.

There are paddle-shaped arm rests and these are supported on diagonal struts that run down through the seat and inwards to be housed in swellings at each end of the cross stretcher.

The chair was shown by Johannes Hansen at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1947.


It is interesting that despite the design of the chair - with its origin in an historic form - the style of the room is much more modern than the room setting from Hansen with furniture by Wegner that was shown just a few years earlier. This room had a fairly traditional sofa but a good simple coffee table in wood and a version of a square-sided Windsor Chair with ramped arm rests ** all set around a rush mat and there were fitted book cases rising the full height on either side of the window and, opposite the sofa, a long range of three units … one a desk with drawers, one unit with narrow drawers and one with a double cupboard and above what appears to be a hanging system with glass-fronted display cabinets and what looks like hessian on the walls.

The Peacock Chair is now produced by PP Møbler

 

designed by Hans Wegner (1914-2007)
cabinetmakers Johannes Hansen, PP Møbler

oak or ash with arm rests to match or in teak and seat paper cord

height: 103cm
width: 76cm
depth: 76cm
height of seat: 36cm

 

notes:

 * The area of Berkshire north of the medieval town of Windsor has chalk hills - The Chilterns - that were covered with beech trees. Men would work out in the forest with temporary or moveable lathes and would cut and turn the spindles, stretchers and legs for chairs and these would be brought down into the local towns - Windsor or High Wycombe - where they would be made up into chairs with seats made elsewhere and often from very different wood so usually elm but sometimes oak or sycamore and with the bow made in ash or even yew. The chairs were often quite simple and are sometimes called country chairs and were bought for inns, farmhouses and cottages but could also be quite elaborate and expensive pieces of furniture. It was not a common Danish form … Axel Steensberg in his book on Danske bondemøbler shows just one example from Fyn and that has a bow back but shaped splats rather than spindles. Kaare Klint used an English example of a Windsor chair in the collection of the design museum for teaching.

 ** A version of that chair was made by Carl Hansen

 

Ax chair by Peter Hvidt and Orla Mølgaard-Nielsen 1947

 

Ax Chair in the permanent collection of Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen

 
 
FH6135.jpeg
FH6135 detail.jpeg

Chair FH6135 by Peter Hvidt and Orla Mølgaard-Nielsen 1959. Copyright for the images auction site Lauritz.com

 This is an interesting chair because rather than forming a plywood shell, it uses laminated and moulded wood for the chair seat and the back rest that are supported between frames of laminated and bent beech in a form but not a style reminiscent of the chairs by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto from the 1930s.

The Ax series that included a number of chairs and tables was some of the first Danish furniture to be made after the War that was aimed specifically at the export market. Many of the pieces were designed so that they could be packed as parts and then assembled at the destination and in the 1950s furniture made in Denmark in more expensive woods such as teak or mahogany tended to be exported rather than sold to the home market.

Two chairs were made in this form - one narrower, the height and width for a traditional dining chair, and this design wider and lower as an easy chair.

Both had the distinctive feature of paired stretchers set parallel, one above the other, both between the front legs and between the back legs. These stretchers are turned - round in cross section, slightly tapered and shaped at the ends - and brace and hold together the two side sections of the frame. Those side frames are strong enough for the stretchers to be omitted.

The form of the bentwood side frames is important as Hvidt and Mølgaard-Nielsen developed a specific method of building up layers of laminate around a solid core - in mahogany or teak - rather like the way the handle of a tennis racket with a wood frame is joined to the laminated loop of the racket head. The most distinct example of this type of lamination is for the chair they designed for Fritz Hansen in 1959 - the FH6135 - where, to describe it crudely, four V-shapes in laminated and bent wood are fixed together around a solid diamond-shaped core to form an X that is the side frame of the chair.

A  triangular core in solid wood and the laminate bending and curving away on either side can be seen clearly but in a rather more subtle and rather less decorative way at the top of the front legs of the Ax Chair.

This detail contributes to the flowing or unbroken lines of the side view that is a distinct feature of the design. Note the way that the bottom edges of the side pieces for the seat are slightly chamfered across the front and this chamfer runs down unbroken into a curve that runs back under the side piece and then down the front leg just at the point where the fingers of a person sitting in the chair would grip the front edge of the seat as they are transferring their weight and standing up from the chair … a small but good example of ergonomics, careful design and high-quality manufacturing coming together in a carefully thought through detail and, in part, reflects that both designers trained as cabinet makers.

The front of the legs is not flat but they have a slight convex finish that in part shows the quality of the work but in part also makes a virtue out of a necessity because with laminated wood it is actually better not to try to achieve a crisp sharp angle to the edge or have a square-cut end to a piece as that can split or break away in use or with knocks or damage.

 
Copy of Chair, 1932, by Alvar Aalto

cantilevered chair by Alvar Aalto c. 1930 with seat, back and arm rests from a single piece of wood and with a tubular metal frame

In the Ax Chair the arm rests are distinctive. A chair from the 1930s designed by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto had a similar form of arm rest with what appears to be a slit cut through the wood and the seat bent down in an L shape to follow the seat and back but the outer part bent up to form the L shape of the arm rest - a horizontal part for the arm and elbow and the vertical part running back down to the seat - but in the Aalto chair that was all done - seat, backrest and arm rest - in a single piece of plywood whereas here it is the bentwood beech frame that is split and shaped.

In some books, the design of the Ax Chair is dated to 1947 but dated 1950 for the first production.

With the separate moulded seat and moulded back, in laminated wood, the design echoes the type designed by Charles and Ray Eames in the 1940s although the chairs are obviously very different in style. The Ax chairs seem somehow more traditional and more tightly controlled - more conservative - in comparison although they were certainly successful in terms of sales.

 

designed by Peter Hvidt (1916-1986) and Orla Mølgaard-Nielsen (1907-1993)
made by Fritz Hansen

beech and mahogany bent frame with laminated teak seat and back

height: 75cm
width: 62cm
depth: 71cm
height of seat: 38cm

Shell Chair FH1936  by Hans Wegner 1948

designed by Hans Wegner
made by Fritz Hansen Eftf

frame beech - seat and back laminated teak veneer

height: 70cm
width: 73cm 
depth: 60 cm
height of seat: 38 cm 

This is a combination of chair types with a relatively conventional frame of legs and stretchers that forms a cradle for a thick curved plywood seat and a well-proportioned and curved back rest that is also in thick plywood.

The side stretchers are shaped and curve down at the ends and the legs stop short of the underside of the seat. This is described by some critics as a cantilevered seat. The use of thicker plywood for the seat means that the normal seat frame can be omitted completely so this is plywood used in a more sophisticated way for more expensive furniture.

 

chair by Børge Mogensen 1949

 

As with the almost contemporary FH1936 chair by Hans Wegner - this chair has an elegant frame in wood that forms a base for the plywood back … here with a back in relatively thin plywood that was cut to shape and sections were  cut out so that the back could be bent round to a more pronounced curve and then held in place with tabs that are glued down into slots in the seat.

Faced in cherry, this was not cheap plywood but presumably it was presented at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition to prove that plywood was an appropriate material for more expensive furniture.

 

designed by Børge Mogensen (1914-1972)
made by Erhard Rasmussen
shown at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1949

cherry and teak

height: 75cm
width: 47cm
depth: 54cm
height of seat: 39cm

 

Klapstol / Folding Chair JH512 by Hans Wegner 1949

 


Although this is a folding chair it was not designed as a deckchair or even primarily for use outside but it was for a small apartment and was designed to be hung on the wall so it was out of the way until it was needed.

The cross bar below the seat is shaped and has curved cross struts to form a notch to keep the chair steady when it is hung over a single hook.

Deceptively simple with an open wooden frame for the seat and back, that are square and infilled with cane, and that cross over as an X shape when seen from the side. The back rest is concave and continues on down in a single curve to form the front legs of the chair and the seat running on down to form the back support is slightly convex.

Where the design is ingenious is in the way the structure, the precise alignment of the key parts of the frame and a hinge or pivot at the centre, allow the chair to fold flat and stay flat when it is hanging. The frame also has to allow for the cane to be taken down through slots at certain points, rather than around the whole frame, to accommodate handles and so on.

As with so many designs by Wegner it looks easy and simple when he has finished but take a step back to the beginning and try to design the same thing without any reference to his solution and you begin to see how he had such an amazing perception of three dimensional space. The impressive thing about any puzzle, say a complex crossword puzzle for example, is not that someone can solve it but the mind that created it.

The Folding Chair, made by Johannes Hansen, was shown in the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1949 and what now seems so incredible is that this chair was actually far from the star piece that year. In 1949 Wegner and Hansen presented to the public The Round Chair and the tripartite Shell Chair.

Christian Holmsted Olesen * suggested that the Folding Chair is one of the designs by Wegner that was most plagiarised.

The Folding Chair is now made by PP Møbler

 
 

In Arkitekten, Børge Glabn wrote:

Hans Wegner and Johannes Hansen “confront us with something altogether different; a classic simplicity both in analytical approach and in the synthesis of its practical application. …. 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.” **

 

notes:

 * Hans J Wegner, by Christian Holmsted Olesen in Store Danske Designere, Lindhardt og Ringhof (2008)
 ** Dansk Møbelkunst Gennem 40 År 1947-1956, edited by Grete Jalk, Lindhardt og Ringhof, (2017) page 98

 
 

 

designed by Hans Wegner (1914-2007)
made first by Johannes Hansen and then PP Møbler

teak, oak or ash and sjeneflet (cane)

height: 75cm
width: 61cm
depth: 74cm
height of front edge of seat: 39cm
length when folded: 99cm

 

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 ….. "

 

Metropolitanstolen / Metropolitan Chair by Axel Bender Madsen and Ejnar Larsen 1949

 

designed by Axel Madsen (1916-2000) and Ejnar Larsen (1917-1987)
made by Ludvig Pontoppidan
shown at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1949

height: 76cm
width: 56cm
depth: 44cm
height of seat: 44cm

The frame of the seat is interesting with side pieces that have a very pronounced inward curve. When seen from a normal viewpoint this reduces the bulk of the frame and emphasises the thin piece of plywood that forms the seat and makes the chair look lighter and more elegant.

Here the back and the arm rests of the chair are in a single piece of shaped and curved plywood. This is cut from a single sheet and bent and held in place by screws driven down into the tops of the legs with the screw heads covered by plugs of wood.

The shape is reminiscent of the changes in plane of the back and arm rests of The Chair (The Round Chair) by Hans Wegner from the same year although in that chair the back rest and arms of The Chair are in solid timber - rather than in plywood -  cut with the sections joined to achieve the propeller like twist in the shape. *

note

 * The first version of The Chair had a seat woven in cane but a year later a version with an upholstered seat was produced. What is interesting is that in that relatively expensive chair, the seat was not given traditional upholstery that would have either been taken over the frame of the seat, destroying the clean lines and elegant curves, or it might have had an upholstered cushion dropped into the frame instead of the cane work but that would have been baulky. The solution was to use a sheet of plywood resting on simple metal tabs, fixed on the inside edge of the frame just below the top, with a padding over the plywood - presumably in the original chair with hair but now foam - that was then covered with leather.

 

The Colonial Chair PJ149 by Ole Wanscher 1949

The PJ149, also known as the Colonial Chair, was designed by Ole Wanscher (1903-1985) and was made by P Jeppesen Møbelfabrik from 1949 onwards. The company later changed its name to PJ Furniture A/S.

Wanscher came from Copenhagen, from a well-established, middle-class, academic family … his father was the art historian Vilhelm Wanscher. Initially Wanscher trained as an architect, first at technical school and then at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, but moved almost exclusively to furniture design. In the 1920s he worked in the office of Kaare Klint and it was Wanscher who produced the first drawings for Klint for the Red Chair for the Danish Museum of Art and Design. For Klint, as part of that project, he produced detail drawings of a Chippendale chair in the collection of the museum and the influence of 18th-century English chairs with arms and the inspiration of more vernacular English ladder-backed chairs can be seen in the design for Jeppesen.

The chair is remarkably light, with the cross-section of the legs and stretchers reduced to the minimum but the chair retains strength through the careful design and position of mortice and tenon joints. Where the arm meets the back post it is swept up which not only makes the profile much more elegant but allows for a thin but tall tenon, to compensate, and the front post of the arm is taken down across the side frame of the seat to be housed into the rail between the front and back leg. This reinforces the side and provides extra strength where most needed … when standing up people instinctively put their hands down over the ends of the arm rests and push up meaning that the end of the arm takes all the weight. The vertical post is expanded below and behind the side rail of the seat without appearing to compromise the slenderness of the frame.

Despite its appearance of refined elegance, the chair is carefully designed for commercial production: the woven cane seat is on a frame that is constructed independently and then dropped in when the chair is finished or assembled.

Slender slats of the ladder back and the separate covered cushion for the seat and back also mean that not only does the chair appear to be lighter and simpler but it avoids a separate and, for many chairs, a complex stage of traditional fixed upholstery. 

Features such as the turned tops of the front legs and the back uprights and the simple loops of leather over the uprights holding the back cushion in place show how every detail of the design of the chair was refined.

Colonial chairs in the Library/Meeting room of the hotel, SP34, in Copenhagen

 

The Colonial Chair is still in production -
made for Carl Hansen & Son and in their catalogue as OW149.

width: 65 cm
height: 85 cm
height to front edge of seat: frame 36 cm / cushion 440 cm
depth: 68 cm

 

Snorestolen / Flaglinestolen / The Flag Halyard Chair by Hans Wegner 1950

Flag Halyard Chair photographed at Designmuseum Danmark

 

It's said that Hans Wegner had the idea for the shape of this chair on a trip to the beach with his family where he spent a comfortable afternoon sitting in a hollow in the sand but the sitting position is actually close to the angles of the seat and back on the tripartite Shell Chair he designed the year before although the Shell Chair has a shaped and padded head rest and the Flag Halyard Chair a cushion covered with fabric or leather that is held in place with straps.

As with most shell chairs, the Halyard Chair has two distinct parts with the upper part - the 'shell' or seat - as a steel frame strung with rope and a substructure or base - in this chair in welded steel - and those different functions are emphasised by the way the metal is finished with the steel of the shell or cradle polished and the base painted.

 

There are H-shaped leg units to the front and back with the cross-bar of the H - in effect a stretcher - holding apart and holding together the legs and setting their angle. The legs are widely set and angled out because the lower a chair then the more you need to press down on the chair frame to get yourself up out of it and the wide stance of the legs makes the chair as stable as possible.

Running front to back on either side, and welded across the tops of the legs, are beams bent down at the centre to form a shallow V that support and set the angles of the lower and middle section of the seat.

The frame of the superstructure in polished steel forms five flat panels for rope. Imagine a box, that is almost a cube but without a lid and then cut down the corners until you have a base with four flaps that can be angled out. The base is the part that goes under your back. One flap is folded out to support under the upper legs with the side opposite, cut down to about a half and angled outwards, as a head support. The remaining two pieces, on either side, are reduced to approximately half and angled out to support the elbows and lower arms … or to be the place to put your book or newspaper when you want to snooze. Link the four flaps with loops of steel that look as if someone has partly unfolded a giant paperclip and set the whole thing on a gentle angle on the cradle of the legs. 

 

Display at the furniture store Illums Bolighus in Copenhagen in October 2014 to demonstrate how the rope is strung on the Flag Halyard Chair.

It is a complicated job to string the chair with the halyard because it is covered with a single length of rope and not done in sections so the tension has to be kept consistent. At each side, the rope is taken over the steel frame, then wrapped completely round the rod once and returned across the underside so that spaces out the strings and seems to act like a hitch knot. 

Generally, on wooden chairs with a cord or cane seat, Wegner cuts the seat frame down where the paper cord is wrapped over to create a shoulder that holds the weave pattern and stops it opening out. Here, there are steel rods across the top of the head rest and on each side of the side pieces that are flattened at each end and then rounded off and drilled through to form what is rather like a large washer - and these act as spacers for the frame and hold the rope in place to stop it from sliding along the frame. There are no rods across between the main sections or at the lowest part because they would stick into the body or stick into the back of the legs.

This sounds a bit like trying to describe how a magician does a trick but - as you look carefully to work out what was done and begin to understand how it was done - the design seems to be even more impressive and an initial sketch for the chair - with a series of variations and changes in heavy overdrawing - shows just how rapidly the design evolved.

All in all the Halyard Chair is a tour de force.

 

designed by Hans Wegner (1914-2007)
made by Getama and from 2002 by PP Møbler
GE225 now known as pp225

height:  80cm
width:  104cm
depth: 115cm
height to front edge of seat: 38cm

steel - framework of legs supporting seat is painted white or green
240 metres of flag halyard - woven jute with a nylon core
sheepskin
discs or pads for feet - originally wood now made from plastic

 

Designmuseum Danmark has early editions of classic designs in their collection and on display but also, around the museum, are recent versions of some of the chairs - along with low tables and copies of catalogues - where visitors can try sitting in these chairs and read for a while. With this post in mind I wanted to take photographs of the Halyard Chair and look at the way it is constructed but on three visits in a row there was a visitor asleep in the chair. Clearly it's a bit too comfortable.

CH22 by Hans Wegner 1950

 

This low chair or easy chair from Carl Hansen - identified in their catalogues as CH22 - was one of the first chairs that Hans Wegner designed for the company. It went into production in 1950 and marked the start of a significant commercial partnership that continued through the rest of Wegner's long career.

This is not one of the best-known or most famous chairs designed by Wegner but it is important and significant for several reasons:

  • the CH22 chair was designed in a remarkable period of creativity as Wegner established and rapidly consolidated his reputation.

After a period studying in Copenhagen, Wegner moved to Århus in 1940 and worked first for Arne Jacobsen on furniture for the new city hall before establishing his own studio in Århus in 1943. In 1946 he returned to Copenhagen to set up a studio in Gentofte but worked first with Palle Suenson before striking out on his own in 1948.

In 1949 Wegner designed Tredelte Skalstol - Tripartite Shell Chair - as a prototype and the Folding Chair that was produced initially by the cabinetmaker Johannes Hansen and he designed the first version of The Round Chair that was shown at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition that year.

In 1950 he designed the Delfinstolen or Dolpin Chair and the Flaglinestolen or Flag Halyard Chair that could hardly be more different and in the same year PP Møbler put into production the upholstered version of The Round Chair PP503 - the chair that was to establish Wegner's reputation in the United States. Not only was the diversity of these designs astounding but in 1950 a total of 27 different designs by Wegner went into production with six different cabinetmakers or manufacturers … an outstanding achievement … and it can hardly be seen as surprising that in 1951 Wegner was awarded the Lunning Prize - a new but prestigious prize awarded to two designers each year who were selected by a panel of designers and academics from the Nordic countries.

  • the CH22 is a good example to illustrate how Wegner returned to an idea and then took it to a completely different end point

The broad curved back of the CH22 evolved from the Shell Chair FH1936 he designed in 1948 but combined with a woven paper cord seat, rather than a plywood seat, that was a development of the Peacock Chair of 1947 and the CH22 had wide arm rests similar to those on the Peacock Chair but with supports that adapted the axe handle design from the Chinese Chair and, for good measure, the CH22 has flat but tapered stretchers on each side (rather than turned stretchers) between the front and back legs, that he used for the Wishbone Chair.

But this replaying of elements or features does not imply a struggle for ideas … rather the imagination of someone brimming with ideas who worked through one sequence of development to produce a logical and rational design but then went back to the starting point, back to a basic form or shape, in order to explore how an alternative sequence of decisions from that same starting point might be resolved.

  • this chair is a very good example to show that Wegner developed new styles and new techniques to work with new materials in new ways

The prominent curved back of the CH22 is a development of the chair designed for Fritz Hansen FH1936 but here uses plywood that is thicker and used in a much more sophisticated way.

  • this was one of the first chairs that Wegner designed for Carl Hansen and marked the start of a very successful and long-running commercial partnership

For the Danish furniture industry, this partnership was important because it showed a way to the next stage in the move of furniture production from the workshops of cabinetmakers to larger-scale and more-commercial production. Together Wegner and Carl Hansen & Son adapted production methods or modified and simplified designs so that the chairs could be produced in large numbers and in part this was achieved by simplifying shapes or rationalising assembly or making use of machine production or machine finishing - rather than work by hand - to keep the price down.

In 1950, for that first group of chairs for Carl Hansen & Son, Wegner designed the CH22, CH23, CH24 - The Wishbone Chair - and CH25.

 

There is a story that a very large order was placed from the USA for one of the chairs designed by Wegner and initially it was thought that no Danish company could complete that number of chairs over the suggested time scale. This does not imply that subsequently Wegner compromised the quality or even the complexity of his designs in order to make production quicker or easier … it is simply that, with his work for FDB (the Danish Coop) where he produced designs that could be sold at a reasonable price without compromising quality and with the designs he produced for Carl Hansen & Son and the chairs that he produced with PP Møbler, Wegner realised he could harness and exploit new woodworking machines for cutting and milling without undermining quality and the machines actually allowed him to do some things that were difficult or impossible by hand on the traditional work bench.

 

 

  • this is a sophisticated and clever example of the way that Wegner used paper cord

He used a yoke or spoke-shave shaped bar, set across between the back legs of the chair frame, to support the seat at the centre but not only cut a slot through the yoke to take the centre section of cords running across the seat but also cut in a slot from each side so that from above the cords continue unbroken across the full width … a complicated arrangement that makes the actual weaving of the paper cord look deceptively simple and straightforward.

 
 
 
 
  • curiously, this is one of the few examples where Wegner produced closely-related designs for a low easy chair and for a dining chair

Although certain distinct elements reappear in different combinations in different chairs, it is relatively unusual for Wegner to design together an easy chair and a dining that are close enough, in their form and style, to be considered as a related pair. This might seem an odd point or not important but actually at in the late 1940s and early 1950s the general aim was to do just the opposite … to design and produce chairs that were very different but could be used together in the same room. This now probably seems like a strange concept but when FDB Møbler - the Danish Coop - produced their first furniture they made a specific point that people could buy different chairs and a table over a number of years but the designers felt that they would look good together in a small apartment. This was a deliberate break from the way that conventional furniture stores sold furniture where people bought a “suite” or full set of furniture and, in order to make such a significant purchase might well have to resort to some sort of payment plan with money repaid over an extended period.

CH22 - a low or easy chair - was designed in 1950 and although the dining-chair version CH26 was designed in the same year it has only recently gone into production.

The only comparable 'pairs' of chairs by Wegner are the low Sawbuck Chair CH28 designed in 1951 and the dining chair version CH29  designed in 1952 and possibly, and literally at a stretch, the Dolphin Chair JH510 and the Long Dolphin Chair JH511 designed in 1950 and shown by Johannes Hansen at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition that year alongside an upholstered version of The Round Chair.

 
 

 

designed by Hans Wegner (1914-2007)


Lounge Chair or Easy Chair CH22 1950
made by Carl Hansen

height: 72.6 cm
width: 69.5 cm
depth: 61.5 cm
height of seat: 36.8 cm

  

Dining chair CH26

height: 79.8 cm
width: 54.2 cm
depth: 51.9 cm
height of seat: 44.5 cm

a review of CH22 was posted when the chair was rereleased
by Carl Hansen & Son in May 2016

the web site of Carl Hansen has a video that shows how the chair is made

The back of the dining chair is obviously smaller or more restrained but there are other and more significant differences. Perhaps the most important is the join at the top of the front legs. On the CH22 the leg is taken up through the seat frame and fixed in place with a wedge driven into a slot cut across the top of the leg but on the dining chair the leg is taken up and the side rail of the seat housed into it to form a knee or knuckle. The CH22 has a central stretcher that forms an H shape with the side stretchers between the front and back legs but on the dining chair there are stretchers between the front legs and between the back legs that are curved inwards or narrowed towards the centre in profile and the central stretcher is omitted. Gone too is the complicated yoke or piece shaped like a spoke-shave across the back - that supports the seat of the CH22 - replaced with a simple back rail to the seat frame that makes weaving the seat rather more straightforward. The seat of the dining chair is narrower and set at a flatter angle than the seat of the CH22 - simply reflecting the different sitting positions when using a chair at a table - and the arm rests are narrower though still supported on the axe handle uprights that continue down below the seat frame to be bird-mouthed over the stretcher. Finally, with a more upright sitting position for the dining chair, the back post has a much less dramatic curve than on the CH22 … the easy chair.

L1130346.jpg
 

Savbukstol / Sawbuck Chair / CH28 by Hans Wegner 1951

 Through the 1930s and 1940s and on into the 1950s, designer experimented with not just different materials, so here shaped plywood, but also looked for new and unconventional forms of construction.

Here, Hans Wegner seems to have been inspired by the carpenters sawbuck … what is called in England a saw horse or sometimes simply a trestle. This was a straightforward and usually light bench, often made quickly and crudely with available timber with a length of squared-off wood as a top bar and simple supports at each end - either just two pieces of wood fixed and angled out to form an inverted V or, if it had to support more weight, then cross bars were added between the legs to form an A at each end. These were used on their own or with a pair to support a length of wood as it was sawn or cut to length or two of these could be used together with planks set across to form a temporary table or even a platform when painting a ceiling or hanging wallpaper.*

Of course, the geometry of the form of Wegner's chair is actually rather more sophisticated than a trestle.

The key part of the structure is an H shape at the front with robust turned and tapered uprights or posts with a cross bar that is the support for the front of the seat. This primary H frame is not upright but leans backwards and is supported by a second similar but much shorter H shape that is propped against it and the cross bar of that back H supports the back of the seat that is slotted into the cross bar.

Where the shorter back support meets the taller front posts there are short and shaped arm rests, housed and cantilevered forward, very close to the form of the arm rests on the Peacock Chair by Wegner.

There is a deep back rest in plywood, with a level top but bowed downwards across the bottom and slightly curved inwards. This is not fixed across the uprights but held between them with lugs at the top and bottom, on each side, shaped from the back rest itself and held in slots on the inward facing edges of the pots so a form very close to the way that Alvar Aalto fixed the curved plywood shells of his chairs between the bentwood frames of the supports on each side.

Sawbuck chair 1951

designed by Hans Wegner (1914-2007)
made by Carl Hansen

height: 77 cm
width: 73 cm
depth: 67 cm
height of seat: 37 cm

Sawbuck dining chair 1952

In the following year, Wegner designed a dining chair Carl Hansen - CH29 - that is closely related in its form to the Sawbuck Chair.

height: 81 cm
width: 53 cm
depth: 49 cm
height of seat: 44 cm

note:

 * The name of the chair implies a sawbuck was a direct inspiration but sometimes these names were applied subsequently if the form reminded people of something … the case with the Wishbone Chair.

 
 

Barnestolen / The Papa Bear Chair by Hans Wegner 1951

 

Although perhaps known best for his chairs in wood, Hans Wegner designed a number of large upholstered chairs including the large arm chair known as the Papa Bear or Teddy Bear Chair. This was one of the first chairs designed by Hans Wegner that was produced by PP Møbler.

The wood frame has to be well made and solid as a base for traditional upholstery work which has horsehair padding over metal springs that are held in place by jute straps. The buttons on the back appear to be decorative but, in fact, the tension of the cord holding the buttons in place creates the profile of the back rest.

The upholstery takes a week of work for a single craftsman.

Wooden insets at the ends of each arm are thought to look like the paws of a bear so hence the name of the chair.

 

designed by Hans Wegner (1914-2007)
cabinetmakers PP Møbler

legs in ash, cherry, oak or walnut and arms in cherry, oak rosewood, teak or walnut

height: 101 cm
width: 90 cm
depth: 95 cm
height of seat: 42 cm

 

Myren / The Ant Chair / FH3100 by Arne Jacobsen 1952

Ant Chair in the permanent collection of Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen

 

The Ant Chair was designed for the canteen of Novo Industry - the pharmaceutical company - or rather - the story is that Arne Jacobsen had designed the chair but Fritz Hansen were not convinced that it was viable commercially. When a director from Novo visited the drawing office to discuss work on the design of new buildings for Novo and admired the chair, he asked Jacobsen about the design. Jacobsen told him it was for the canteen at the new factory and so secured an order for 200 that convinced Fritz Hansen that the design should go into production.

This was not an industrial design, as such, but the design for an industrially manufactured chair for everyday use.

It was launched by Fritz Hansen on the 24 October 1952, on the 80th anniversary of the company, and was shown first at the Danish Society of Arts and Crafts exhibition in Zurich and then at the Danish Museum of Decorative Arts in January 1953.

When the chair first went into production there was a choice from four types of plywood - beech, oak, walnut and teak - and a version finished with black lacquer. Later palisander and Oregon pine were added to the range and there was a version with coloured felt glued to the front face of the seat and the back.

Jacobsen designed the chair with three legs and despite requests for a version with four legs, he objected to the idea and it could not be put into production until after he died.

The legs in steel are held in place at the centre of the underside of the chair with rubber spacers so that they do not sit against the plywood but also to stop the legs twisting or moving sideways if someone using the chair shifts their weight.

The Ant was the first Danish chair that was made with a single shell in plywood that is curved in both planes to form a  seat and back in a single piece of laminated wood.

Charles and Ray Eames and Eero Saarinen experimented by cutting slits into the plywood to form a complex shell but Jacobsen achieved a sharp curve between the seat and back while also forming spoon-shaped hollow curves across the width of the seat and the back by reducing the width of the shape at the centre. That is the simple if unromantic reason for the distinct shape of the chair.

The Ant Chair is light in weight and stacks so it was used in public spaces like meeting rooms and lecture rooms. People remark that the chair has a decorative effect particularly when a number are set out in a space together in rows which creates a strong and undulating pattern reminiscent of fish scales.

In an interview Jacobsen revealed that he had considered using plastic rather than plywood but had rejected the idea because it would have made the chair too expensive - mainly because production of a moulded plastic shell requires an investment in expensive machinery.

designed by Arne Jacobsen
made by Fritz Hansen and still in production

laminated wood shell (plywood) and legs in tube steel
a version was made with the legs covered with light grey fluted plastic

height: 77 cm
width: 51 cm
depth: 51 cm
height of seat: 44 cm

 

Kohornstolen / Cow Horn Chair by Hans Wegner 1952

 

Considered to be a development of the form and style of The Round Chair but more compact with short elbow rests rather than the longer arm rests of The Round Chair or the later Bull Horn Chair. This means that the chair can be pushed in closer to the table and it is easier to get up from the chair when sitting at the table.

The front legs stand proud of the seat and are rounded on the top. The cane of the seat or, in the upholstered version, the leather covering of the seat are taken over the rails of the seat in the traditional way.

The two pieces of timber for the back are cut in line from the same plank. Joining timber end to end with grain exposed is weak so here the join is reinforced with tenons cut from a contrasting wood to make this a distinctive and decorative feature of these chairs.

Johannes Hansen showed the chair at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1952

PP Møbler

in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark

 
 

photographed in the showroom of PP Møbler

photographed at the exhibition on the work of Hans Wegner at Designmuseum Danmark in 2014. ... the Office Chair 502 - shown behind the Cow Horn Chair was designed three years later in 1955 and shows how Wegner returned to the shape of the back with elbow rests but made it deeper and joined the separate parts in a very different way 

 

 

designed by Hans Wegner (1914-2007)
cabinetmakers Johannes Hansen, PP Møbler

oak, ash or cherry - detail rosewood
cane seat or upholstered

height: 75 cm
width: 59 cm
depth: 45 cm
height of seat: 44 cm

 

Chair FH3103 by Arne Jacobsen 1955

 

 

The chair was designed by Arne Jacobsen in collaboration with Dr E Snorrason who gave advice on how to improve the lumbar support provided by the back of the chair. There is a sharper and more pronounced curve at the base of the back and the top of the back has a more generous width to support the shoulder blades.

The initial version made by Fritz Hansen was produced using a plywood faced with teak ... then popular and normally implying a more expensive piece of furniture. 

With fairly straight sides to the seat and angled front corners rather than a smooth curve, the chair is more angular than the other shell chairs by Jacobsen - almost octagonal.

There was a version of the chair with a swivel frame with wheels so that it could be used as an office or desk chair.

 

 

designed by Arne Jacobsen

height: 62 cm
width: 34 cm
depth: 37 cm
height of seat: 42.5 cm

smaller versions of the chair with seat heights of 36 cm and 34 cm were made for children.

Kontordrejestol / Office Chair 502 by Hans Wegner 1955

A distinctive design with a deep back rest in wood that is twisted almost like a wood aircraft propeller.

For the shape of the back Wegner was inspired by the work of Doctor Egill Snorrason who had criticised furniture manufacturers because they did not understand how back support was important for good posture although he pointed out that the Cow Horn Chair by Hans Wegner was an exception. 

The two men met and not only did Wegner subsequently experiment more with the ergonomics of his designs but Snorrason became the Wegners' doctor.

Wegner stated that a chair should look good from all sides but that it should also be comfortable as the person moved in the chair and sat in different positions or at slightly different angles. The back rest of the Swivel Chair is deep to support the lower back but there are other features that show that he looked carefully at how people sit and how they move while they are working at a desk. Supports for the back are widely spaced and the supports for the side arm pieces are set out from the seat to allow for as much freedom of movement as possible and the arm rests are actually very short so simply to support the elbows and not restrict movement in reaching across the desk or in writing. If the arms are forward of the body they usually rest on the desk rather than on the arms of the chair … rather different from sitting at a table to eat when most children are taught that it is polite to keep the elbows and arms off the dining table.

The base of the chair in stainless steel has height adjustment - again important when desks or tables may vary depending on whether or not there is a desk drawer - and the short arm rests also means that the chair can be drawn up closer to the desk. The castors and swivel mechanism makes it possible to change easily the angle to the desk or to move slightly to reach something.

The round seat is padded for comfort … a working day is longer than a meal … and is covered with leather presumably to wear well and for relatively easy cleaning.

The complicated shape of the back rest is formed from four pieces of wood with an upper and a lower piece for the deep shaped centre part and serrated or bird mouth joins for the separate pieces of the outer arm rests which are shaped to twist from the vertical face of the back through to the flat spatula shape for supporting the elbows. 

chair in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark

 

Karmstole og Klismosstole / Round arm chairs and Klismos chairs 

made for displays at exhibitions by PP Møbler who make the Office Chair 502 that is also known as the Swivel Chair

 

This is an early form of expensive and exclusive desk chair - some desk chairs are still described in adverts as an executive desk chair.

Even Wegner had to accept that because of the sophisticated design and the complex work needed to complete the chair and with the quality of the materials it was expensive for a chair for a secretary and would more probably be used by the boss. 

Earlier desk chairs tended to be like a library chair … a more robust and heavier version of a dining chair with arms; Designmuseum Danmark has the chair designed by Kaare Klint and made for the Prime Minister Thorvald Stauning.

 

 

designed by Hans Wegner
produced by PP Møbler

height: between 71 and 77 cm
width: 74 cm
depth: 55 cm
height of seat: 40 to 46 cm

PK22 by Poul Kjærholm 1955

 

 

Danish furniture from the second half of the 20th century is generally and more immediately associated by most people with wood and, as a consequence, with cabinetmaking or at least with wood-working techniques of the highest quality but actually metal work and engineering were important in the evolution of Danish design and, even in wood, many designs, particularly designs that pushed boundaries, experimented with structure and with joining or joinery that is actually engineering but engineering in wood rather than metal.

The furniture designed by Poul Kjærholm displays the purest and most refined engineering in metal. 

Chair PK22 was the first chair that Poul Kjærholm designed specifically to be manufactured by E Kold Christensen. 

The structure is reduced to a minimum with each leg unit in a single strip of steel with just four bends and that includes forming minimal feet. The two leg pieces are linked by two square-ended but gently curved cross bars, set on edge, bolted across the top, held in place with black allen screws, and the seat is a simple rectangle with a gentle convex surface that runs back and down slightly to a back rest equally simple but with a gentle concave curve in  the vertical plane. 

The chair is covered either with leather or, providing an amazing contrast of textures, with woven cane.

The modern chair of comparable quality and similar form is the Barcelona Chair from 1929 by the German designer Mies van der Rohe but in comparison that chair appears to be heavy and solid. It fits within a cube of 75cms so it is an interesting design in terms of a clear concept and it was certainly ground breaking and is a stunning chair but it is actually a large and heavy chair … which explains, in part, why the Barcelona Chair is found in entrance lobbies in the office buildings of large companies.

The chair by Poul Kjærholm is lighter, more elegant, really less muscular, and has very different qualities and virtues: it was designed on a smaller and more domestic scale and has a more subtle relationship with the space it occupies.

PK22 in the permanent collection of Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen

The PK22 is also a good example of that design maxim that one way of determining if a design is good or bad is by considering if it would be possible to add anything or take anything away without undermining the design. Of course there are other ways of determining good design … so is there an appropriate use of the materials and an obvious expression in the design of the qualities of those materials or, in terms of function, doing what it is meant to do and doing it well and the PK22 ticks those boxes as well … but here what is so striking is the reduction of the form to a perfect minimum.

The legs are made as a pair … a front leg and a back leg together … and the link between the two legs is the support of the seat. The front legs and back legs are at different angles because they reflect different forces … the difference between leaning back in a chair and not tipping it backwards but equally not tipping it forward as you transfer weight and stand up and a difference in height sets the angle of the seat which should not be horizontal. And all done in a single strip of steel and bent with a curve rather than a sharp and harsh angle. And those curves … could they be larger or smaller? Almost certainly not. How did Kjærholm determine the radius of those curves? A mathematical relationship or was it by eye so they looked absolutely right?

The angle of the back is determined by the angle of the fixed relationship of the seat and the back rest and both are curved enough but no more than enough to form the start of a hollow for the body of the person sitting down. 

Cross bars link the two leg units and are fixed with two bolts … one bolt would allow the parts to twist or pivot against each other and three would be excessive … so again right. The bars are curved down but not as a device or for decoration or for effect but because if they were straight then you might feel them through the seat.

Surely, this is the essential chair? Not essential, as in must have although it is that as well, but essential as in reduced in the most precise and cerebral way to the essence of a chair.

 

 

 

designed by Poul Kjærholm (1929-1980)
made initially by E Kold Christensen
and now made by Fritz Hansen

matte chrome-plated steel
rattan or cane and also versions covered with leather or with canvas

height: 71 cm
width: 63 cm
depth: 67 cm
height of seat: 35 cm

 

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