Kunsthåndværkermarkedet / The Craft Market on Frue Plads in Copenhagen

 

 

In the middle of August each year, there is a craft market on Frue Plads - the square next to the cathedral in Copenhagen. Organised by Danske Kunsthåndværkere & Designere / The Danish Association of Craft Workers and Designers, this is an opportunity to see and to buy some of the very best ceramics, glass and textiles made in Denmark. These photographs of ceramics were taken this time last year and show the quality and the range of works sold here.

The current series of posts on this site is looking at aspects of how colour and texture are used in Danish design and Danish architecture and it seems curious that, on the whole, the current fashion for both buildings and for interiors in Denmark is for muted colours and, generally, very little or very restrained use of texture but in ceramics you find such a strong and incredibly confident use of colour and texture in works that push both the material and the glazes and the forms used to new levels.

 

Kunsthåndværkermarkedet / The Craft Market 2018
Thursday 9 August 12 - 19
Friday 10 August 10 - 19
Saturday 11 August 10 - 16

 

A Visual Inventory by John Pawson

 

 

This is not so much a review as a simple signpost to an important book.

A Visual Inventory is a collection of annotated images with the photographs taken by the British architect John Pawson when travelling. The book is about colour and about light - so how colours change with different qualities of natural light - but the images are also about the photographer being aware of and sensitive to shape and form and texture and pattern and of age or how buildings and landscapes and materials change over time … those basic elements of all architecture and all design. Above all, the photographs invoke a strong awareness of place as different latitudes and different climates can be associated with what are often distinct colour ranges or tones and with specific patters and forms of building.

Above all the book is an insight into how an architect and designer sees his world and what draws his attention and what, specifically, he looks at and records for inspiration in his work.

Single images are printed on each page with short notes but are set in pairs across each double-page spread and linked by shapes or subjects or location. None of the photographs have been cropped or altered so the process of taking the photographs is clearly considered with care so they reflect, in a straightforward and honest way, the reaction to the subject by the photographer at a specific moment.  

John Pawson also has an Instagram site that should be bookmarked by anyone trying to appreciate and understand our landscapes and our buildings in terms of colour and tone and texture.

 

A Visual Inventory, John Pawson, Phaidon (2012) 

John Pawson on Instagram

Anatomy of Colour

 

 

The Anatomy of Colour begins with types of paint - from distemper to lime wash to milk paint and more - and then Patrick Baty sets out the sources of pigment for those paints so through white paint, black paint and then on to each colour through the blues, the browns, greens, reds and yellows - so, generally, for each colour, he traces the development from natural pigments, from plants and minerals, to the by-products of emerging industries and then on to the first pigments by industrial chemists. 

Historic practices and techniques for house painters are discussed; there are fascinating reproductions of historic catalogues for the paint brushes and the tools of professional painters and the author looks at the early organisation of guilds and paint companies. However, for designers, the important contribution of the book comes from the extensive number of historic colour charts reproduced along with summaries of early colour theories and detailed discussions for each major period or each major style and fashion, that helps set historic design within the context of colour. He combines longer sections of text with carefully designed double-page spreads and uses longer captions effectively so you can sit and read the book cover to cover or you can use the book and its images as a reference encyclopaedia seeing where cross references take you.

We tend to describe styles and the relatively distinct periods of interior design in terms of the forms and types of furniture that were popular in a certain period and we also recognise distinct patterns that appear on furniture or are reproduced on textiles but certainly styles or periods can have distinct preferences for colours or, and more interesting, for the juxtaposition of certain colours. Even the choice of materials can be determined by what are fashionable or unfashionable colours so distinctly orange Oregon Pine was popular for a relatively short period and Formica was as much about having a wide selection of deep strong colours as it was about having a smooth clean surface for food preparation.

Reproductions from historic paint charts and books or articles about colour theories by contemporary artists and designers show how the presentation of colours and any general discussion about colour can influence our choice of colours for our homes. We may not even realise we are being influenced because, of course, although we feel now that there is almost infinite choice, what we see clearly here is that what designers select and what companies produce and make available and what they advertise all influence that choice.

It is absolutely right to describe this book as an anatomy of colour because, in a careful and scholarly way, the technical development of household paints and the theories of colour and the preference for certain colours in certain periods is dissected. It feels, in a good way, like sitting in an old-fashioned lecture theatre with high banks of seats to watch someone with skill take something apart, with care, to say now look at this … isn’t it fascinating … and this is how and why it works.

 

The Anatomy of Colour, The Story of Heritage Paints and Pigments, Patrick Baty, Thames & Hudson (2017)

old paint shops in Copenhagen

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only the shop sign survives on Grønnegade

 

 

Looking at the historic shop signs that survive around the city shows just how many paint or colour shops there were in Copenhagen. Most of these shops and small companies have gone but they supplied high-quality pigments and paints for house painters, furniture makers, sign writers, carriage makers, boat builders and painters of coats of arms.

 

the paint and pigment shop on Esplanaden - still in business

the old Sadolin factory on Holmbladsgade

 

Flügger

 

 

There have been posts before on this site about the Danish paint company Flügger.

They produce carefully-curated ranges of historic colours as well as developing new ranges or new colours for their paints for commercial and domestic use.

Looking at their paint charts, divided into historical periods, is a very good way to think about which colours and which combinations of colours were fashionable through each major style. Furniture and interiors have distinctive forms and patterns - or even deliberate lack of pattern - and certain materials came into and went out of favour so furniture in pine, dark exotic woods, oak and then coloured plastic and steel all have distinct qualities of colour. Also, of course, the quality of artificial light - its power and its cast of colour - and the temperature - so warm yellow light or cold light with a blue tint - all change the appearance of an interior and with fashion colour can be restricted in range or density or even be fragmented across a pattern or focused in great blocks of colour.

The Flügger web site is well worth exploring - particularly the sections on colour.

Flügger

Flugger site.jpeg

Terra Consilia - Liquid Life 2017

 

 

For the Biennalen for Kunsthåndværk & Design / The Biennale for Craft & Design in 2017, the designer Margrethe Odgaard looked at colour and geographical location by analysing and reproducing in paint the natural earth colours from Denmark - so the colours of the underlying geology of Jutland - and then compared them with the brown earth colours commonly found in paint boxes and household paint - so often Sienna and Umbra from Italy with the colours taken from Italian paintings or from the colours found on Italian buildings.

The Danish earth colours were reproduced in paint and applied to large areas of glass for the exhibition and the catalogue posed a simple but very important question: 

"Every culture has a unique colour identity that is closely associated with the local light …. Might we learn something about ourselves by getting to know the colour notes of the soil we were raised on?"

Important? Well I would say crucial. In a multinational world we are beginning to question if, on many different levels, one size really does fit all? Because we talk less often about colour, by accepting colour choices from a peripatetic designer working for an international company aren't we undermining our sense of place? Should we be able to choose colours from and for a place?

Copenhagen blue

native values R:0 G:77 B:117
Adobe RGB R:43 G:77 B:116

 

 

Exploring the city through different seasons and in different lights, one of the dominant colours is the deep deep blue of the water of the harbour and the even darker still water in the lakes and in the sections of the city defences where they survive. 

The water picks up blue from the sky and carries flashes of colour in the reflections of buildings and trees but it has an amazing quality and depth with a green tone and that forms a frame or base for buildings close to the water.

International critics and authors discuss Danish design at length but few seem to be aware of specific location - as if Danish architecture should be judged in some non-specific place - but Copenhagen has an almost unique combination of factors when it comes to location. 

From it's latitude the sun and therefore the angle of the light is low, or relatively low, for much of the year and that effects the quality or intensity of the light and changes the nature of the shadows; there is little industry or heavy industry here, compared with many capital cities, and, although there is traffic, there is, thankfully, not much vehicle pollution so the air is clear. The city is surrounded by water- relatively deep but calm water - and there is water in the city in large areas of lakes and moats to the defences.

In part, colours in stained-glass windows take on very specific qualities because they are framed in black … the matt black tending to grey of the lead cames. In much the same way, the colours of the buildings and the roofs in Copenhagen take on their quality and their character because, so often, they are seen against the sharp clear blue of a northern sky or are seen above and against water and with the light bouncing up off the water.

 

 
 

note:

the colour swatch at the top was produced using a digital colour meter on an images  taking about 20 samples of what appeared to be, by eye, the most typical and the dominant blues ... curiously the colour is greener and heavier than I would have anticipated from the way colours change across the image. The camera is a Leica M9 and the lenses respond to Copenhagen light in an amazing way. Maybe not completely scientific and maybe not objective but still worth doing ... the blue is close to the colour chosen for the background of the logo here for copenhagen architecture & design news

through a glass darkly

 

Over the last twenty or thirty years, much of the new architecture in the city has been designed with huge areas of glass across outside walls and this reflects back blue from the sky and the water but also, as you look through the building, you see colours or distorted colours of sky or water or an urban landscape beyond. 

The glass used varies in quality and does not reflect light in the same way from one building to another so some windows seem blank and flat, like holes in the façade, sucking in the light, while others are like tinted sun glasses, hiding everything inside but reflecting back everything outside. 

Some glass, particularly older and more irregular glass, can have really amazing qualities seeming, in comparison with modern plate glass, like comparing pewter and polished steel in metal … because the older glass has a warmth and softens and distorts images and reflections.

Certainly, the way the light is reflected by the glass means that the appearance of a building can change dramatically at different times of day, as the sun moves round, or can look very different if you approach from a different direction so you, rather then the sun, moves round.

 
 

colour in the work of Finn Juhl

 

 

It's probably sacrilege - and it might mean I'm banned from the design museum - but I still find it difficult to like the furniture designed by Finn Juhl.

Written down, that seems like a terrible confession but looking at the furniture from the classic period of Danish design - so ostensibly furniture from the 1950s and 1960s but also back to the 1940s - I find it much easier to appreciate the robust lines and solid shapes of furniture by Børge Mogensen; the complete mastery of cabinetmaking techniques in work by Hans Wegner or the cool and rational engineering of furniture by Poul Kjærholm. I suppose, in the end, these judgements can only come down to personal taste.

However, having said that, furniture by Juhl began to make more sense - at an intellectual level rather than in terms of taste - after seeing the book on his watercolours by Anne -Louise Sommer and seeing the designs by Juhl for the cabinetmakers' exhibitions, where he showed his furniture, and his drawings for the room in the museum in Trondheim that he designed and furnished and, of course, his drawings for the furniture and designs for the interiors for the UN building in New York.

For Juhl colour and setting were as important as form and style when he designed furniture. He is hardly unique amongst designers at that period - so Le Corbusier experimented with large areas of strong colour in his interiors - but Juhl uses colour much more in his furniture than most of his Danish contemporaries. His palette is distinct with dark, dull sage greens, a fair bit of dark turquoise and deep ochres and deep maroons.

Much of his furniture was upholstered, with plain fabrics, without patterns, but sometimes with strong contrasts between the colour of the seat pad and the colour of the back and for the cabinetmakers' exhibitions he used the same strong dark colours on the walls of the room sets so clearly the extravagant contours of the wooden chair frames were to be seen in silhouette against the right colour.

Several cabinets designed by Juhl were painted with strong technicolour shades - probably the folding or double-sided drawer unit from 1961 is the best-known example - with each drawer painted a different colour. I'm even tempted to suggest that his use of tan leather for the large chairs such as Høvdingestolen / The Chieftain designed in 1949 is as much about getting a large area of consistent colour - about a subtle reflection of colour rather than using a textile that absorbs light - as it is about upholstery.

 

Watercolours by Finn Juhl, Anne-Louise Sommer, Strandberg Publishing (2015)

Copenhagen warm

 

 

In the older buildings in the city the palette of colours is warmer and richer … with stronger earth colours and more texture and more irregular surfaces because colour is laid over heavy plaster that is often repaired. The colour is not flat but less consistent less mechanical, richer and deeper. 

 

 

the zing of yellow in the city

 

 

In the city, the buses and the ferries are a very deep yellow and these provide a real zing of colour that moves across the urban landscape against the buildings or against the blue of the water along the harbour.

It's the depth of the yellow colour that is so striking. Is this egg yolk yellow? Certainly very little white so it's not a pretty yellow like a flower … darker and deeper than a daffodil but not as sharp and painful on the eyes as the yellow of oil seed rape flowers so the bus and ferry yellow is not a botanical colour so better described as mechanical … a chemical or mineral yellow.

 

 

subtle colour and soft tones in the city

the entrance to the National Bank designed by Arne Jacobsen

 

 

Many of the buildings in the city use pale stone or pale marble or are painted and in subtle or subdued colours with tones of cream and stone and soft grey. 

Or maybe subtle is the wrong word - because the ochre of the Nyboder houses could hardly be described as subtle - but these colours provide a solid and a calm background to the life passing by and passing through these buildings. 

There are few sharp pastels, few day-glow colours, few sharp or acidic colours but toning down colour is not boring and nor is it a safe or an easy design option … it is possible to get it wrong, particularly when colours on neighbouring buildings do not work together … so going for a stone or grey or off white colour it's not a lack of design … very much the opposite because reducing the palette range means that the juxtaposition of tones becomes more important with darker or lighter tones defining architectural features by making some parts set back and some break forward in order to emphasise planes or emphasise details or pick out a pattern or carving or texture or moulding.

 

 

The east lobby of the Design Museum is a fantastic space that some people might, initially, find boring but it is like a quiet and carefully-constructed poem in tone and texture with subtle contrasts so juxtaposing smooth dark grey marble with the warmer, softer and broken textures of the grain of the wood blocks of the floor and contrasting those surfaces with the deep, matt wash of grey across the walls. This did not happen by accident but is the consequence of considerable thought and careful choice.

Even within the museum there are different sets of these tones. On the staircases flanking the entrance there are much greener tones in the soft sage colours of the stone flooring and painted handrail and dado of the woodwork of the staircase.  

 

Copenhagen colour at night

 

 

 

Away from the main shopping streets, electric lighting in the city is kept low … that's both the level of light is surprisingly low and, generally, the height of street lights is low … a lot of lights are fixed to buildings at about first-floor level although in some streets some fittings for more general lighting are suspended from wires strung across the street but there are also various forms of low-level lights along footpaths and custom lighting on slopes and steps at ground level so light rakes across the footpath. On some paths and steps, there are even lights along or under handrails.

As the sun gets lower, the sky goes through violet and mauve colours that deepen to navy and then, as artificial lighting takes over, there are washes of colour - the colours of the bricks or the stone or the render - tailing off into shadows that mark or define many facades and for modern, glass-clad buildings, it is often at night that the interior arrangement of offices and staircases and walkways is revealed.

For a city where commerce is so important, there is surprisingly little advertising with neon lighting … so around the town hall square and along the street towards the train station, where it seems appropriate, and otherwise on a few major apartment buildings like those on the Islands Brygge side of Langebro or along the lakes where you can find the famous Irma hen laying eggs. 

Shop fronts are illuminated but signs are often painted and might or might not be spot lit for night time rather than being back lit.

So, for a large and densely-populated city, light pollution is relatively well controlled.

It is still possible to walk around the central harbour and see lights reflect up off the water sparkling with light from cars and from buildings and with the light from boats.

Another interesting Copenhagen experience is to walk through the residential areas and witness the Copenhagen 'no-curtains' habit. Talking to someone working in the design industry but who lived over the bridge in Malmö, she said one guilty pleasure she had was to walk around the city in the evening to look in through windows to see how people in the city live and how they furnish their homes.  

 

 

the tripartite Shell Chair by Hans Wegner 1949

the Tripartite Chair now in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark

 

 

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.

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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.

 
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.

 

beech and mahogany bent frame

laminated teak seat and back

made by Fritz Hansen

 

height: 75cm

width: 62cm

depth: 71cm

height of seat: 38cm