furniture from Denmark in the 1950s and 1960s: Part 2

Spanish Chair by Børge Mogensen designed in 1958                  PK 22 by Poul Kjærholm designed in 1956

Three of the major furniture designers working after the War were the same age: Finn Juhl was born in 1912 and Børge Mogensen and Hans Wegner were exact contemporaries, both being born in 1914.

For an initial assessment of the furniture designed by Finn Juhl see the earlier posts below. 

Like Jacobsen, Børge Mogensen trained at the Department of Furniture Design. His Spanish Chair, designed in 1958, can be seen to have some characteristics in common with work by Juhl. For inspiration they both looked at designs that were clearly not Danish in origin and they both rethought the way that seats and back cushions in chairs were supported.

Mogensen’s Sofa, designed in 1962, is possibly his most popular piece and is still in production and has been much copied.

Sofa by Mogensen 

Mogensen died in 1972 but Hans Wegner had a long working life - and died in 2007. 

Wegner's Wishbone Chair, designed in 1950, is still in production through the company Carl Hansen and has seen a major rise in popularity in the last few years. It is typical of designs by Wegner, exploiting fully the potential of combining high-quality timber and the strength of carefully-made joints to make the chair strong but light. Here the back legs are carried up and curved forward above the seat to support the back rail and the side rails, linking the front and back legs, more usually round or at most tapered are here flattened to a narrow flattened oval to reduce the size of the tenon going into the leg so that the legs could be made thinner without weakening the joint.

The "Wishbone" Chair by Hans Wegner

Wegner had a fertile imagination and produced designs inspired by oriental or antique forms such as his Chinese Chair but, whatever the source of the idea at the start of the design process, furniture by Wegner is distinctly his own and his designs form an incredible and large body of work where you can see him returning again and again to ideas, shapes or technical details in the construction to refine or redefine them.

In contrast, the work of Poul Kjærholm could only be of the 20th Century. Born in 1929, he was the youngest of the group and with is death in 1980, had one of the shortest careers.

His furniture has a visual lightness, probably in reaction to the forms of furniture by designers like Finn Juhl, and he uses steel rather than wood to produce rectilinear but elegant forms - in part, in reaction to the curves and lines of chairs by Wegner and Borgensen. He aimed for a simplicity and a perfection that also takes his work leagues away from the earlier German and French experiments with metal for domestic furniture where they used tubular steel, usually with a chrome finish. Mogens Lassen had designed a chair in 1933 with a frame made from chromed metal tubing with a cane seat and back that owes much to the famous cantilevered chair designed by the German architect Mies van der Rohe but my general feeling is that neither this more-industrial form of construction nor the bentwood frames of the Thonet type of chair from Austria and Czechoslovakia,  popular in many parts of Europe from the mid 19th Century, were actually considered to be comfortable enough or appropriate in Denmark.

The PK22 designed by Kjærholm in 1956 owes a little to the Barcelona Chair designed by the German architect Mies Van der Rohe in 1929 but is much more elegant and much less monumental in its bulk. It is still produced with either a natural leather finish or with whicker for the seat and back.

All these Danish designers working in the 1950s and 1960s explored technical construction, either to make legs thinner but stronger or to remove the outer support for arms without them snapping when under the stress of people rising from the chair. They also experimented with upholstery to provide support for the body in different situations. Several of the designers produced folding chairs with wood frames and leather or canvas seats and backs.

They also responded to a very clear desire for change after the Second World War - a period marked by growing prosperity and new upward social mobility in western Europe. There was a general feeling that people wanted new homes and new styles for furnishing and decorating those homes. This was not furniture exclusively marketed for an established middle class - Co-op Denmark started producing inexpensive but well-made furniture in the 1940s and commissioned designs from major designers.

This was the period when pre-war attempts at mass production in factories rather than the production of small numbers of each design in cabinetmakers’ workshops became ubiquitous; a period when the importance of good design for industrial products was recognised and promoted to a much wider market ... it was a period when adverts with ever more sophisticated photographs appear in an increasingly large number of glossy magazines aimed at women. There was a wider interest in design and marketing became more and more important.

With the growing importance of the export market, this was also the first time that Danish designers produced furniture that could be dismantled or broken down to be packed for transport. Perhaps that might now be seen as one innovation too many!