furniture from Denmark in the first half of the 20th century

Chair for the Faaborg Museum by Kaare Klint 1914

Easy chair by Ole Wanscher 1949

The most influential figure for Danish furniture design in the early 20th century was Kaare Klint who was born in 1888 and died in 1954. He trained as an architect and taught at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and the School of Arts , Crafts and Design.

Many of his designs do appear now to be rather old-fashioned and appear to look backwards to a tradition of cabinet making that depended on expensive woods and high levels of craftsmanship but he was one of the first Danish designers to simplify and rationalise the form and style of pieces of furniture, stripping away unnecessary decoration.

He looked to furniture from other periods, not to copy, but to take their construction details as a starting point for new designs - he studied Shaker furniture from America, English furniture from the 18th century, particularly the form of chair known generally as a Windsor chair, to assess how back rails and leg rails actually worked, and he looked at traditional craftsmanship from what is now generally called the vernacular  tradition - so he looked at simple unpretentious furniture made for farmhouses. 

He also measured tables and storage furniture systematically in the first moves towards functionalism. For instance he determined the average size of plates and glasses to design compact and practical storage when he designed a buffet or cabinet for household china that was shown at the Cabinetmakers’ Guild of Furniture Exhibition in 1928. Drawers were subdivided and graded in height to take specific plates or glasses so that the cabinet could hold everything for 12 place settings.

Cabinet for china by Kaare Klint 1928

It was also at this period that Danish designers began to strip away superfluous decoration: for instance pattern or decoration now came directly from the techniques for cutting the timber and from the intrinsic patterns of cane work or woven tape in the back or seat of chairs. In 1938 Mogens Koch designed an armchair in Cuban Mahogany with a seat and back formed with narrow strips of leather in a basket weave. The decoration, if it can be described as such, comes from the texture of the woven leather, the quality and colour of the wood and the domed finish on the top of the front legs and the expansion of the wood at the end of the arm to form a semi collar to strengthen the joint where the arm is attached to the upright of the back.  

Detail of cane work on the seat of a Round Chair by Hans Wegner 1949

Detail of cane work on the seat of a Round Chair by Hans Wegner 1949

As a teacher, Klint emphasised the importance, in the early stages of training, of measuring, understanding and drawing carefully examples of good well-designed furniture from older cabinet makers. 

Mogens Koch, born in 1898, died in 1992. His Wall System for storage, designed in 1928, is a very good example of the focus on simple, practical, useful furniture and is still produced by Carl Hansen. The basic units are 76 cm by 76 cm and 27.5 cm deep. Outer panels of the unit are remarkably thin, just 10 mm thick, with finely-cut dovetail joints at the corners, and by having fixed, rather than moveable, internal divisions their thickness could be reduced to just 8 mm. The basic box was divided into two halves and then each of these divided into 3 parts but the box could be set either way so with either three rows by two for smaller books or two rows of taller books each divided into three sections. There are separate plinths if the boxes were stacked together on the floor or they can be wall mounted and there are additional doors and boxes with narrower divisions. All-in-all about as flexible and as elegant a storage system as possible.

Shelving system by Mogens Koch 1928

Ole Wanscher was born in 1903 and died in 1985. The son of an art historian, he trained as an architect and worked first in the office of Kaare Klint before setting up an independent office. He taught furniture design at the School of Arts, Crafts and Design. 

Of all these mid-century designers, his chairs appear to be more conservative, looking back to the classic designs of the 19th century with elegant but masculine forms that are possibly more suitable for the library or the office but his move towards pared down frames and his use of  runners in some pieces rather than bottom rails to link and strengthen the frame of the legs have a very modern feel and appear to have inspired later designs from Finn Juhl and Børge Morgensen.

Wanscher Rocking Chair 1951.jpg