This is the Halyard Chair (GE225) that was designed by Hans Wegner in 1950 … or rather it is a photograph taken today at Illums Bolighus in Copenhagen of a small display on the landing of the furniture store that shows clearly how the rope is strung on the steel frame of the Halyard Chair to form the seat and back.
This is amazing on so many levels.
To start with the chair itself and the design:
this is the chair that comes with a back story - Wegner on a family holiday at their summer cottage dug out a hollow into the sand to experiment with different sitting positions. Initially that seems to show a man who could not leave work behind but, maybe, what it does actually illustrate so clearly is an amazing imagination and an amazing openness to any inspiration. This is the man whose reputation then and now was and is built on his consummate skill as a craftsman cabinetmaker who practiced and honed that skill as, through his working life he designed over 500 chairs. It is clear that he understood wood and the skills of the cabinet trade so well that he could push ideas and wood, his preferred material, to the limits but here in the Halyard Chair you see, in essence, the professional musician, the concert pianist, showing that he was pretty good at jazz.
What I find astounding about this chair is that he could get to this from a hollow in the sand. Presumably the first step was the realisation that it would be difficult and probably impossible to do this in wood.
What the half-completed chair shows so clearly is the simple arrangement of the legs with cross rails that comes from a common cabinetmaker’s vocabulary but on top of that is the most amazing superstructure that seems to combine the general shape of a recliner crossed with something you might see on a racing yacht.
Temporary webbing under tension is used to tighten the frame as the seat is woven and to hold the frame down. The woven rope would then tighten, almost like a drum skin, when the webbing is removed. The pattern of the weaving of the rope is also important … on the head rest the rope goes across and then round the frame once before going back across so the strings are spaced evenly. The seat has the same even spacing but achieved by interlacing with the strings of side panels alternating with the strings across the seat.
The very very broad seat, encouraging the sitter to loll, is also relatively unusual although Wegner himself revisited the idea ten years later with the Ox Chair of 1960 - the chair in which Wegner sits for a wonderful portrait photograph of him appearing to be explaining something, twisted to look at someone out of frame, with one hand raised, seeming to be gesturing about a shape or simply emphasising a point, but with one leg hooked over the arm of the chair.
Both images from Design Museum Danemark from their press release for the current Wegner exhibition in Copenhagen
The Ox Chair is, however, quite different because although it has a metal frame, forming the legs, all the rest of the structure is hidden by upholstery. You can only guess about how the seat and back underneath the fabric are constructed. Even the materials of the frame, apart from the legs, are not obvious. The Halyard Chair shows every feature of its construction.
And yet this is definitely not Functionalism: it is not like the rather industrial early works in tubular metal from the Bauhaus in the 1930s and not like the Barcelona Chair by Mies van der Rohe and the Halyard Chair does not have the spartan, concentrated and elegant engineering of the Barcelona Chair and the PK22 by Poul Kjærholm: it is curiously almost, though I’m worried to use the word, decadent. If you don’t agree just look beyond the half-finished chair in my photograph to the finished version with its sheep’s fleece throw and the soft roll in fine leather for a head rest. The Halyard Chair is a technically complex piece of engineering, not obviously the work of a cabinet maker, and not particularly functional.
What I also have to to say as an addendum is all credit to Illums for this display which was combined with a talk and demonstration over the three days of the Autumn holiday weekend along with a talk about the Y or Wishbone Chair and the first chance to see a special edition of Arne Jacobsen’s Egg Chair. This is exactly how furniture stores can and should fight back against the onslaught of the internet. Yes you can see videos on the internet and you can look up the designer on Wikipedia but it’s not the same as seeing a Halyard Chair being lashed or being able to walk around it and see how that amazing structure is actually put together.