There are 83 furniture makers and designers in the association (sammenslutning) of cabinetmakers and for their annual Autumn exhibitions they work together in pairs to produce pieces of furniture within a pre-determined theme. The theme for this year was Petite - as in elegant and refined - and the pieces were restricted to a footprint of 60 x 60 cms or less.
In part, this reflected and respected the venue for the exhibition this year which is the house at Øregaard in Hellerup - now a museum - that was built in the early 19th century as a summer residence by the architect Joseph-Jacques Ramée for the merchant Johannes Søbøtker.
But also, crucially, the French theme is important because the exhibition will transfer to the Maison du Danemark on the Avenue des Champs-Élysées in Paris where it will open on the 27th January 2016 and run through until the 3rd April.
For the exhibition the display has been designed by the architectural practice Norm and their work is crucial to the character and style of the event. Their work is noted for being restrained and subtle and here that is important. In Hellerup the main rooms in the house have been painted in a range of classic Danish colours in soft greens and greys and, with the clean white lines of the architectural features and the large sash windows, overlooking the park and gardens of the house, this gives the space a specifically Danish and specifically 18th-century Danish feel.
This review is in danger of sounding like text from an advertising copywriter or travel brochure but it is a very serious point that has to be made. The rooms are reminiscent of a painting by Vilhelm Hammershøi and this must be deliberate. In his interiors there is no clutter. Furniture is expensive and good but arranged sparingly. The interiors are calm and restrained. In the paintings and here at Øregaard there are no spotlights, no bling - or their equivalent - and nothing loud or demonstrative. In a very Danish way you have to look carefully and think about what you are looking at to appreciate the skill and the craftsmanship.
Modern Danish taste has it’s roots much further back than the 1950s or 1960s. Colours and styles of furniture and furnishings, in a specifically Danish form, go back to the interiors of the late 19th century; back to the period of the Golden age of Danish painting in the early 19th century and, in some aspects, on back to the way furniture was arranged and interiors were decorated in Denmark in the 17th century and back further to the interiors of the late medieval and early modern period.
The simple blocks and plinths of the display here in this exhibition also use some mirrored surfaces which reflect the natural light coming in through the large windows but also plays with the idea of reflections - some 18th-century interiors used mirrors between windows for similar effects - so in some parts of the exhibition it is possible to see the underside of pieces of furniture. Any good piece of furniture and certainly furniture from a cabinet maker should be properly finished and that includes the underside and parts that you cannot see. And that is not just about quality and pride in workmanship but is also about something tactile. The most difficult part of visiting this exhibition is that you should not touch but wood in particular, as a material, is to be touched and actually joints and corners can be best judged by feel with the eyes closed … a dovetail or a mitre joint should look perfect and in the very best work it should be impossible to feel or trace with a finger.
What the exhibition also celebrates is the important and enduring connections in Danish furniture design between architects, specialist furniture designers and furniture making or cabinet making by craftsmen. Here, in these exhibition pieces, that collaboration is an essential part of the creation and production process.
However, these pieces of furniture are not shackled or restricted by the past … simply aware of the past even if materials and forms are new … so pieces here are made in acrylic or MDF as well as in exotic timbers: one table is covered with salmon skin - others pieces are perfectly coloured using powder coating.
There is also humour here - so Pause is a cabinetmakers’ cupboard for an iPhone guarded by an all seeing eye - and there is clever playing with ideas and forms - so Doublé uses a mirror to make two half tables look like two separate complete tables and neither table could stand up without the mirror they are fixed to because they each have only two legs.
Some designers played with 18th-century themes so Tricorn looks to the shape of an 18th-century tricornered hat and Dress Chairs plays with 18th-century costumes - one with the form of the sleeve of a woman’s summer dress and the other a bonnet and exotic timbers are used in some pieces in a very appropriate way because the house and gardens were built with money from sugar plantations and trade in the West Indies.
Nor are the pieces simply expensive games for the showing off of skills but can be experiments or trials that will, further on, lead to commercial products although they are also reminiscent of the work or master piece that an apprentice produced to be judged as he finished his apprenticeship and became a master
Back to sounding like a travel advert, I would urge anyone and everyone interested in design and furniture design to visit the exhibition. Look carefully and enjoy because these pieces truly deserve admiration and respect.
Note, I have posted a separate catalogue of photographs of all the furniture in the exhibition
The photographs are in the same sequence as in the museum's exhibition catalogue where there are short descriptions of the furniture and those notes can also be found on the exhibition web site.
Over the coming months I hope I will be able to use these pieces of furniture as a starting point for interviewing and writing about some of these designers and makers to see how these one-off pieces fit within the broader pattern of their design or production works.