At the time of his death in 2010, the Danish designer Ole Palsby was working on a range of cutlery with the Japanese master craftsman Kazonsuke Ohizumi whose workshop is in Niigata. Mikkel and Caroline Palsby discovered the working drawings by their father not only for that cutlery but also for other proposed designs along with trial pieces including a kitchen knife made by the Japanese workshop that had been used in the family home for over a decade but had not been put into production.
The family decided to form a new design studio to continue both the work of their father and the well-established working relationship with the craftsmen in Japan.
ICHI, the Japanese word for first, is the new cutlery range that is now in production and is available in two finishes - matte steel and a titanium finish. An initial trial piece had been given a polished finish for the handle but the Palsby’s, after some deliberation, felt that an overall matte finish would be more appropriate now. The dark grey-black finish of the titanium cutlery not only brings a new aesthetic to table settings but provides an important alternatives for people who have an allergic reaction to steel.
Ole Palsby came to design in his 30s after an early career in banking. He had friends and close contacts in the world of design and architecture, including Poul Kjærholm and Vilhelm Wolhert, and developed an interest in Japanese design and architecture. Initially, he opened a kitchenware store in Copenhagen and then moved on to design tableware and metal and glass cookware for companies including Eva Solo, Alfi and WMF.
His approach to any design project was to go back to first principles not just to simplify a design - he talked about purity in design - but he analysed, as an engineer might, the human actions involved.
Working with the craftsmen in Japan the result is flatware that has features that, from a European viewpoint, looks novel or at least distinct. Bowls of spoons are wide and shallow, the angle of the relationship between the bowl and the stem has been rethought, and knife blades have a distinct deep bowed shape to cut sharply without crushing. The balance of kitchen knives also feels different … the result of rethinking not just the shape but also by working and reworking the details of each piece with the Japanese masters. This was not to produce Japanese cutlery but rather to rethink pieces that have a specific use in Denmark … so one knife is flexible and shaped for spreading but also has a sharp cutting edge to its blade so that when making a Danish open sandwich swapping knives is not necessary and on the forks the central two tines are just slightly longer so they make an initial break into the surface so the fork cuts into the food rather than crushing it - particularly useful for eating Danish cakes. The same tight focus on details can be seen in the kitchen knives ... the honed and sharpened edge returns back towards the handle at the base of the blade for deftly making a nick to initiate any cut.
Last May a new show room for Ole Palsby Design was opened in Copenhagen in Ravnsborg Tværgade, a street that runs back from the lakes, on the outer side of Sortedams Sø, close to Dronning Louises Bro.
Ravnsborg Tværgade 7, Copenhagen N
Here, along with the new cutlery, there is also on display earlier tableware and kitchenware designed by Palsby over his long and productive career. There are plans to put some of these designs back into production or to realise some of the ideas and preliminary designs from the archive. As with By Lassen in Copenhagen, Mikkel and Caroline Palsby have shown that it is possible for families to find a way of taking forward the legacy of a major designer’s work by making classic pieces a starting point for new designs.