Flag Halyard Chair photographed at Designmuseum Danmark
It's said that Hans Wegner had the idea for the shape of this chair on a trip to the beach with his family where he spent a comfortable afternoon sitting in a hollow in the sand but the sitting position is actually close to the angles of the seat and back on the tripartite Shell Chair he designed the year before although the Shell Chair has a shaped and padded head rest and the Flag Halyard Chair a cushion covered with fabric or leather that is held in place with straps.
As with most shell chairs, the Halyard Chair has two distinct parts with the upper part - the 'shell' or seat - as a steel frame strung with rope and a substructure or base - in this chair in welded steel - and those different functions are emphasised by the way the metal is finished with the steel of the shell or cradle polished and the base painted.
There are H-shaped leg units to the front and back with the cross-bar of the H - in effect a stretcher - holding apart and holding together the legs and setting their angle. The legs are widely set and angled out because the lower a chair then the more you need to press down on the chair frame to get yourself up out of it and the wide stance of the legs makes the chair as stable as possible.
Running front to back on either side, and welded across the tops of the legs, are beams bent down at the centre to form a shallow V that support and set the angles of the lower and middle section of the seat.
The frame of the superstructure in polished steel forms five flat panels for rope. Imagine a box, that is almost a cube but without a lid and then cut down the corners until you have a base with four flaps that can be angled out. The base is the part that goes under your back. One flap is folded out to support under the upper legs with the side opposite, cut down to about a half and angled outwards, as a head support. The remaining two pieces, on either side, are reduced to approximately half and angled out to support the elbows and lower arms … or to be the place to put your book or newspaper when you want to snooze. Link the four flaps with loops of steel that look as if someone has partly unfolded a giant paperclip and set the whole thing on a gentle angle on the cradle of the legs.
Display at the furniture store Illums Bolighus in Copenhagen in October 2014 to demonstrate how the rope is strung on the Flag Halyard Chair.
It is a complicated job to string the chair with the halyard because it is covered with a single length of rope and not done in sections so the tension has to be kept consistent. At each side, the rope is taken over the steel frame, then wrapped completely round the rod once and returned across the underside so that spaces out the strings and seems to act like a hitch knot.
Generally, on wooden chairs with a cord or cane seat, Wegner cuts the seat frame down where the paper cord is wrapped over to create a shoulder that holds the weave pattern and stops it opening out. Here, there are steel rods across the top of the head rest and on each side of the side pieces that are flattened at each end and then rounded off and drilled through to form what is rather like a large washer - and these act as spacers for the frame and hold the rope in place to stop it from sliding along the frame. There are no rods across between the main sections or at the lowest part because they would stick into the body or stick into the back of the legs.
This sounds a bit like trying to describe how a magician does a trick … but, as you look carefully to work out what was done and begin to understand how it was done, the design seems to be even more impressive and an initial sketch for the chair, with a series of variations and changes in heavy overdrawing, shows just how rapidly the design evolved.
All in all the Halyard Chair is quite a tour de force.
Designmuseum Danmark has early editions of classic designs in their collection and on display but also, around the museum, are recent versions of some of the chairs - along with low tables and copies of catalogues - where visitors can try sitting in these chairs and read for a while. With this post in mind I wanted to take photographs of the Halyard Chair and look at the way it was constructed but on three visits in a row there was a visitor asleep in the chair. Clearly it's a bit too comfortable.
designed by Hans Wegner (1914-2007)
made by Getama and from 2002 by PP Møbler
GE225 now known as pp225
height to front edge of seat: 38cm
steel - framework of legs supporting seat is painted white or green
240 metres of flag halyard - woven jute with a nylon core
discs or pads for feet - originally wood now made from plastic