Ax Chair in the permanent collection of Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen
Chair FH6135 by Peter Hvidt and Orla Mølgaard-Nielsen 1959. Copyright for the images auction site Lauritz.com
This is an interesting chair because rather than forming a plywood shell, it uses laminated and moulded wood for the chair seat and the back rest that are supported between frames of laminated and bent beech in a form but not a style reminiscent of the chairs by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto from the 1930s.
The Ax series that included a number of chairs and tables was some of the first Danish furniture to be made after the War that was aimed specifically at the export market. Many of the pieces were designed so that they could be packed as parts and then assembled at the destination and in the 1950s furniture made in Denmark in more expensive woods such as teak or mahogany tended to be exported rather than sold to the home market.
Two chairs were made in this form - one narrower, the height and width for a traditional dining chair, and this design wider and lower as an easy chair.
Both had the distinctive feature of paired stretchers set parallel, one above the other, both between the front legs and between the back legs. These stretchers are turned - round in cross section, slightly tapered and shaped at the ends - and brace and hold together the two side sections of the frame. Those side frames are strong enough for the stretchers to be omitted.
The form of the bentwood side frames is important as Hvidt and Mølgaard-Nielsen developed a specific method of building up layers of laminate around a solid core - in mahogany or teak - rather like the way the handle of a tennis racket with a wood frame is joined to the laminated loop of the racket head. The most distinct example of this type of lamination is for the chair they designed for Fritz Hansen in 1959 - the FH6135 - where, to describe it crudely, four V-shapes in laminated and bent wood are fixed together around a solid diamond-shaped core to form an X that is the side frame of the chair.
A triangular core in solid wood and the laminate bending and curving away on either side can be seen clearly but in a rather more subtle and rather less decorative way at the top of the front legs of the Ax Chair.
This detail contributes to the flowing or unbroken lines of the side view that is a distinct feature of the design. Note the way that the bottom edges of the side pieces for the seat are slightly chamfered across the front and this chamfer runs down unbroken into a curve that runs back under the side piece and then down the front leg just at the point where the fingers of a person sitting in the chair would grip the front edge of the seat as they are transferring their weight and standing up from the chair … a small but good example of ergonomics, careful design and high-quality manufacturing coming together in a carefully thought through detail and, in part, reflects that both designers trained as cabinet makers.
The front of the legs is not flat but they have a slight convex finish that in part shows the quality of the work but in part also makes a virtue out of a necessity because with laminated wood it is actually better not to try to achieve a crisp sharp angle to the edge or have a square-cut end to a piece as that can split or break away in use or with knocks or damage.
cantilevered chair by Alvar Aalto c. 1930 with seat, back and arm rests from a single piece of wood and with a tubular metal frame
In the Ax Chair the arm rests are distinctive. A chair from the 1930s designed by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto had a similar form of arm rest with what appears to be a slit cut through the wood and the seat bent down in an L shape to follow the seat and back but the outer part bent up to form the L shape of the arm rest - a horizontal part for the arm and elbow and the vertical part running back down to the seat - but in the Aalto chair that was all done - seat, backrest and arm rest - in a single piece of plywood whereas here it is the bentwood beech frame that is split and shaped.
In some books, the design of the Ax Chair is dated to 1947 but dated 1950 for the first production.
With the separate moulded seat and moulded back, in laminated wood, the design echoes the type designed by Charles and Ray Eames in the 1940s although the chairs are obviously very different in style. The Ax chairs seem somehow more traditional and more tightly controlled - more conservative - in comparison although they were certainly successful in terms of sales.
beech and mahogany bent frame
laminated teak seat and back
made by Fritz Hansen
height of seat: 38cm