FH3100 / Myren / The Ant Chair by Arne Jacobsen 1952

Ant Chair in the permanent collection of Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen

 

The Ant Chair was designed for the canteen of Novo Industry - the pharmaceutical company - or rather - the story is that Arne Jacobsen had designed the chair but Fritz Hansen were not convinced that it was viable commercially. When a director from Novo visited the drawing office to discuss work on the design of new buildings for Novo and admired the chair, he asked Jacobsen about the design. Jacobsen told him it was for the canteen at the new factory and so secured an order for 200 that convinced Fritz Hansen that the design should go into production.

This was not an industrial design, as such, but the design for an industrially manufactured chair for everyday use.

It was launched by Fritz Hansen on the 24 October 1952, on the 80th anniversary of the company, and was shown first at the Danish Society of Arts and Crafts exhibition in Zurich and then at the Danish Museum of Decorative Arts in January 1953.

When the chair first went into production there was a choice from four types of plywood - beech, oak, walnut and teak - and a version finished with black lacquer. Later palisander and Oregon pine were added to the range and there was a version with coloured felt glued to the front face of the seat and the back.

Jacobsen designed the chair with three legs and despite requests for a version with four legs, he objected to the idea and it could not be put into production until after he died.

The legs in steel are held in place at the centre of the underside of the chair with rubber spacers so that they do not sit against the plywood but also to stop the legs twisting or moving sideways if someone using the chair shifts their weight.

The Ant was the first Danish chair that was made with a single shell in plywood that is curved in both planes to form a  seat and back in a single piece of laminated wood.

Charles and Ray Eames and Eero Saarinen experimented by cutting slits into the plywood to form a complex shell but Jacobsen achieved a sharp curve between the seat and back while also forming spoon-shaped hollow curves across the width of the seat and the back by reducing the width of the shape at the centre. That is the simple if unromantic reason for the distinct shape of the chair.

The Ant Chair is light in weight and stacks so it was used in public spaces like meeting rooms and lecture rooms. People remark that the chair has a decorative effect particularly when a number are set out in a space together in rows which creates a strong and undulating pattern reminiscent of fish scales.

In an interview Jacobsen revealed that he had considered using plastic rather than plywood but had rejected the idea because it would have made the chair too expensive - mainly because production of a moulded plastic shell requires an investment in expensive machinery.

made by Fritz Hansen and still in production

laminated wood shell (plywood)
legs in tube steel
a version was made with the legs covered with light grey fluted plastic

height: 77 cm
width: 51 cm
depth: 51 cm
height of seat: 44 cm

Chair 3105 - the Munkegård chair by Arne Jacobsen 1955

 

A small and elegant chair designed by Arne Jacobsen for Munkegård School in Copenhagen. It is sometimes referred to as The Mosquito.

Versions were produced by Fritz Hansen in beech, teak and stained black. The chair has been in production several times but is not currently available.

Jacobsen designed the elementary school that was completed in 1957 and, as with so many of his major projects, he designed so much more than the structure, designing the paving and planting of the courtyards, fittings including lighting and, with the chairs, Jacobsen also designed a school desk in plywood with a metal frame. The design of the desk has a simple flat top or writing surface that is bent to run down the back and then back under the top to form a shelf for books. The front edge of the shelf was turned down in the same way that the front edge of the chair seats was angled down to protect the back of the legs. The frame of the desks also included a hook on one side for hanging a school bag.

 

 

height: 77 cm
width: 40.5 cm
depth: 47 cm
height of seat: 42.5 cm but also lower versions made with a height of 36 cm and 40 cm

 

Chair 3103 by Arne Jacobsen 1955

 

 

The chair was designed by Arne Jacobsen in collaboration with Dr E Snorrason who gave advice on how to improve the lumbar support provided by the back of the chair. There is a sharper and more pronounced curve at the base of the back and the top of the back has a more generous width to support the shoulder blades.

The initial version made by Fritz Hansen was produced using a plywood faced with teak ... then popular and normally implying a more expensive piece of furniture. 

With fairly straight sides to the seat and angled front corners rather than a smooth curve, the chair is more angular than the other shell chairs by Jacobsen - almost octagonal.

There was a version of the chair with a swivel frame with wheels so that it could be used as an office or desk chair.

 

 

height: 62 cm
width: 34 cm
depth: 37 cm
height of seat: 42.5 cm

smaller versions of the chair with seat heights of 36 cm and 34 cm were made for children.

FH4130 / Grand Prix by Arne Jacobsen 1957

Grand Prix in the permanent collection of Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen

 

The chair was shown at the XI Triennial in Milan in 1957 - where the design was awarded the Grand Prix from which it takes its name - and then shown at Charlottenborg, in Copenhagen, later in the same year.

In the original version the shell was made with a teak or beech finish or the chair could be upholstered.

The shape of the back is closely related to the FH3103 but here, rather than a straight line across the top of the back, the back has a truncated or stumpy Y shape that makes it, somehow, almost anthropomorphic.

There is a pronounced scooping out to the shape of the seat and at the front a pronounced down turn or lip.

Initially the chair had four separate legs that were L shaped and in laminated beech with a strong moulding to the cross section presumably, in part, to make it look less solid or less heavy. The legs mimicked the profile of the metal legs on the other shell chairs so were angled out towards the floor and at the top were curved but under the seat they were shaped to form a long hammer or hockey-stick shape to form as long a face as possible along the top for the legs to be glued to the underside of the shell. This proved to be unstable - presumably under the weight of a person the centre of the seat moved down or the legs splayed out and even if the glue of the leg held then the face layer of the plywood would presumably split away from the layer below.

 

 

The design was changed and the individual legs were replaced with two n-shaped pieces of steam-bent beech that cross at the centre where they are halved over each other to form a robust join and fixed to a circular plywood plate at the centre of the underside of the moulded shell. That form is closely related to the frame of legs in wood made for the Giraffe - the dining chair that Jacobsen designed for the SAS Royal Hotel.

A version of the Grand Prix chair with steel legs was also produced and in catalogues is identified as model FH3130.

 

 

height: 78 cm
width: 48 cm
Depth: 51 cm
height of seat: 42.5 cm

Chair 406 by Alvar Aalto 1939

 

Alvar Aalto produced several variations on the design of the Paimio cantilever chair of 1932 including versions with upholstered or padded seat and back. Chair 406 - designed in 1939 -  is interesting because Aalto reused the design of the cantilevered bentwood frame from the earlier Paimio cantilevered chair but with webbing woven across the frame for the seat and back rest rather than moulded plywood.

This seems to acknowledge the limitations when it was still only possible to curve plywood in one plane … so forming what is, in effect, a scroll shape along the length to form a seat that then curves up to form the back from a single piece of plywood but without also being able to scoop or hollow out the profile across the width of the seat.

The main part of the cantilevered frame of the 406 is a simple elongated H (172cm by 57cm) in laminated wood with the uprights of the H bent to form the runners, the front supports, arm rests and short uprights on either side of the back rest. These main lengths are rectangular in cross section - 1 inch by 2¼ inches (25mm x 57mm) and set flat for maximum strength and flexibility. The crossbar of the H supports the seat and the frame thins down immediately above that cross bar where the curves are tighter and slightly more flexibility is required.

A simple and separate rectangular frame (110cm by 46cm) for the webbing, is bent to a shallow curved shape that forms the seat and the back rest of the chair. The webbing is two inches wide and is taken across the frame and returned underneath and round and nailed or, in the modern chairs, stapled onto the inward facing edge of the frame.

The only other piece of timber is a stretcher, fixed across the back with screws, just above the seat to keep the side pieces of the frame a consistent distance apart and parallel where otherwise they could be forced inwards with the weight of a person sitting in the chair pressing down into the webbing and potentially moving the sides together.

There are remarkably few points of contact between these two parts - between the side frames and the frame of webbing that forms the seat and back and with the pronounced cantilever it reinforces the impression of the seat being suspended in space. Where the seat rests across the cross bar there are long screws - one on each side - that are countersunk and fix the seat frame in place from below and at the top of the arm rests, where the side frames are nearly vertical and running parallel to the back rest, they are fixed together with, I presume, hidden or blind dowels rather than taking a bolt or screw through to link the pieces.

The cross bar of the H-shaped frame and the corners of the frame of the seat / back are fixed with simple butted joins that are glued and again there must be hidden dowels through to fix and hold square the separate pieces. This form of construction is simple and honest and takes straightforward skills, with the holes drilled and controlled by jigs or patterns, but cabinetmaking skills are not required. The form and construction of the chair reflects honestly that it was designed to be made in a factory system rather than in a cabinetmakers' workshop.

details of the frame - from the top, the front of the seat from the side and from above and the front edge of the seat from underneath to show there is a single countersunk screw on each side to fix the seat to the crossbar of the frame

 

That does not stop this being a sophisticated and elegant chair. The design has a clarity and deceptive simplicity with precise curves and the angles of the front and arm rests giving the chair a much less angular profile than the comparable Bauhaus chairs in tube metal … so, for instance, the seat is not simply folded but rises up slightly towards the front and then dips down slightly once over the cross bar and the top bar of the back rest is gently curved.

There are clear contrasts with Danish furniture. The 406 has a good sitting position with high back support but it is not a chair in which to move around and, although the design is good looking and dramatic, it is certainly not to be seen from the back.

It is a relatively light chair that weighs just 6 kilograms - although, for comparison, the Wishbone Chair by Hans Wegner weighs just 4 kilograms. In some ways Chair 406 is similar to but not strictly comparable with the Safari Chair - because it does not fold - but it is light and informal and is certainly good for use on a terrace or balcony although, with the webbing, obviously not weather proof.

 

Alvar Aalto Paimio Sanatorium

 

This small exhibition - described by Designmuseum Danmark as a "pop-up exhibition" - is based around two chairs from the permanent collection - Armchair No 42 and the Paimio Chair - also known as The Ring Chair - designed by Alvar Aalto and both used in the Paimio Sanatorium. The hospital in south-west Finland designed by Aalto was built specifically for the treatment of patients with tuberculosis - and was completed in 1933.

The chairs are displayed with historic photographs and copies of drawings that have been selected to show how important the hospital was and to put those two chairs in context.

Aalto was born in February 1898 so he was four years older than Arne Jacobsen. The exhibition does not compare directly the work of the two architects but there are marked and very important similarities. They grew up and then studied as architects in a period of massive social, political and economic changes in Europe and in a period that saw rapid advances in technology and industrial production that had a huge impact on architecture and furniture design. Political changes were more dramatic for Aalto because Finland only emerged as a nation, independent from both Sweden and Russia, in 1918 after a revolution.

 

Both architects, through the 1920s and through their first commissions, absorbed and readily adapted their designs to building in the relatively new material of concrete and the new techniques of construction that went with that material … so generally buildings with piers in concrete that supported concrete floors and, as a consequence, with freedom to experiment with external and internal walls that were no longer load bearing and with few restrictions in terms of height in buildings that could be constructed quickly.

Crucially, both architects worked on all aspects of a project … so not just the plan and structure of a building but all details of windows, door handles, light fittings and, for both men, designs for furniture.

They each achieved a uniform aesthetic in their buildings, and that was important, but it was also driven by the need for efficiency and an attempt to rationalise construction and manage costs - to produce as much as possible off site and to reduce the number of variations and options for the same reasons … so what became important was how they put together the parts and that was determined by function and not a hierarchy of fittings as in so many public and domestic buildings before the 20th century.

 

Here, in this exhibition, the two chairs show how Aalto was at the forefront of technical developments in furniture manufacture. His grandfather was a forester and taught at the Evo Forest Institute south of Tampere and Aalto himself developed a specific technique of cutting down into a length of squared-off timber, interlayering with thin slips of wood inserted into the cuts and with glue and steam bending and formed the timber for the frame for chairs and tables and other furniture.

He was one of the first designers to exploit and develop the use of plywood which again was bent - rather than used as flat sheets - to create a continuous surface for the seat and back of a chair but he also extended the bend or curve of the plywood to form a rounded support for the head and a rounded support for the back of the legs.

It is important to look carefully to see how the plywood shell of the seat and back and the bent-wood frame are joined together - with lugs or tabs in strategic positions on the edge of the plywood that fit into slots in the frame - and how crossbars link the frame on each side but also support the plywood at critical points.

 

Because of its topography and climate, Finland does not have the variety of native timbers for furniture making and house building that are found in Sweden and Denmark so the form of the chairs is not an odd whim of aesthetics but was necessary to be able to use native rather than imported timber - to do what was possible with native birch - a relatively small tree.

And the design of the chairs - and the distinct features of the building - reflect the nature of the disease treated at the hospital.

Tuberculosis was a contagious disease that effected the lungs but could also infect bones and the nervous system. By the early 20th century it was the cause of death of 7,200 people a year in Finland or about 13% of mortality year on year in the country.

When the hospital opened, treatment was based around providing patients with good nutrition and bed rest in the early stages of the disease and then with sun and fresh air although bright light and noise effected many sufferers badly.

The chairs are relatively low and long so the sitting position is close to reclining and the bent-wood frame and plywood provide a level of flexibility for long periods sitting in the sun or fresh air. The construction in wood was lighter than anything comparable that used tubular steel, so the chairs could be turned easily to be angled towards the sun and they were not upholstered to reduce contamination. Note that the Paimio Chair has narrow horizontal slits cut through the head rest so that air could circulate around the face.

The first private Sanatorium in Finland was opened in 1895 and the first owned by a federation of municipalities opened in 1914 but after passing a Tuberculosis Act in 1929 eight large sanatoriums were constructed with total of 2,500 beds and Paimio was the last to be completed in 1933 for 296 beds for patients from 52 municipalities including the city of Turku with an allocation of 100 beds. Because tuberculosis was contagious, the hospitals were generally set in countryside away from towns … the Sanatorium at Paimio was 20 kilometres east of Turku set in an area of woodland.

With the discovery of anti biotics, it became possible to alleviate and then control the spread of the disease and in 1960 the sanatorium buildings were modified and converted for use as a general hospital.

 

The exhibition at Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen continues until 21 January 2018

 

note:

comments on this post were received today (19 February 2018) and, because these were interesting and raised some important points, it was worth posting a longer reply that has been posted on Copenhagen architecture & design news as an update

Danish chairs of the 20th century

 

Over the last couple of months, posts have been added here for just over 60 Danish chairs from the last century with a brief assessment for each that focuses on details of form and construction and, where possible, puts the design into a wider context.

A third of these chairs were designed by Hans Wegner but that reflects the number of chairs he designed and, of course, his importance as a master of innovation who, as a designer, continually pushed the boundaries for what could be done and how and why.

The series was inspired by the chairs in the permanent collection of Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen where a new display was opened just over a year ago. A selection of the chairs is now shown in a well-lit arrangement in a dedicated gallery where the chairs are set, each in its own display case, so it is possible look at the design without distraction and, with the chairs raised up off the floor, it is possible to look closely at how the chairs are constructed and to appreciate the techniques of the carpentry - the way that the separate parts are cut, shaped and fitted together - the finish of the wood, the use of metal for parts of the chair or, with some, the whole frame, the appearance of new materials such as plywood or plastic and, in many of the chairs, the superb quality of the workmanship.

This gallery at the design museum presents to the visitor a key body of research material on open access with extensive labels and information panels but in addition the museum catalogue is available on line so it is also possible to look up furniture in the collection by date, period, maker, dimensions or materials and type and the index also means that it is possible to search for information or images on other furniture by the same designer or the same maker that is not currently on display but is in the collection.

It was also crucial for these recent posts here, on this web site, that last year saw the republication of the four volumes on the cabinetmakers' annual exhibitions - Dansk Mobelkunst Gennem 40 År - published by Lindhardt og Ringhof. Edited by the designer Grete Jalk, these were published first in 1987 and record the exhibitions that were held in Copenhagen each year, from 1927 through to 1966, to show to the public the latest and the very best of Danish furniture.

For the first decade, the exhibitions were held at a number of different venues in Copenhagen but from 1937 through to the last exhibition in 1966 all but one year, when the exhibition was at Charlottenborg, and a year at the Forum - a total of 28 exhibitions were held at the design museum - then called Kunstindustrimuseet. This was remarkable and spot lights the ongoing role of the museum in showing current design - not simply to curate the design of the past - and one reason why the present exhibition Dansk Design Nu - looking at Danish design this century - is so important.


With posts here on 60 chairs, and the intention to add more, then some sort of index was necessary and arranging that by date it also works as a time line for chairs from the 20th century. At the very least, this proves that there was not a clear or straightforward linear progress through those decades so it raises interesting questions about the age of designers or at which point in their career they produced a specific chair and whether, whatever their age, they were pushing boundaries or exploring for themselves a new trend or a new material.

 

The display of chairs in Designmuseum Danmark provides an amazing opportunity to not only look closely at the chairs but the lighting also meant that it is possible to take photographs of details. This recording of details of the joinery and the materials is more and more important as fewer and fewer people learn about timber or working with wood when they are at school and it is not an aspect of design covered in many blogs.

For obvious reasons the measurements of the chairs have been given where possible. It is important to have some way of judging the scale of a design and that is rarely obvious from a photograph and particularly difficult outside the context of a room.

But also, as I looked at more and more of the chairs and looked at the photographs from the cabinetmakers' annual exhibitions it was obvious that it is now difficult to understand these pieces of furniture in anything like an original setting and that becomes more difficult with time as these pieces of furniture move from being everyday objects that people have in their homes and sit on to be what are now valuable collector or museum pieces.

Some of the designers and architects themselves were clearly concerned about the setting of their furniture … from the earliest exhibitions in the late 1920s the cabinetmakers used room settings and much of the furniture was aimed at a specific customer and therefore, to some extent, a known type of room … from a young couple moving into a small, new two-room apartment through to a wealthy middle-class family buying bookshelves and a desk by Klint or chairs for a large terrace or garden … so all designed with at least some idea of the space or the setting where the furniture would be used. Some designers went further. Poul Kjærholm designed with meticulous care the settings of his furniture in exhibitions and shop displays and Finn Juhl chose the colours against which his furniture was shown … producing drawings with colour wash of the room settings for the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition.


This first selection has focused on key chairs of the classic period of modern Danish furniture, so with just 60 not even, at this point, all the most famous chairs but a reasonable selection of different types of chair and different materials and a range of designers. One problem is that it panders to the idea that Danish designers focus on chairs and it reinforces a general misconception that somehow the only period of great design in Denmark was that so called Classic period of the 1950s and 1960s. So the next stage for this web site will be to look at recent chairs, since the turn of the century, and present them in a similar way … looking at form and construction and context … and possibly then to look at other types of Danish furniture in the same way … so sofas and tables might be next.

This should form a growing body of material with a chance to experiment with indexing and cross referencing and posts will be updated to add to entries if more information or better photographs become available or to add more links to archive drawings and historic images.

chair for Dansk Kunsthandel by Kaare Klint 1917

Designmuseum Danmark

 

 

In 1915 the furniture designed by Kaare Klint for the Faaborg Museum on Funen - along with drawings and even a section of tiled floor for the main gallery - were exhibited in Copenhagen in the Danish Museum of Art & Design that was then still in its original building on City Hall Square.

Clearly this was good marketing for Klint then went on to design a number of chairs of the Faaborg type for a number of important and influential clients in Copenhagen.

The original Faaborg Chair from 1914 has cane in the panels of the back and there was a rather heavier looking version of that chair, with solid panels in the back rest with a top rail that flares out in a more marked way, that was made by the cabinetmaker N M Rasmussen in 1916 for Aage Lunn and then in 1917 a version of the chair in Cuban mahogany was made for Dansk Kunsthandel in Copenhagen by N C Jensen Kjær.

This chair is much heavier and more robust than the chair for the Faaborg Museum with deeper pieces for the frame of the seat and the back rest has a much more pronounced outward curve to the lip or top rail. As with the Faaborg Chair, the front legs are tapered but vertical and the back legs are set at 45 degrees to the curve of the seat and back and are not just tapered but are also curved or flared outwards following the form of a Klismos chair.

All round, this is a much more robust chair. There is a third rail around the back above the cane seat but below the top of the cushion and the upper part of the leg does not cut in or reduce until it is above this point … in part meaning that the tenons of the rail are housed into mortices in the thickest part of the leg but also to link visually the cushion and the seat rail and create a series of closely related curved lines from the top rail down.

Another variation of the Faaborg Chair, with a fixed leather seat, was produced in the 1930s.

 

 

designed by Kaare Klint (1888-1954)
made by N C Jensen Kjær

Cuban mahogany, cane seat and leather cushion

height: 77 cm
width: 53.5 cm
depth: 62 cm
height of seat: 46 cm

chair for the Thorvaldsen Museum by Kaare Klint 1923

 

This chair was designed by Kaare Klint in 1923 for the office of the Thorvaldesn Museum in Copenhagen * and made by N C Jensen Kjær. In style, it looks back to the chair that Klint designed for the museum at Faaborg in 1914. 

Made in burl oak, the frame has a distinct, sharply-curved, and high back support. As with the chairs for the museum in Faaborg, both the front and back legs are continued up to support a curved and horizontal rail for a back rest and there are intermediate rails, half way between the seat and the top rail, but with the upper parts here filled with thin curved panels of wood held in channels in the frame - rather than the cane work of the Faaborg Chair.

However, the seat is cane and that supports a separate leather cushion - rather than giving the chair  full upholstery - so, as a consequence, the chair is lighter and the frame of the seat can be thinner. 

As with a traditional chair of the Klismos type, both the front and the back legs curve or flare slightly outwards to the floor to provide more stability but they also make the chair rather more elegant than if they were straight. The precision of the cabinetwork means that there is enough strength in the frame for cross stretchers between the legs to be unnecessary.

When seen from underneath, it is obvious that the carpentry, where the rails of the seat are joined into the leg of the Thorvaldsen chair, is more precise and stronger so the slightly crude blocks across the leg and frame on the underside of the seat to strengthen the join on the Faaborg chair can be omitted here.

Above the seat, the legs are made thinner with chamfers that reduce the cross section from square to octagonal and the rails are also chamfered on the outer side. Again, this seems to be a development or refinement of the Faaborg chair where the legs above the seat are just reduced in thickness on the inner face. This cutting back from a square cross-secyion of the frame makes the chair look less heavy but these thin chamfers also have a marked visual effect, with the different surfaces catching light in different ways so it is like a stronger line on a pencil drawing that reinforces an outline.

Kaare Klint is rationalising and refining his design although there is one change from the Faaborg chair that appears to be retrogressive … on the Faaborg Chair the back rail of the seat is curved, to follow the semi circle of the back rest, whereas here, on the chair for the Thorvaldsen Museum, the back rail of the seat is flat so this chair follows more closely the form of the historic Klismos type where the back support over sails the seat in a distinctive way when the chair is viewed from the side. 

But then, of course, the chair was for a major public building that dates from the 1840s so Klint may well have considered the slightly old-fashioned form more appropriate.

note:

 * In May 1914, after working with Carl Petersen in Faaborg, Klint married and travelled with his wife to Java for an extended trip and did not return to Copenhagen until the Spring of 1916. He worked first with the architect Povl Baumann and then with Carl Petersen again - on alterations to the Thorvaldsen Museum and work for the David Collection in Copenhagen - and when Petersen died in 1923, Klint continued with both projects.

chair photographed at Designmuseum Danmark

 

 

designed by Kaare Klint (1888-1954)
made by the cabinetmaker N C Jensen Kjær

height: 77.5 cm
width: 53.5 cm
depth: 59.5 cm
height to seat: 49 cm

 

Klismosstol / Klismos Chair by Kaj Gottlob 1921

 

Clearly this chair is not a modern chair - not by any stretch of the imagination - but it is important because it shows how styles and forms of furniture from the 19th century continued on well into the 20th century.

The chair was designed in 1921 for the Court House in Fredericksberg … the municipality immediately to the west of Copenhagen … so the commission was for furniture for a major civic building that itself dated from the 19th century and therefore, perhaps, more formal and more solid and more traditional furniture was appropriate but it also shows clearly that it is unwise to try and see the history of design in terms of a rapid and inevitable changing of the guard in a clear-cut way or even as something that everyone at the time just accepted as inevitable.

The chair appears to be old-fashioned to modern eyes and the design, taking the distinct form of a Klismos stole or classical type of chair, looks back to a style of chair made in Denmark from the late 18th century onwards but it would have been seen as perfectly acceptable to architects and designers of the New Classicism school that was strong if not dominant in Denmark from about 1915 and through to the 1930s.

Nor are architects or designers restricted to one style across their work. Born in 1887, Kaj Gottlob was just a year older than Kaare Klint and so, then in his early 30s, he can hardly be written off as an old man out of touch with new trends. He had travelled widely in Greece, Italy, France and North Africa and after teaching at the Technical School from 1915 and then at the Royal Academy Building School he was appointed as a professor at the Royal Academy in 1924. Although his furniture designs were generally in this style, he is acknowledged to be one of the leading architects of the Modernist Movement … by the late 1920s he was seen as a Functionalist - not a term you would use for this chair - and his most famous designs are probably for the two bridges over the harbour in Copenhagen with Knippelsbro that he designed in the 1930s and then Langebro that Gottlob designed after the War and that was completed in 1954.

 

a Klismos chair in Designmuseum Danmark from circa 1790 by N A Abildgaard (1743-1809)

detail of chair in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen

 

Designed  by Kaj Gottlob (1887-1976)
made by Fritz Hansen Eftf

ash, cane seat, leather cushion

height: 76 cm
width: 68 cm
depth: 54.5 cm
height of seat: 42 cm

Klapstol / Folding Chair JH512 by Hans Wegner 1949

 

Although this is a folding chair it was not designed as a deckchair or even primarily for use outside but it was for a small apartment and was designed to be hung on the wall so it was out of the way until it was needed.

The cross bar below the seat is shaped and has curved cross struts to form a notch to keep the chair steady when it is hung over a single hook.

Deceptively simple with an open wooden frame for the seat and back, that are square and infilled with cane, and that cross over as an X shape when seen from the side. The back rest is concave and continues on down in a single curve to form the front legs of the chair and the seat running on down to form the back support is slightly convex.

Where the design is ingenious is in the way the structure, the precise alignment of the key parts of the frame and a hinge or pivot at the centre, allow the chair to fold flat and stay flat when it is hanging. The frame also has to allow for the cane to be taken down through slots at certain points, rather than around the whole frame, to accommodate handles and so on.

As with so many designs by Wegner it looks easy and simple when he has finished but take a step back to the beginning and try to design the same thing without any reference to his solution and you begin to see how he had such an amazing perception of three dimensional space. The impressive thing about any puzzle, say a complex crossword puzzle for example, is not that someone can solve it but the mind that created it.

 

The Folding Chair, made by Johannes Hansen, was shown in the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1949 and what now seems so incredible is that this chair was actually far from the star piece that year. In 1949 Wegner and Hansen presented to the public The Round Chair and the tripartite Shell Chair.

Børge Glabn in Arkitekten wrote:

Hans Wegner and Johannes Hansen "confront us with something altogether different; a classic simplicity both in analytical approach and in the synthesis of its practical application. …. The use of materials was clear and lucid, the fervour of the makers was evident in the craftsmanship, and the idea underlying the composition was clear and consistent." **

It is said by Christian Holmsted Olesen * that the Folding Chair is one of the designs by Wegner that was most plagiarised.

The Folding Chair is now made by PP Møbler

 

notes:

 * Hans J Wegner, by Christian Holmsted Olesen in Store Danske Designere, Lindhardt og Ringhof (2008)

 ** Dansk Møbelkunst Gennem 40 År 1947-1956, edited by Grete Jalk, Lindhardt og Ringhof, (2017) page 98

 
 

 

designed by Hans Wegner (1914-2007)
made by Johannes Hansen and then PP Møbler

teak, oak or ash and sjeneflet (cane)

 height: 75 cm
width: 61 cm
depth: 74 cm
height of front edge of seat: 39 cm
length when folded: 99 cm

 

CH28 Savbukstol / Sawbuck Chair by Hans Wegner 1951

 

 

Through the 1930s and 1940s and on into the 1950s, designer experimented with not just different materials, so here shaped plywood, but also looked for new and unconventional forms of construction.

Here, Hans Wegner seems to have been inspired by the carpenters sawbuck … what is called in England a saw horse or sometimes simply a trestle. This was a straightforward and usually light bench, often made quickly and crudely with available timber with a length of squared-off wood as a top bar and simple supports at each end - either just two pieces of wood fixed and angled out to form an inverted V or, if it had to support more weight, then cross bars were added between the legs to form an A at each end. These were used on their own or with a pair to support a length of wood as it was sawn or cut to length or two of these could be used together with planks set across to form a temporary table or even a platform when painting a ceiling or hanging wallpaper.*

Of course, the geometry of the form of Wegner's chair is actually rather more sophisticated than a trestle.

The key part of the structure is an H shape at the front with robust turned and tapered uprights or posts with a cross bar that is the support for the front of the seat. This primary H frame is not upright but leans backwards and is supported by a second similar but much shorter H shape that is propped against it and the cross bar of that back H supports the back of the seat that is slotted into the cross bar.

Where the shorter back support meets the taller front posts there are short and shaped arm rests, housed and cantilevered forward, very close to the form of the arm rests on the Peacock Chair by Wegner.

There is a deep back rest in plywood, with a level top but bowed downwards across the bottom and slightly curved inwards. This is not fixed across the uprights but held between them with lugs at the top and bottom, on each side, shaped from the back rest itself and held in slots on the inward facing edges of the pots so a form very close to the way that Alvar Aalto fixed the curved plywood shells of his chairs between the bentwood frames of the supports on each side.

 
 

Designed by Hans Wegner (1914-2007)
made by Carl Hansen

height: 77 cm
width: 73 cm
depth: 67 cm
height of seat: 37 cm 

For comparison, in the following year, Wegner designed a dining chair Carl Hansen - CH29 - that is closely related in its form to the Sawbuck Chair.

 Sawbuck dining chair 1952

height: 81 cm
width: 53 cm
depth: 49 cm
height of seat: 44 cm

 

note:

 * The name of the chair implies a sawbuck was a direct inspiration but sometimes these names were applied subsequently if the form reminded people of something … the case with the Wishbone Chair.

CH07 - the two-part shell chair by Hans Wegner 1963

early versions of the chair shown at the exhibition on the work of Hans Wegner at Designmuseum Danmark in 2014

early versions of the chair shown at the exhibition on the work of Hans Wegner at Designmuseum Danmark in 2014 - the chair in the foreground with simple straightforward bending of the back leg and the final split or divided form beyond

 

 

Sometimes good design is about designing something better and sometimes it's about designing something different and, without doubt, it was the exploration of what many could see as unconventional styles and forms that drove forward Danish design through the 1960s and 1970s.

This shell chair by Hans Wegner, designed in 1963, could certainly not be described as conventional as it was one of his most sculptural but one of his most starkly simple designs.

First drawings for the chair show a more squared-off back than was made for the final version with a slight downward curve across the top but with sharp outer corners and that emphasised that the sides of the back rest followed up in line from the angle of the front legs.

There are just four parts to the chair with a wide and curved seat in thick plywood with an outline close to the shape of a segment of orange and a back rest as a separate piece, gently curved and with a complex shape, tapered towards the top, with all corners generously rounded and the angles of the sides set by the angle of the legs below when seen from the front. 

The frame of the legs is in bent wood with two front legs from a single piece of wood that forms a saddle shape to support the seat. There is a single back leg formed from a single elongated triangle of wood that is taken back from the cross bar of the front legs, under the seat, and then first up behind the back rest to support it and set its angle and then swept back down to the ground. 

In the prototypes these leg pieces were a single uniform thickness but in the final design they are split and divided at crucial points at the curve between the front leg and the part that runs under the seat and at the point on the back leg where it reaches its highest point and then is curved sharply to run down to the ground.

 

In 1998 the chair reintroduced into their catalogue by Carl Hansen 

 

 

Designed by Hans Wegner (1914-2007)
made by Carl Hansen

overall width: 92 cm
overall depth: 83 cm
height: 74 cm
front edge of seat: 35 cm

3208 Lilien / The Lily by Arne Jacobsen 1970

Chair 3208 in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark

 

 

3108 - an early version of the chair - was designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1961 but The Lily - or at least a first version of The Lily without arms - was shown at the Scandinavian Furniture Fair in Copenhagen in 1969 and the final form with arms was shown at the furniture fair the following year. The chair was also known as Mågen or The Sea Gull.

Clearly the Lily is related to the other shell chairs in plywood that Jacobsen designed - including The Ant from 1952 and the Series 7 chairs from1955 - but the Lily has a more marked shape with a much narrower waist between the seat and the back that was there to make possible a more pronounced curve of the shell. Carsten Thau and Kjeld Vindum, in their book on the work of Jacobsen,* suggest that this created so much tension in the shell that up to 75% that were made had to be rejected.

One version of the Series 7 Chair had narrow arm rests on what are almost stalks extending up from the back leg - a curious reinterpretation of the back post of a traditional chair in wood - but on the Lily Chair, the arm rests are exaggerated - almost flamboyant for Jacobsen - and make the chair more sculptural and much more dramatic.

Unlike so many of the his contemporaries, Jacobsen was an architect who designed furniture outside the world of the cabinetmakers … even Poul Kjærholm, the designer who moved his work furthest from traditional cabinetmaking and closest to engineering had started his training as an apprentice to a cabinetmaker in Gronbech in 1948.

Jacobsen showed his furniture just once at Cabinetmakers' Exhibition - in 1933 in collaboration with Fleming Lassen - and that was not a success with the critics. Perhaps this chair is the one from this period that is closest to industrial or product design and it is certainly a very good example of how Danish designers in the post-war period broke with all conventions for what a chair should look like or how it should be made.

note:

 * Arne Jacobsen, Carsten Thau and Kjeld Vindum, The Danish Architectural Press (2001)

 

Designed by Arne Jacobsen (1902-1971)
made by Fritz Hansen

 height: 76 cm
width: 60 cm
depth: 52 cm
height of seat: 44 cm