more from MONO - the Cabinetmakers’ Autumn Exhibition at Thorvaldsens Museum

Through November and into early December this year, 2018, MONO - a major exhibition of furniture by cabinetmakers - was shown in the rooms of Thorvaldsens Museum in Copenhagen.

This was the annual exhibition - Snedkernes Efterårsudstilling or Cabinetmakers’ Autumn Exhibition.

Generally, furniture shown here is not in production and many of the pieces were designed specifically for the exhibition as it is an opportunity to try out ideas or try new forms or to use materials in unconventional ways that might not be obvious for a commercial manufacturer and, above all, designers find ways to highlight the skills of the cabinetmakers.

There are photographs here of the forty-one works shown along with basic information about the materials and dimensions but many of the pieces deserve longer individual posts.

S.E Snedkernes Efterårsudstilling
Thorvaldsens Museum

Introvert position - chair designed by Andreas Lund

 

A compact and robust chair that has an unusual form of construction and proves, as always, that although a design may appear to be simple, the best simple - as here - takes a lot of work to get right.

It has a relatively thick seat in solid wood - so not with a frame - but the edge is undercut with a deep chamfer that disguises that thickness and also creates a sharp crisp line to the front edge when you see the chair in profile.

The seat also has a complex shape that is a semicircle for the back half but combined with an elongated half of a hexagon to the front.

The form of chair construction is also difficult to describe:

The seat is supported on an X with two cross pieces that are halved one over the other. These cross timbers are higher than they are wide and are cut away at the centre so that the solid seat drops down into the cross rather than sitting on top of it.

Each of these cross bars is housed directly into the turned legs … a shorter front leg at one end of the cross piece, with the mortice of the housing just below the top of the leg so that  it stands just proud of the horizontal cross piece, and a back leg at the other end with the housing for the cross bar at the centre of the leg.

That X - of the cross shape underneath the seat - is not regular with the crossing point closer to the back of the chair than to the front so, with unequal arms, the back legs are closer together than the front legs.

A kidney shaped back rest, in thin but solid wood, is gently curved and appears to be in two parts with the grain arranged symmetrically about a central horizontal axis. It is fixed an angle for comfort by cutting a flat face at the face of the upper part of the back legs.

The legs are set vertically, rather than being splayed outwards at the ground to make the chair more stable. Generally vertical legs indicate a simpler and more straightforward chair - a feature associated with country chairs made in a local workshop - and legs that are set an angle that require more precise and more complicated mortice and tenon joints are used to indicate that a chair is more sophisticated.

So one definition of a country chair is that it made in the workshop in a traditional way … barely needing thought and certainly not needing design but each slightly varying from the next as the carpenter responds to differences in each piece of wood. Although Introvert position might look like a simple country chair, it actually has carefully-determined and, of course, beautifully made with considerable precision.

 

Introvert position
MONO catalogue number 1
designed by:
Andreas Lund
produced by: Toke Overgaard

asketræ / ash
height: 77 
width: 38 
depth: 42 cm

 

En stol / A chair - designed by Johannes Foersom & Peter Hiort-Lorenzen

 

This is a deceptively simple but very clever design - like a child's drawing of a chair or a cartoon drawing of what a chair should be like - a chair that should be in a Walt Disney cartoon like the Sorcerer's Apprentice - but beautifully realised in wood.

With rounded corners and rounded edges it's the very opposite of thin and elegant so it is somehow comforting and it brings out the soft, warm and almost gentle, qualities of good oak in a way that is found too rarely in modern furniture.

The seat is solid and not round but squarish with strongly-rounded corners and the edge of the seat is rounded off with the most pronounced rounding on the top edge rather than it being a symmetrical moulding or being undercut. The four legs are robust and turned - so round rather than square in section - and tapered - so wider at the top and narrower at the ground -  and the foot is not cut square or flat but also has an obvious rounding.

The legs are set directly into the underside of the seat but into blind mortices * and they are angled outwards slightly for stability. Because the legs are relatively thick, stretchers that are necessary in lighter and thinner chairs to stop the legs splaying out or twisting, can be omitted here.

The back rest is substantial and sharply curved - in the horizontal plane - embracing the back of the sitter but is not in plywood but is cut from oak and again is given a softer, smooth shape with rounded corners and rounded edges. It is supported on four robust flat splats - rather than turned spindles - and again the edges are smoothed round and, like the legs, these splats are held in place with tenons in blind mortices so no distractions from anything as complicated as a peg or a wedge.

Maybe it sounds silly to say this but it seems to be a deliberately unpretentious and an amazingly open and friendly chair. To use a phrase normally associated with candles - this is hyggelig.

 

 

En stol / A chair
MONO catalogue number 24
designed by:
Johannes Foersom & Peter Hiort-Lorenzen
produced by: Kvist Industries A/S

egetræ / oak

height: 73
width: 55
depth: 52 cm

 

 

 note:

* In simple furniture, particularly in what is often called country furniture, the most common way to fix turned legs to a solid seat is to cut a round tenon at the top of the leg and, with a hole completely through the seat as a mortice, the tenon is held in place by cutting a slot down through the tenon and once the leg is in place, the tenon is expanded by driving in a wedge from the top. The strength of the leg depends on the precise and sharp cutting of the mortice and the shoulders of the tenon.

Chair by Anne Fabricius Møller at MONO - the Cabinetmakers' Autumn Exhibition

 

 

Stol / Chair: Spøjs / Speys - MONO catalogue 3

What you notice first about this chair is the striking colour. It's not paint, because you an see the grain clearly but it's not stain … the chair is made in hardwood from a tree of the genus Peltogyne that is native to South and Central America and is known, for fairly obvious reasons, as Purpleheart because the heartwood turns a deep purple after the timber is cut.

But it's not just the colour that is unusual. The chair has an unusual form that was inspired by a work of the German artist Joseph Beuys that is now in the Neue Staatsgalerie in Stuttgart. It has a solid and relatively thick seat in wood with four turned or round legs that are slightly tapered - so thinner at the floor - and set just in from each corner but with a pronounced splay outwards at an emphatic angle to make the chair stable. These legs are fixed with a round tenon that goes through the seat and is held in place by a wedge driven down into the tenon from above.

So … so far fairly conventional.

But the chair is rectangular - much deeper than it is wide - with a back rest fixed across the narrow end … well a back rest if you sit astride the chair with your back against the rest or it is a single arm rest if you sit on the chair as if it is a bench.

This backrest / armrest is shaped rather like a staple or perhaps more like a squared-off and simplified version of the Greek letter Pi [ π ] with two uprights in turned wood and a straight but tapered cross bar linking the two at the top. This is dropped down into deeply-curved vertical grooves or channels on each long side of the seat - just in from the corners of the narrow end - and down and slightly inwards to cross over the legs - again running through rounded vertical channels but here cut in the legs - and stop short of the floor.

  

Spøjs / Speys
MONO Catalogue number 3
designed by
: Anne Fabricius Møller
produced by: Toke Overgaard

Amaranttræ / also known as amaranth and purpleheart
height: 69 
width: 48
depth: 63 cm

TRÆ, SAKS, PAPIR / Wood, paper, scissors

Karmstol, Stitched wood and a Skammel and Massive weaving

 

Knitted wood

Massive weaving and Folded wood

Knitted weaving and Folded wood

Knitted wood

An important exhibition of recent work by the furniture designer and architect Else-Rikke Bruun has just opened at the gallery of the Association of Danish Crafts and Designers in Bredgade .

There are several strong themes running through the works shown here but perhaps the most interesting and surprising idea is about not just defining space but also exploring shadow as a strong component as if it is itself a material element in the design.

Five screens in wood - the main works - define space but also occupy space and very considerable care was taken to set the lighting and to use the natural light of the gallery so strong shadows on the floor dissolve the sharp edge between the vertical of the screen and the horizontal surface of the floor and views through the screen and light coming through the screen from the other side change as you move round the space.

After completing her training as an architect Else-Rikke Bruun studied Arabian architecture for three years and here not just the fragmenting of light but also the use of precise geometric forms show the influence of Arabian architectural forms. Walking around the exhibition Else-Rikke explained that she is fascinated by patterns and the way we look for patterns and geometric pattern has a strong role in architecture of the Middle East, North Africa and southern Spain.

Influence from Japan is acknowledged both in the way the screens and the arrangement of faceted blocks of wood in the chair and in small panels reference the Japanese art of folding paper - two panels in wood are titled Origami panel - but also there is the sense of a Japanese aesthetic in the calm and measured division of space - a key feature of the way the pieces have been arranged in the gallery.

All the works shown are made with incredible precision so they also have the quality of fine engineering - particularly in the way separate pieces are linked or joined together or have different forms of hinge: all the screens can be articulated to adjust the angles of the parts or the alignment of the whole screen and Knitted wood folds back in on itself.

Another strong theme is inspiration from textile art and that is shown directly in the titles of three of the works … Stitched wood, Massive weaving and Knitted wood. This is not just about how elements interlock - Veneer has what are in fact giant warp and weft in cut plywood - but, as with woven textiles, the visual character from a distance is different from the complexity and subtlety that is revealed as you move closer.

Four of the works exploit the properties of laminated wood and develop different techniques for cutting to shape, bending, linking or interlocking plywood.

Use of colour is important but generally subtle … the screen titled Massive weaving uses spray paint so colour is strong on the cross-cut ends of the battens but fades out along the length. This work was developed with the colour artist Malene Bach. Generally subtle except that Knitted wood has a strong colour on one side that counterposes the shadow as you look through the interlocking curves.

The exhibition is the culmination of over a year of work specifically but actually develops and builds on themes that were first shown by Else-Rikke Bruun in the craft Biennials in 2015 and 2017.

Immediately  before the exhibition Else-Rikke Bruun had a residency at Statens Værksteder for Kunst / Danish Art Workshops in Copenhagen and in a longer review here both the development of the main ideas and themes of the exhibition and the role of the workshops in giving artists access to space and equipment to realise their work will be discussed.

Stools in Oregon pine were made by Anders Petersen Collection & Craft in Copenhagen.

Karmstol, the chair in the exhibition, took, as a starting point for its design, round-headed niches at each end of this gallery. It is not strictly site specific but does hint at just how carefully-considered this work is with strong references to the design of Classic Danish chairs while experimenting with both form and construction techniques. It is an important piece that blurs our artificial boundaries between art, craftsmanship and utility and will be the subject of a separate post.

A longer review of Træ, Saks, Papir will be posted here  

Danske Kunsthåndværkere og Designere

Else-Rikke Bruun

 

the exhibition continues until 20 December 2018 at
Officinet, Bredgade 66, Copenhagen

MONO - exhibition catalogue

 

The catalogue for the Cabinetmakers’ Autumn Exhibition in 2018 at Thorvaldsens Museum in Copenhagen has a general introduction to the exhibition by the selection board and then for each work there is a double-page layout with a full page black and white photograph for each of the works.

These monochrome images are dramatic and chime with the theme of the exhibition but also give a strong emphasis to the form of each work.

Some pieces have a descriptive or evocative name - so Calm or Look don’t touch and a cabinet for the display of special possessions has the title Ego - while other titles are more straightforward, with works described as Chair or Table and Chair.

Of course the catalogue sets out the name of the designer and the name of the cabinetmaker or the company who realised the work and each entry includes the materials and the dimensions of the piece.

There is also a short paragraph on each work to set out any thoughts that inspired the design or to talk about technical details - many of the pieces use material in an innovative way or the construction is much more complicated than is immediately apparent - and there is a translation in English.

Graphic design is by Studio Claus Due and the black and white photographs were taken by Torben Petersen.

Snedkernes Efterårsudstilling / The Cabinetmakers’ Autumn Exhibition 2018

Thorvaldsens Museum

Studio Claus Due

 

Kunsthåndværkermarkedet / The Craft Market on Frue Plads in Copenhagen

 

 

In the middle of August each year, there is a craft market on Frue Plads - the square next to the cathedral in Copenhagen.

Organised by Danske Kunsthåndværkere & Designere / The Danish Association of Craft Workers and Designers, this is an opportunity to see and to buy some of the very best ceramics, glass and textiles made in Denmark. These photographs of ceramics were taken this time last year and show the quality and the range of works sold here.

The current series of posts on this site is looking at aspects of how colour and texture are used in Danish design and Danish architecture and it seems curious that, on the whole, the current fashion for both buildings and for interiors in Denmark is for muted colours and, generally, very little or very restrained use of texture but in ceramics you find such strong forms or shapes and incredibly confident use of colour and texture in works that push both the material and the glazes used to new levels.

 

Kunsthåndværkermarkedet / The Craft Market 2018
Thursday 9 August 12 - 19
Friday 10 August 10 - 19
Saturday 11 August 10 - 16

 

mechanics in wood

the back and the arm rest of a Colonial Chair designed by Ole Wanscher in 1949

 

This is really a simple point about engineering in wood.

There are many factors that influenced modern Danish design and made the furniture of the period specific to the country and contributed to its success.

One key role was that of the cabinetmakers. Their work through the 1930s and 1940s and 1950s was not simply a matter of producing work of a high quality but their skills enabled designers to push materials - specifically their work with wood - in very new directions.

It was the close working relationship between the designers starting with Kaare Klint and his partnership with Rud. Rasmussen and then on of course through the collaboration between Hans Wegner with first Johannes Hansen and then the craftsmen of PP Møbler or Ole Wanscher working with A J Iversen or the work of Finn Juhl made by Niels Vodder.

This was not simply a matter of a maker realising a design: this was about being proud of a skill but having the confidence and the desire to push boundaries and that in fact was what was, essentially, at the heart of the apprenticeship and guild system … its DNA from the middle ages onwards. For cabinetmakers it was about taking the techniques of joining one piece of timber to another and adapting and improving and refining that, along with understanding what wood could and could not do, to make furniture that was, in terms of its mechanics viable.

It might seem inane or at best unnecessary to point out that, however beautiful or amazing the design looks, a chair fails, literally, if it collapses or if it is uncomfortable.

A chair by Finn Juhl shows the designer pushing the materials and the joiners skills to new limits. Other chairs by other designers from the classic period are more subtle but no less amazing. In the Colonial Chair by Ole Wanscher, designed in 1949, the turned posts of the back rest are just 30mm in diameter and the slats that support the cushion of the back rest are just 8mm thick and gently curved along a total length of 480mm but the slats are housed into the posts and the whole thing takes the weight of someone sitting in the chair and leaning back.

 

longer post and photographs of the Colonial Chair by Ole Wanscher

 

the paper cord seat of a Wishbone chair

 

The Y-stolen or Wishbone Chair was designed by Hans Wegner and has been produced by the Danish company Carl Hansen & Son since 1950.

The distinctive features of the design include the curved back rest then sweeps round into arm rests as a development of an earlier chair - the Chinese Chair - designed by Wegner and this is supported at the back by a thin Y-shaped splat that gives the chair its English name.

The seat is woven paper cord or Danish Paper Cord ... a material linked particularly with designs by Wegner but used by many designers in the classic period of modern Danish furniture through the 1950s and 1960s.

 

As on many chairs, the back of the seat is narrower than the front of the seat - which means that the sides rails are not parallel - then weaving the seat starts with extra turns of cord around the front rail. On the Wishbone Chair, the front seat rail is 41cm wide, between the front legs, while the distance between the back posts of the chair is just 34cm so there are ten initial turns around the front rail of the seat on each side with the eleventh taken straight back to the back rail hard into the angle against the back leg post to start the weave proper.

When the seat is completed this form of weaving creates the distinct open wedge shape at the outer ends of the front of the seat.

Taking the cord across and back, the weave forms the characteristic X on the top and on the underside that is rather like the X like you see on the back of many paper envelopes.

But the pattern of weaving on Wishbone Chairs is actually not as straightforward as it appears - a simple cord taken straight across and over and then returning on the underside - but forms three layers with the cords of the middle layer running at right angles to the direction of the cords on the top and the underside.

Wire staples are used at some points to keep tension tight at crucial stages of the work .

The weaver works from the outer rail inwards and joins in the cord are tied off with knots on the underside.

 
  1. the seat cords from above showing the intermediate layer of cords running across
  2. extra cords wound around the front seat rail to bring the first cord to run back square to the inner corner of the narrower back rail
  3. the extra turns of the first cord and the position of the side rail of the seat - set higher than the front rail - forms this distinctive triangular gap
  4. the cord around the front leg from below ... note the small metal staple holding the first cords in place
  5. in front of the splat of the back, there is a slot cut down through the back frame of the seat and the cords are taken across the seat, down the slot and then return back under the seat
  6. joins in separate lengths of cord are tied off with the knots on the underside
 

There is an earlier post about the Wishbone Chair with a more detailed description.

 

Lattice Chair by Hans Wegner 1942

chair photographed at the exhibition on the work of Hans Wegner at Designmuseum Danmark in 2014

This chair is a variation on the form of the Red Chair by Kaare Klint but lighter with turned legs - round rather than square in cross section - and a lighter shallower upholstered seat but as a whole, and given the quality of the craftsmanship and the exotic wood used, it must have been aimed at a fairly wealthy middle-class market.

read more

 

PP Møbler

detail of pp112 designed by Hans Wegner in 1978

 

 

In 1953 PP Møbler was founded in Allerød - a small town north Copenhagen - by the brothers Lars Peder and Ejnar Pedersen. The company started as traditional cabinetmakers …  the first chair made in the workshops was the Pot Chair - designed by Nanna and Jørgen Ditzel - that was produced by the upholstery company AP  Stolen but with PP Møbler subcontracted to make the frame.

Then they produced the frame for another important upholstered chair from AP Stolen - the Papa Bear Chair designed by Hans Wegner. He was impressed by the quality of the work - even though it was to be hidden by upholstery - and that was the beginning of one of the major partnerships in the history of modern Danish furniture.

The collaboration with Wegner was close … he challenged the cabinetmakers to think in new ways and they responded by not only developing new methods and techniques for bending and joining wood to realise the designs but they were also prepared to challenge and criticise and contribute suggestions in the development of his new designs.

In 1969 Wegner designed his first chair that was exclusively and specifically for the company - pp201 - and he encouraged PP Møbler to become an independent brand with their own products and their own sales department to sell furniture under their own name. He even designed a new company logo.

Circle Chair designed by Hand Wegner and produced by PP Møbler since 1986

 

Now PP Møbler also have the licences to produce earlier designs by Hans Wegner - with rights to make pieces originally produced by the cabinetmakers Johannes Hansen after they closed in 1990 - so they make some of the best-known chairs designed by Wegner including the Round Chair, the Minimal Chair, the Peacock Chair, Valet Chair and Tub Chair.

Ejnar Pedersen was certain that craftsmen had to have pride in their work so the company have remained traditional cabinetmakers. They have a huge respect for wood, retaining traditional methods of cutting and finishing but they are also aware of the need to develop and move forward although they make it clear that technology is not a substitute but should enhance “the craftsman's field of skills.”

They have developed computer-controlled milling machine for precision cutting and shaping - seen clearly on the Cow Horn Chair from 1952, with the two parts of the back joined by a comb in contrasting wood, and for the cutting and shaping and joins for the back of The Round Chair which are seen from every angle so even slight imperfections would be obvious.

Tub Chair pp530 designed by Hans Wegner in 1954

 

They produce a number of very complicated and demanding designs that tests the skills of the cabinetmakers ….  the Chinese Chair by Wegner pp66 from 1943 where the back is formed from a length of wood that has been compressed and then bent in three dimensions … the Tub Chair that has a double bent shell - one bent - one bent and twisted - the Peacock Chair designed in 1947 and the Flag Halyard Chair with a metal frame strung with rope designed in 1950.

PP Møbler have produced a prestigious group of experimental designs that pushed conventions include the bentwood chair by Poul Kjærholm from 1978.

Several chairs remained as prototypes for many years until the machines and techniques were developed including the machine that was necessary to make the hoop of wood for the Circle Halyard Chair designed in the 1960s but finally realised in 1986  and the Chinese Bench pp266 that was finally put into production in 1991 with the development of advanced pre-compressed and bending techniques.

PP Møbler

guide to the furniture of PP Møbler

 

This guide to the cabinetwork of PP Møbler was produced in 2016 and I was given a copy when I met their sales team at 3Daysof Design so I assume that it has been used mainly to promote the work of the company at trade fairs but is actually a well-written, general introduction to some of the best furniture made by cabinetmakers in Denmark.

It sets out a brief history of the company and discusses their work with different designers including Nanna Ditzel, Poul Kjærholm, Finn Juhl and Verner Panton but focuses on their important collaboration with Hans Wegner.

In a clear and straightforward way, it covers how timber for high-quality furniture is cut and prepared and how both traditional and new techniques are used together in the workshops to make the production of these major pieces possible and how new technology has been used to drive forward new designs and new approaches.

There is a useful introduction to the main species of timber they work with - oak, ash, maple and cherry - including a brief descriptions of grain and appearance and notes about how and why the different woods are used in the production of their furniture. The company has its own woodland and in this book they make some important points about the management of trees and about sustainability. When areas of woodland are felled and then replanted, a number of trees are left to protect new saplings. Those older and larger 'shelter tree' in a woodland have a longer growth period and when they, in turn, are felled, they are the source for much thicker planks - up to 5" thick - that are used for larger or more complex and important parts of chairs like the shaped backs. Pieces are cut to shape immediately the timber is delivered to the workshop but are then left for up to two years to condition. Complicated back and arm rests, that have to be made from several pieces that are joined, are cut from the same length of timber - as mirror shapes - so that colour and grain match across the back and for tables the leaves, for an individual table, are cut from the same tree for the same reason.

In the book there is a section or catalogue where each of the chairs has a short history of the design with an explanation of technical details that are specific or important to that piece. There are line drawings for each of their  chairs; easy chairs; chaise long; benches and a stool and tables or desks and there are even useful plans to show the arrangement of chairs around each of the tables with and without additional leaves.

Although relatively short, the book even covers maintenance of the furniture - explaining why certain finishes are applied with advice about how the wood can be cleaned and explains why a patina, developed over the years, is important as it makes each piece personal to the owner.

It is crucial that companies produce this sort of publication to engage customers but also, as schools cut back on teaching arts and crafts and as fewer people have the time or space to do woodwork themselves, it can't be assumed now that a potential buyer will know enough about wood and the techniques used in making furniture to understand why something was made in a certain way; see how a design reflects and respects the different characteristics of the trees used or understand why that has to be reflected in the price tag. Few buyers have the time or the inclination to become experts on cabinetmaking before they buy a chair but actually the more information they have then the more discerning they can be.

Books like this are also a way to give customers important information about sustainability. It may have been said by someone else somewhere else but there is a brilliant line in this book that I have not come across before … that a piece of furniture “should endure the time it takes for a new tree to grow.”

Much of this material and a good collection of photographs can also be found on the PP Møbler web site … including historic images of the workshops, images of the modern workshop equipment, with press photographs of the furniture produced and an explanation of techniques such as compression bending and the computer-programmed milling and cutting developed by the company.

PP Møbler

 
 
 

side by side

The Chair by Hans Wegner 1949

NV44 by Finn Juhl 1944

The Chair

Hans Wegner (1914-2007)
cabinetmakers Johannes Hansen, PP Møbler

now made in oak, ash, cherry or walnut
leather or cane

height: 76 cm
width: 63 cm
depth: 52 cm
height of seat: 44 cm

NV44

Finn Juhl (1912-1989)
cabinetmaker Niels Vodder

Cuban mahogany rosewood and leather

initially only 12 examples produced

height: 73 cm
width: 60 cm
depth: 52 cm
height of seat: 47 cm

 
 

Hans Wegner and Finn Juhl were almost the same age and The Chair, designed by Wegner, and the NV44, by Juhl, were designed and made a few years apart, in the late 1940s.

Both chairs are in wood, with a back rest in wood that is shaped and twisted to continue round into wood arm rests and both chairs are of a high quality - both made by highly-skilled cabinet makers - so, ostensibly, the chairs are of the same type.*

But clearly they are distinctly different - even if It is difficult to pin down and describe those differences - because once you have seen the chairs it would be difficult to mistake one for the other.

If you showed both chairs to someone who knows nothing about Danish design history and asked them to give a date to the chairs, my guess would be that some people, but relatively few, would suggest the 1940s. Many would see the chair by Juhl as more traditional or more old fashioned and might push its date back - back in the century or even wonder if it was older - whereas many would be surprised that the chair by Wegner is now nearly 70 years old and might hazard a guess for its date as being in the 1960s or possibly even more recent.

The NV44 by Finn Juhl is more sculptural, more dramatic - with a stronger sense of movement - so the back rail or back rest is shaped and twisted but there is a sense that the wood is still under tension and the arms are pulled outwards and the uprights are twisted out to support the arms to form a cup shape for the person sitting in the chair.

There are stretchers but not between the back and front legs - as in a conventional design - but, as they run from the back legs, they are tilted down and inwards to the centre of a deep stretcher between the front legs and that stretcher itself is curved but, surely, curved the wrong way because an arch supports and spreads weight, taking the load down and out to the ground, but a reverse arch, as here, creates the impression that the uprights are or could move together at the top. It creates a dynamic where the front of the seat itself seems almost as if it is slung between the front legs.

Obviously the arms and back rest on Wegner's design have also been cut to shape and twisted but, despite that manipulation, they seem natural and at rest. The legs of the chair are reduced down as much as possible by being tapered - that's why the Wegner chair is elegant - but the seat and the centre part of the leg, where the rails of the seat are joined, are strong enough and those joins, fixing the seat rail into the legs, are precisely cut and strong enough that stretchers were omitted completely.

The seat on Wegner's chair is slightly hollowed, to make it look and be more comfortable and it is wide and open - uncluttered - so it looks as if there is room to move around, however large you are, and the outward splay of the legs makes the chair, despite those elegant tapered legs, look stable, the chair standing square, calm and somehow self contained.

So is the chair by Juhl tense? If you prefer the chair designed by Finn Juhl then you might argue that the NV44 is more organic, voluptuous or sensual, and the lines and silhouette of the chair by Wegner not more pure but more mechanical.

 

Certainly the chairs could not have been more different commercially.

Finn Juhl was not concerned with commercial success or compromise and here one suspects that Niels Vodder, the cabinetmakers, had to work hard to realise the design. It was presumably the complexity and the cost of the work that explains why, initially, only 12 chairs were produced.

In contrast, it's known that Hans Wegner collaborated closely with the cabinetmakers who used their skill and their experience, as he himself said, "cutting the elements down to the bare essentials" so together, they produced a chair that is not just rational but, from that process of simplification, it meant that, if not exactly made on a factory production line, the chair could be produced in relatively large numbers. 

The NV44 by Juhl has much more conventional upholstery with the leather taken over the frame of the seat and that meant it needed a good upholsterer with real skill - look at the piping on the edge of the leather where it is taken around the uprights supporting the back and arms - and the work could only be done on the fully finished chair.

With the leather version of The Chair by Wegner, the leather seat and upholstery were over a separate frame that was dropped into place when the chair was assembled so seat and frame could be made independently.

But also the design of the frame of the seat on The Chair meant that it could be in cane … in fact the first chairs were all with cane seats and the leather covered version was introduced later.

That, in part, explains the success of The Chair which is still in production, made now by PP Møbler.

And it is not just the choice of seat because The Chair was one of the first chairs where the same design could be customised to take on a different character if the customer chose a different type of wood or different finishes for the wood so it takes on a different character in different settings. Not just a very beautiful chair but a bit of a chameleon.

 

note: *

ostensibly similar because in their classification of chair types at Designmuseum Danmark, the chair by Juhl is a Chinese Chair and Wegner's chair a Round Arm or Klismos Chair.

Dansk Møbelkunst gennem 40 År

40 years of Danish Furniture Design - The Copenhagen Cabinet-makers’ Guild Exhibitions

In four volumes: 1927-1936, 1937-1946, 1947-1956 and 1957-1966

Compiled and edited by Greta Jalk - first published in 1987 and republished by Lindhart og Ringhof in 2017

 
 

a living room and study with furniture by the cabinetmaker Andersen & Bohm that was shown at the exhibition in 1928

these volumes of Dansk Møbelkunst Gennem 40 År are so important because they record just how and how quickly the work of the cabinet makers changed through even the first years of the exhibitions

This is a major reference work - not just for the history of modern Danish furniture design and the design of homes but these volumes, compiled by Greta Jalk, are also a record of social history - recording much about how Danish families lived or wanted to live through that period of massive changes in the middle of the 20th century - and indicate much about Danish business and the way that Danish design, through this period, was marketed.

There is a forward and a general introduction but otherwise the volumes are set out year by year with contemporary photographs of the furniture shown at each exhibition, along with some technical drawings. There are images of the covers of the exhibition catalogues - themselves giving an insight into Danish typography and graphic design through this period - and quotations from contemporary reviews of the furniture.

By the 1920s a widespread economic Depression across Europe was having a marked effect on the independent furniture makers and on the furniture trade in Copenhagen and to compound the problem, there was a clear change in the way people were living, so a change in what furniture they needed, with a growing number of people living in smaller apartments in the large number of new apartment blocks that were being built around the city.

 
 

Trade and craft guilds from the medieval period onwards had been formed to oversee the training of apprentices and to protect craftsmen and their work in their own cities - guilds were based in cities and towns - and to monitor and where necessary restrict competition. Usually the guilds also provided support for widows and retired craftsmen. Through the 19th century, in major historic cities in Europe, these craft guilds began to loose their relevance as methods of production, of all sorts of goods from glassware to furniture, moved from small workshops that served a district or a town or a city to larger and larger factories. So it is ironic that Denmark, producing now some of the best and most highly regarded modern furniture, does so because it’s old craft guilds survived longer than elsewhere and fought back and in the process adapted and changed. 

So the first Cabinetmakers’ Exhibition in 1927 was organised as a way of demonstrating the skills of the furniture makers in the city and to bolster sales or, rather, to revive flagging sales.

From consecutive years an unusual idea … a square card table and chairs with sharply-curved backs set on an angle so when they were pushed in they form a scallop arrangement. The table and chairs shown in 1960 had been designed by Kaare Klint in 1935 and examples of the same design in mahogany were shown in 1946 and 1948. This version in rosewood was produced to commemorate the work of Klint who died in 1954. Svend Eriiksen wrote that “The tradition established by Klint is tenacious and durable. It will take vigorous effort to keep it alive” and the critic from Jyllands Posten wrote of this furniture that “they still stand out as some of the finest pieces to have been made in this country.”

Exhibitions were held in different venues but at an early stage room settings rather than simple display stands were built. Clearly, the aim was to show people, particularly young couples, how they might furnish a new home and they encouraged people to see furniture made by cabinetmakers as not just for the wealthy upper middle classes but as a sensible source for well-made furniture for a broad range of families.

In the second year, in 1928, there was a crucial change when cabinetmakers began to collaborate with architects and furniture was shown that had been designed by Viggo Sten Møller and Kay Gottlob and a sideboard was shown that was designed by Kaare Klint that was made by the cabinetmaker Otto Meyer. 

That set a pattern and - to use a pun deliberately - that set the bench mark for the next forty years. These partnerships established an important precedence where designs and styles evolved - not just through discussion amongst the cabinetmakers but year on year as a response to what the market wanted.

This room from 1944 included Chair NV44 designed by Finn Juhl and made by Niels Vodder. The side table is interesting with an integral hot plate to keep food warm. Reviews were critical - one pointed out that “The table was a new and interesting kind of extension table; but it seemed as if its design was not really related to that of the other furniture”  and another thought “the curved chairs are nice to look at and comfortable - but the cost of making it.”

 

Obviously, this furniture can not be completely representative of all furniture made through this period and nor was it all successful. Some cabinet makers were more adventurous than others … some produced amazing pieces of furniture that were not widely appreciated while other designs went on to achieve commercial success and some pieces are still produced and sold today.

The photographs and drawings in these volumes show how the way of life in the city for many changed through this period so, for instance, large cupboards for storing 12 or more place settings for formal dining disappear and tables and dining chairs become more compact. There were few beds shown - presumably for the simple reason that people don’t buy beds too often - but towards the later years there was quite a bit of furniture for the garden or balcony.

from 1962 bar stools in rosewood designed by Mary Beatrice Bloch and beds in teak designed by the Icelandic designer Gunnar Magnusson made by Christensen and Larsen. The sofa chairs and combined dinning table work table are also in teak, designed by Steffen Syrach-Larsen and made by the cabinetmaker Gustav Bertelsen & Co.

 

What you see, above all through these 40 years, is how the shapes and styles of chairs and tables and cupboards become simpler visually so superfluous decoration of any kind disappears. 

That is not to suggest that the furniture compromised quality by becoming more basic so cheaper to produce. Actually the opposite. As clear form and shape become more and more important then there is nowhere for shoddy workmanship to hide. If there was any extravagance or bravado it was through using more expensive imported timbers such as walnut or teak but there was always a focus on quality of workmanship to demonstrate mastery of woodworking techniques. 

Nor is that an implication that the cabinetmakers were defensive or protectionist or reactionary because many of the pieces shown at the exhibition involved new methods of construction that required new machines and jigs and new ways of working with wood - many of the most adventurous designs by Hans Wegner or Finn Juhl would have been impossible to make without new techniques for shaping, bending and joining wood. Furniture makers were moving from the workbench to the idea of the larger workshop or factory where larger numbers of each piece could be made so these exhibitions were less and less about the one-off commission, although those must have been welcome, but more and more about the establishment of an outward-looking and successful furniture industry. 

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Chair designed by Jørgen Høvelskov and made by the cabinetmaker J H Johansens was shown in 1966.

One critic wrote “…The purpose in exhibiting at the cabinetmakers’ furniture exhibition is either to show furniture of supreme quality or or to suggest future solutions by means of experiments. There are one or two examples of these experiments such as the chair designed by Jørgen Høvelskov and made by Henning Jensen. It is intended to be very simple with a frame threaded with heavy cord, but unfortunately the total impression is anything but simple. The chair seems confused and unfinished, and it is correspondingly uncomfortable.”

 

Chairs at Designmuseum Danmark

 
 

looking at chairs to left or right or above or below you can see how a shape or type of chair evolves or how a form can be re-interpreted in a different material

At Designmuseum Danmark there is a relatively new display of their collection of modern chairs where the chairs are arranged by type rather than by designer or by displaying the chairs in chronological order. 

The museum typography for their chairs is one good and clear way of putting the chairs into fairly distinct groups where each group is defined by a form or shape and by the style of a chair … the form of the chair, techniques of working with a material and details of construction and style, being closely interrelated.

Most of the chairs date from the 20th century and were made by Danish cabinetmakers or Danish manufacturers although several older chairs and some chairs from outside Denmark are included where they provide evidence for how or why or when a specific Danish design evolved or if they are relevant evidence from a specific or wider social or historic context.

Most of the chairs are made in wood but there are chairs in metal tube, metal wire and even plastic so there are interesting examples where closely-related designs - in terms of style and shape - can be seen in tube-metal alongside a version in bent-wood although obviously the techniques and the details of construction are very different.

The main groups, defined by the museum, are Folding chairs and stools; Easy chairs - so generally lower and wider chairs - and Windsor chairs - with vertical spindles across the back to support the top rail or, in taller chairs, a head rest. Chippendale chairs have a sturdy frame of square-set legs, usually with stretchers between the legs, and a relatively low back and when they have arms these are housed into the uprights of the back. There is a group derived from Shaker chairs, from America - often with horizontal slats across the back. Chinese chairs and steambent chairs, are similar to the Chippendale Chairs but are distinct in terms of the sitting position which is more upright and more formal and generally the top of the back rail sweeps round into arm rests as a single rather than separate pieces. Round arm chairs and Klismos chairs also have curved and relatively low back rests that continue round into arm rests - with The Chair by Hans Wegner perhaps the most famous Danish example. A Klismos or Klismos Chair is a distinct classical or Greek type with short curved back rest across the top of the back uprights that are usually tapered and splay out down to the floor in a curve. Shell chairs include chairs in moulded or shaped plywood, moulded plastic or metal with shapes that provide, usually in one piece, the support for the seat and back without a framework, and are usually on a separate frame of legs or on a pedestal, that can be made from a different material to the shell, although there are shell chairs where seat, back and support are all moulded. The final group are Cantilever chairs where normally there is a strong base on the floor and some form of support for the front of the seat but no legs or support under the back of the seat - an interesting but not a common type in Denmark. 

chair by PV Jensen Klint c1910

armchair by Kaare Klint 1922

JH505 the Cow Horn Chair by Hans Wegner 1952

Ant shell chair by Arne Jacobsen 1951

EKC12 in tubular steel by Poul Kjærholm 1962

PK15 by Poul Kjærholm 1978

all in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen

 

The study and analysis of chair designs from different periods has been an important part of the training for designers in Danish schools of architecture and schools of design for a century. 

In the 1920s, the architect Kaare Klint was responsible for the conversion and the fittings of the buildings of an 18th-century hospital to form an appropriate exhibition space for the museum of Danish design - then called the Kunstindustrimuseet Danmark which emphasised the close relationship between design and production. Klint taught design in the museum where he encouraged architects and furniture designers to study and draw historic pieces and to study and appreciate cabinet making techniques even if most were not craftsmen themselves.

This division of chair types in the design museum is different from the groups set out by Nicolai de Gier and Stine Liv Buur in their important book Chairs' Tectonics where primary divisions are by material and then by the form and structure … so they look specifically at how the seat, back rest and support or legs are joined or fixed together and take that as the starting point for their classification of chair types.

Designer: Boris Berlin of ISKOS-BERLIN Copenhagen

Curator: Christian Holmsted Olesen.
Graphic design: Rasmus Koch Studio.
Light design: Jørgen Kjær/Cowi Light Design and Adalsteinn Stefansson.
Graphic design: Rasmus Koch Studio.

 

note:

this was posted initially on the 2 October but has been moved up to make a more-sensible introduction to the series of posts about chairs that were posted through October. The chairs were selected because they are important examples from major Danish designers but they also cover all the types of chair in the design museum typology.

These posts on chairs are also an experiment for this site in trying to present more photographs and slightly more information than is normal in a blog to highlight and analyse key features of each design. 

Selecting the category a Danish chair will take you to all the posts in the sequence in which they were posted and there is also a new time line to form an index to these posts: