Spanish Chair by Børge Mogensen 1958

photograph taken at the showroom of Fredericia in Copenhagen

 

Børge Mogensen - the zebra skin and the wall hanging suggest that the photograph was taken in 1958 on the exhibition stand of the cabinetmaker Erhard Rasmussen at Kunstindustrimusset

 

designed by Børge Mogensen in 1958
shown by Erhard Rasmussen at the Cabinetmakers’ Guild Exhibition at Kunstindustrimuseet in Copenhagen in 1958

made by Fredericia

height: 67 cm
width: 82.5 cm
depth: 60 cm
height of seat: 33 cm

The Spanish Chair designed by Børge Mogensen was first shown in September and October 1958 at the Cabinetmakers’ Guild Exhibition at Kunstindutrimuseet in Copenhagen - now called Designmuseum Danmark. Produced by the Danish furniture company Fredericia - they are now celebrating its 60th anniversary.

The chair was shown in an interesting room setting along with a very large sofa upholstered in a giant check that was said to be large enough to sleep three and there was a zebra skin on the floor and models of yacht hulls across the wall … all with the title “furniture for a country house.”

They were described by the critic Johan Møller Nielsen as -

“the chair and couch for the consummate idler! It is hardly possible to make furniture more expensive than this. The whole interior is wonderful to look at and to to be in, and it would be well suited to be exhibited in one of the rooms of the ‘Louisiana’ museum of modern art as an example of the best furniture design of our age. But it is of no value whatsoever to the average citizen …”

Louisiana - just up the coast from the city - had only opened that August.

Even reading the criticism several times, and having typed it out, it’s not clear if this is praise or criticism.

Of course, it’s ironic that Børge Mogensen, is being damned here, apparently, for designing furniture that the average citizen could not afford, because he was and is best known not just as one of the great designers of his generation but through the 1940s as the head of design for FDB - the Danish Coop - when they produced well-designed modern furniture of a high quality and at the lowest price possible.

For the exhibition in 1958 the set of Spanish chairs were made by the cabinetmaker Erhard Rasmussen but the design was then produced by the Danish furniture company Fredericia who still make the chair.

To mark the anniversary of the Spanish Chair, Fredericia have relaunched the dining chairs, with and without arms, that were designed in 1964 that have the same form of set and back rest with leather stretched across the frame and held in place with large buckles.

Fredericia

Chair by Børge Mogensen 1949

As with the almost contemporary FH1936 chair by Hans Wegner - this chair has an elegant frame in wood that forms a base for the plywood back … here with a back in relatively thin plywood that was cut to shape and sections were  cut out so that the back could be bent round to a more pronounced curve and then held in place with tabs that are glued down into slots in the seat.

Faced in cherry, this was not cheap plywood but presumably it was presented at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition to prove that plywood was an appropriate material for more expensive furniture.

designed by Børge Mogensen (1914-1972)
made by Erhard Rasmussen

shown at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1949

cherry and teak

height: 75 cm
width: 47 cm
depth: 54 cm
height of seat: 39 cm

 

an everyday chair

These chairs were designed by the Copenhagen City Architect's Office, about 1930, for use in school offices.

They are not exactly what would have been found in a kitchen in Vesterbro or at a table in an apartment in Islands Brygge but they are pine and they are painted and the designs are straightforward with a simple arrangement of stretchers to strengthen the framework of the legs and simple plain wood back rests that are either fixed across or fixed between the uprights of the back.

Dining table and chairs in birch designed by Viggo Sten Møller and made by Adolf Jørgensen for the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1929. The setting had a P.H. lamp over the table.

 

 
 

Over the last month or so, posts here have focused on a number of chairs from the 20th century that are design classics and all, in different ways, examples of new styles or examples of experiments with new forms and new manufacturing techniques. However, the problem is, this gives an impression that every Danish chair represents a point in time on a rapid, inevitable and ongoing progression of design innovations.

But if you look at photographs of homes from the 20th century or even photographs from the annual exhibition of the Cabinetmakers' Guild Furniture exhibitions that were held from 1927 through to 1966 - where craftsmen were actually competing to produce the latest and the best - you see a good number of strangely old-fashioned chairs and much of the best modern furniture was produced in small quantities or, in some cases, made only when commissioned and many of the designs would have been considered expensive, even at the time, so well beyond the budget of an ordinary working family.

Of course, for offices and schools and factories - let alone for ordinary families in ordinary homes in new apartments in the city in the 1920s and 1930s and 1940s - and then on through the period of so-called classic Danish furniture in the 1950s and 1960s - Denmark actually had to produce ordinary chairs or, at least, chairs that were designed and made to be robust and affordable rather than being primarily award winning, memorable or collectable.

So part of the story of the development of modern design in Denmark is the story of designers trying to produce ordinary chairs that were well designed and well made.

One reason - perhaps the main reason - for the annual exhibition of the work of cabinetmakers was so that these craftsmen could show they could compete with the emerging furniture factories, so proposals from cabinetmakers were  "submitted for both cheap and somewhat more expensive furniture" for the exhibition.

For the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1929 Viggo Sten Møller and Hans Hansen designed furniture for a two-room apartment with a compact dining tables and chairs made by Adolf Jørgensen.

In 1932 Møller became the editor of the trade journal Nyt Tidsskrift for Kunstindustri and alongside technical articles he introduced pieces on colour schemes, lighting and textiles and from the architect Marinus Andersen he commissioned an article about furnishing a small apartment for a couple about to get married.

The cabinetmakers began to introduce a broader range of furniture so pieces specifically for children or in 1939 designs for a study for a student designed by Børge Mogensen and Aage Windeleff. In the exhibition in 1962 there was even a large kitchen designed Henning Jensen and Hanne and Torben Valeur that was made by Christensen & Larsen although it was clear that this would have been an exceptional and expensive project … so hardly a flat-pack job.

But it was not just cabinetmakers who were trying to improve the design of furniture that could be sold at a reasonable price. Around 1930, Magnus L Stephensen was asked to furnish two test apartments for a public housing scheme at Ryparken, designed by Povl Baumann, that was based on a budget that was realistic for a young working family but he found only one factory and one traditional workshop in the city who could provide furniture he considered good enough within that budget.

Dan-stol (left) from 1930 by Søren Hansen the grandson of the founder of Fritz Hansen

Bentwood chair model 234 (above) from Fritz Hansen by Magnus Stephensen (1903-1984)

 

Magnus Stephensen produced designs for the furniture makers Fritz Hansen.

Perhaps the first factory chair and, in some ways, one of the most popular everyday chair (in terms of the numbers produced) was the Café Chair in bent wood from the Viennese manufacturer Thonet that was designed in the middle of the 19th century. Methods of steam bending wood, rather like the development of plywood, had not been common in Denmark but from the 1920s Fritz Hansen realised the potential of both. The grandson of the founder of the Fritz Hansen designed a Dan-stole for the company in 1930 - a rationalisation and simplification of the Café Chair - and then Magnus Stephensen designed the chair Model 234 that combined a bent-wood frame with a more comfortable shaped and curved back rest in thin wood. DAN was a general term used for these chairs in steam-bent beech.

Co-op Denmark started to manufacture high quality but inexpensive furniture in 1940 with the architect and planner Steen Eiler Rasmussen providing advice as a consultant. He had curated an exhibition of applied art in 1932 to look at well-designed everyday objects. 

 

Chairs and a dining table designed by Børge Mogensen and made by the cabinetmaker Erhard Rasmussen in pear wood for the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1944. Very simple square frame with upholstered pad for seat and simple curve of thin wood for back support presumably screwed to back uprights with plugs over the fixing in contrasting wood. But note that the back supports are curved in section so not actually that basic and because the legs are relatively thin in section then tere are stretchers to strengthen the frame but, rather unusual, to front and back but not to the sides between the front and back legs.

 

Børge Mogensen was appointed to be head of the design department at FDB Møbler (Fællesforeningen for Danmarks Brugsforeninger or Commonwealth of Danish Confederations of Users …  part of the Danish COOP) and in 1944 he furnished a test apartment in their store on Frederiksborggade in Copenhagen. In the sitting room there was a pine table, an Ercol style chair and a version of an English Windsor Chair at a desk that was a wall unit with a front flap that dropped down as a surface for writing at and on the floor their was simple rush matting.

Rasmussen published an article in the magazine Andelsbladet to explain the work of this better furniture campaign. The apartment in the store had "realistic rooms and floors, walls, ceilings, doors and windows - all with the dimensions that are found in ordinary little homes." … and it was described as a 'housing laboratory.'

"The new furniture is so ordinary and direct that one would almost believe it had made itself. But this is a virtue. It is not seductive and overwhelming like the pieces we see in advertisements, but then there is also hope that people will not grow tired of them in the long run."

Several well known or established designers in that classic period - through the 1950s and 1960s - produced chairs that were priced for an ordinary buyer … so Hans Wegner, Poul Volther, Mogens Koch, Jørgen Bækmark along with Børge Mogensen all designed chairs for FDB Møbler.

 

J39 / Folkestolen / People's Chair designed in 1947 for FDB by Børge Mogensen

 

Now all the major design and furniture companies have a range of basic or straightforward but well-made chairs and the launch of a new chair can be a major event and some companies produce major classics designed in the 1950s and 1960s where the price can be kept low by the rationalisation of manufacturing methods or simply by the scale of production and making it possible to have a choice from dozens and dozens of different well-designed chairs that are well made and reasonably priced.

J48 designed by Poul Volther for FDB Møbler and still made for the Danish Coop. This is a good everyday chair but is also a sort of cross-over design inspired by simple country furniture but given a real sense of modern style with a choice of strong colours.

chair made in Copenhagen by Søren Ulrich … the style is reminiscent of chairs from the 1930s and 1940s and would be a good choice for a kitchen table or small dining room and appropriate for one of the apartments in the city dating from the early 20th century

 

the Red Chair type

 

Chippendale stole / Chippendale chairs

If asked to name an important early modern Danish chair, many people would probably suggest Chair 7 by Arne Jacobsen or possibly a chair by Poul Kjærholm. Probably no one would think of the Red Chair designed by Kaare Klint in the 1920s as the first truly modern Danish chair but surely that would be a valid claim? 

Now, of course, the Red Chair seems old-fashioned and slightly boring for current taste … so perhaps it appears to be in a bit of a design cul-de-sac … but through the 1930s and 1940s it was a common and popular type of chair.

It was the first chair where what we would recognise as 'modern' ideas of simplicity and structural clarity were essential to the design … by that I mean that Kaare Klint analysed what he considered to be the core requirements for a chair - worked out how that could be made and tried to express that rational approach in how the chair looked and he stripped away any unnecessary decoration. Essentially the idea of form following function and material.

Part of the problem for us now is that then he took the example of an 18th-century English design as his starting point and in part it is difficult to appreciate chairs of this type because, for modern tastes, they appear to be worthy but rather boring … possibly more suited now and possibly even then to an office or institution than to a home.

In fact the chair was designed for the design museum in 1927 and then in 1930 Klint produced a version of the chair with upholstered arms for the office of the Prime Minister Thorvald Stauning with a set of four smaller chairs for the Prime Minister's staff and a set of 12 chairs for his conference room.

A version of the Red Chair for the Thorvaldsen Museum were also produced by the same cabinet maker - Rud. Rasmussen - that was lighter, with cane seat and back, and for an office on Nørre Voldgade that was designed by Povl Baumann, Kaare Klint designed a chair that was a variation on the Red Chair with a front to the seat that is bowed out. It was a style of chair that went with the slightly severe classic revival taste of some architecture of the period.

So the Red Chair type was well designed , well made and sensible, strong - serious. Solicitors and bank managers in England in the 1950s and 1960s sat on chairs like this. After graduating - working first for the University of London and then for the Civil Service - I sat at a desk on chairs that were a variation of this … chairs with straight wood legs, side and cross stretchers, upholstered leather seat, wooden arms, one with a padded leather back rest and the other with a series of thin wood slats across the back. So it was a good chair for offices and serious public buildings.

the chair designed by Klint for the office of Prime Minister Thorvald Stauning

 

But it was also obvious that this style of chair, even if it was a little formal, had a place in a home.

In the first exhibition of the Cabinetmakers in 1927 there was a room setting with furniture by the cabinetmaker Anny Berntsen & Co. The dining chairs were relatively simple but well proportioned and well made in oak with upholstered square seats that tapered towards the narrower back and the back legs were curved out backwards and tapered so smaller in cross section at the floor than where the rails of the seat are joined. The back legs continued up to support a large square back rest with a gap between the seat and the back, where the frame is exposed, and the back was slightly wider than the uprights and rounded at the top corners so a variation on the Red Chair.

The dining table shown with those chairs was square and compact but appears to have had leaves so it could be extended and it looks as if the furniture, even at this early stage, was designed for a relatively small apartment.

A similar, rather restrained design of chair in elm was shown by Henrik Wörts in 1928.

At the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1929 there was another square table with straight, vertical - so un-tapered - legs and chairs in birch designed by Viggo Sten Møller and made by Jens Peter Jensen.  The chairs have straight legs but with stretchers only at each side - so not across the back or across the centre under the seat - and the back legs above the seat were tapered and angled back at the top to support a narrower back rest - so not as deep top to bottom as on the Red Chair.

These were shown in the room setting as a dining alcove and alongside a double wardrobe, and with a neat low book case on legs with shelves and a day bed with deep drawers underneath - so again the implication is that this furniture was designed for a small apartment. A drawing of the wardrobe shows hanging space on one side, with a hat shelf at the top, and the other half is divided by shelves but the drawing shows tableware and household linen on the shelves which suggest it might even have been for a single room apartment.* It would seem that Møller was suggesting that this good, well-made furniture was appropriate for even the smallest modern home.

this chair by Kaare Klint and made by Rud. Rasmussen was shown at the 1930 Cabinetmakers' Exhibition with a dining table designed by Rigmor Andersen

Another version was shown at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1930 along with a low cabinet on a stand with sliding doors with a series of deep shelves designed to take a large table setting of china and glassware.

And, in the exhibition in 1932, almost the same shape of chair by Jacob Kjær in Cuban mahogany was shown but possibly because the wood was exotic and expensive the upholstered back rest was replaced by a cross rail just above the seat and a straight top rail with four simple vertical rails grouped in the centre but this is basically the same shape and form and style of chair.

 

dining table and chairs designed by O Mølgaard-Nielsen and made by the cabinetmaker Jacob Kjær - shown at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1933

A version of the Red Chair was shown in 1933 with a set of furniture designed by Orla Mølgaard-Nielsen and described as appropriate for a three-room bungalow and a reviewer comments that the design owes much to Klint. What is interesting is that in that review of the furniture it was described as compact but the cupboard was designed to store china, glass and table linen with four sections with doors, two above two, but inside shallow trays on runners held table settings for twelve people. It implies that although the furniture was designed for a relatively modest home, the owners would probably want to be able to feed twelve people with a full set of matching china and tableware that was otherwise stored away in a well-designed piece of furniture.

All this shows that architects and the cabinet makers certainly did not see the Red Chair type as primarily an office or museum chair and by the 1940s the chair was being made in more exotic wood for middle-class buyers and was being made to look lighter and more modern.

At the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1941 there were a surprisingly large number of exhibitors and Børge Morgensen showed furniture in cherry wood that was made by the cabinetmaker Erbard Rasmussen for a two-room apartment.

A review by a journalist from Berlingske was not particularly kind:

“The furniture for the two-room flat with a kitchen-dining room, seems to have been made for dolls, a little too fragile for full-grown adults, but the style is very nice, clean and sober. It is reasonable to assume that the personal touch will be added by the young people themselves.”

The bedroom furniture for the exhibition apartment was by Kay Gottlob.

A chair by Henrik Wörts with cane back was shown at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1943 and the Red Chair type appears at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition through into the 1960s … in 1961 a chair by Gunnar Magnussen and made by Søren Horn was shown which had a cane seat and back and side stretchers and a central cross rail below the seat but by then the next generation of architects and designers were prominent and the Red Chair style became less and less  popular.

furniture for a two-room apartment designed by Børge Mogensen - made by Erhard Rasmussen and shown at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1941

 

At the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1941 there were a surprisingly large number of exhibitors and Børge Morgensen showed furniture in cherry wood that was made by the cabinetmaker Erbard Rasmussen for a two-room apartment.

A review by a journalist from Berlingske was not particularly kind:

“The furniture for the two-room flat with a kitchen-dining room, seems to have been made for dolls, a little too fragile for full-grown adults, but the style is very nice, clean and sober. It is reasonable to assume that the personal touch will be added by the young people themselves.”

The bedroom furniture for the exhibition apartment was by Kay Gottlob.

A chair by Henrik Wörts with cane back was shown at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1943 and the Red Chair type appears at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition through into the 1960s … in 1961 a chair by Gunnar Magnussen and made by Søren Horn was shown which had a cane seat and back and side stretchers and a central cross rail below the seat but by then the next generation of architects and designers were prominent and the Red Chair style became less and less  popular.

 

 

note:

* In Copenhagen the normal way to describe an apartment is without including the kitchen or the bathroom in the number of rooms … so a one-room apartment in the 1920s had a kitchen plus one room that combined living room and bedroom and there might have been a toilet or separate bathroom but in smaller and older apartments toilets might have been out on a landing or outside and shared and baths might have been at a communal bath house. A two room apartment would have had a living room and a separate bedroom plus a kitchen and probably a bathroom.

chair in Cuban mahogany designed by Erik Wörts. Made by the cabinetmaker Henrik Wörts, it was shown in the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition of 1943

 

Arm Chair by Børge Mogensen and Lis Ahlmann 1941

 

Through the 1930s and well into the 1940s furniture designers produced chairs that took as a starting point the square set frame of legs and stretchers and upholstered seat and back of the Chippendale type or 'Red Chair' type by Kaare Klint.

This example by Børge Mogensen and Lis Ahlmann dates from 1941 shows that, although more organic and rounded forms of chair by Finn Juhl or Hans Wegner dominate our view of post-war Danish chair design, this more traditional chair type has  a distinct place in the evolution of modern Danish chair design.

read more

 

Fredericia

Barbry Stool by Aurelien Barbry

 

The Danish furniture company Fredericia have moved from Frederiksborggade in Copenhagen to an extensive and impressive new space in Løvstræde where they are on the upper floors of the recently restored old post office building. There are large, well-lit spaces for displaying the furniture and, from the upper level, amazing views over the roof scape of the old city.

read more

 

school ply

Plywood is light but strong; is easily cut and shaped using traditional wood-work tools and can be used with large-scale, production-line factory methods for manufacture … so, in other words, it does not require a cabinet maker at a work bench. Plywood can be stained and varnished or painted so it is relatively robust and in theory can be sanded down, edges smoothed, and a new finish applied so, all in all, for half a century it was seen as an ideal material for school furniture.

Of course for several decades the bright colours, wipe-clean surfaces and the fun shapes that are possible, with smooth corners and no splinters, has made moulded plastic furniture a popular choice for nursery-school furniture and mdf is now ubiquitous for table tops but presumably plywood could become popular again as it is seen as having the added benefit of being a natural and sustainable material.

 

 

The metal-framed desk and chair were designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1955 for Munkegård School. The desk top with its distinct fold under shape to create a lower shelf for spare books, bags and lunch, has a top surface that is laminated with linoleum. The chair is a scaled down version of the Series 7 design.

The wooden desk with two chairs dates from 1962 and was designed for a school in Mols by Børge Mogensen for Munch Møbler. The desk and chair frames are in beech and the desk top in blockboard - stronger but heavier than plywood - but the chair seat is shaped plywood. Note the fantastic photograph that shows how different sizes of chair and desk could provide furniture for children through their whole time at a school.

 

 

Both sets of school furniture are in the current exhibition - Century of the Child - at Designmuseum Danmark. The exhibition continues until 30 August 2015.

furniture from Denmark in the 1950s and 1960s: Part 2

Spanish Chair by Børge Mogensen designed in 1958                  PK 22 by Poul Kjærholm designed in 1956

Three of the major furniture designers working after the War were the same age: Finn Juhl was born in 1912 and Børge Mogensen and Hans Wegner were exact contemporaries, both being born in 1914.

For an initial assessment of the furniture designed by Finn Juhl see the earlier posts below. 

Like Jacobsen, Børge Mogensen trained at the Department of Furniture Design. His Spanish Chair, designed in 1958, can be seen to have some characteristics in common with work by Juhl. For inspiration they both looked at designs that were clearly not Danish in origin and they both rethought the way that seats and back cushions in chairs were supported.

Mogensen’s Sofa, designed in 1962, is possibly his most popular piece and is still in production and has been much copied.

Sofa by Mogensen 

Mogensen died in 1972 but Hans Wegner had a long working life - and died in 2007. 

Wegner's Wishbone Chair, designed in 1950, is still in production through the company Carl Hansen and has seen a major rise in popularity in the last few years. It is typical of designs by Wegner, exploiting fully the potential of combining high-quality timber and the strength of carefully-made joints to make the chair strong but light. Here the back legs are carried up and curved forward above the seat to support the back rail and the side rails, linking the front and back legs, more usually round or at most tapered are here flattened to a narrow flattened oval to reduce the size of the tenon going into the leg so that the legs could be made thinner without weakening the joint.

The "Wishbone" Chair by Hans Wegner

Wegner had a fertile imagination and produced designs inspired by oriental or antique forms such as his Chinese Chair but, whatever the source of the idea at the start of the design process, furniture by Wegner is distinctly his own and his designs form an incredible and large body of work where you can see him returning again and again to ideas, shapes or technical details in the construction to refine or redefine them.

In contrast, the work of Poul Kjærholm could only be of the 20th Century. Born in 1929, he was the youngest of the group and with is death in 1980, had one of the shortest careers.

His furniture has a visual lightness, probably in reaction to the forms of furniture by designers like Finn Juhl, and he uses steel rather than wood to produce rectilinear but elegant forms - in part, in reaction to the curves and lines of chairs by Wegner and Borgensen. He aimed for a simplicity and a perfection that also takes his work leagues away from the earlier German and French experiments with metal for domestic furniture where they used tubular steel, usually with a chrome finish. Mogens Lassen had designed a chair in 1933 with a frame made from chromed metal tubing with a cane seat and back that owes much to the famous cantilevered chair designed by the German architect Mies van der Rohe but my general feeling is that neither this more-industrial form of construction nor the bentwood frames of the Thonet type of chair from Austria and Czechoslovakia,  popular in many parts of Europe from the mid 19th Century, were actually considered to be comfortable enough or appropriate in Denmark.

The PK22 designed by Kjærholm in 1956 owes a little to the Barcelona Chair designed by the German architect Mies Van der Rohe in 1929 but is much more elegant and much less monumental in its bulk. It is still produced with either a natural leather finish or with whicker for the seat and back.

All these Danish designers working in the 1950s and 1960s explored technical construction, either to make legs thinner but stronger or to remove the outer support for arms without them snapping when under the stress of people rising from the chair. They also experimented with upholstery to provide support for the body in different situations. Several of the designers produced folding chairs with wood frames and leather or canvas seats and backs.

They also responded to a very clear desire for change after the Second World War - a period marked by growing prosperity and new upward social mobility in western Europe. There was a general feeling that people wanted new homes and new styles for furnishing and decorating those homes. This was not furniture exclusively marketed for an established middle class - Co-op Denmark started producing inexpensive but well-made furniture in the 1940s and commissioned designs from major designers.

This was the period when pre-war attempts at mass production in factories rather than the production of small numbers of each design in cabinetmakers’ workshops became ubiquitous; a period when the importance of good design for industrial products was recognised and promoted to a much wider market ... it was a period when adverts with ever more sophisticated photographs appear in an increasingly large number of glossy magazines aimed at women. There was a wider interest in design and marketing became more and more important.

With the growing importance of the export market, this was also the first time that Danish designers produced furniture that could be dismantled or broken down to be packed for transport. Perhaps that might now be seen as one innovation too many!