the danish chair - an international affair

 

chairs in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark in the display that was designed by Boris Berlin and completed in 2016

Designmuseum Danmark have just published a book about chairs in the collection of the museum. Most of the chairs are from the 20th century and most are Danish although there are several chairs that were made in the 19th century -  an English Windsor Chair, an American Shaker Chair and Chinese chairs - that have been included because their forms of construction influenced Danish designs - and there are some modern international designs including chairs from England, Italy, Austria, Germany and the USA that help to set the Danish furniture in a wider context.

Essentially, the book takes the form of a catalogue with separate entries for nine stools and for 104 chairs with each on a double-page spread although for 31 of these the entries continue over to a second double-page that is used for historic photographs of the chair or for reproductions of working drawings.

Descriptions for each chair are succinct with most of the entries just over a hundred words although several are shorter and only two of the chairs have a text that goes into a second paragraph.

This certainly gives the book a clear and tight discipline.

Because this is not a continuous narrative text, it reads more like good museum labels and that is appropriate as the book accompanies a new gallery for the collection of chairs in the museum that was designed by Boris Berlin and completed in 2016.

With a relatively unusual format - the book is 150 mm wide and 270 mm high - the initial impression is that this is a handbook or even a pocket guide but at 32 mm thick and printed on heavy, good-quality paper this is a hefty book so would need a large pocket.

Although it is tall and narrow,  the double spread of facing pages gives a good and attractive square format. My only criticism of the book is that several interesting historic photographs and illustrations that have been placed across two pages are broken and distorted by a tight gutter.

Christian Holmsted Olesen, the author of the book, is a curator at the museum and wrote a seminal book on the work of the Danish furniture designer Hans Wegner - Wegner - just one good chair that was published as the main catalogue for an exhibition at Designmuseum Danmark in 2014. His introduction here is short but wide ranging and puts chair design in the much wider context of Danish design in the 20th century.

His aim is to show "how the so-called Golden Age of Danish furniture design was shaped by the study and refinement of historical furniture types," so the chairs in the book are not presented chronologically or by country but grouped by type … by form of construction. Types here are slightly different from the categorisation of form types in the museum gallery - presumably to be less specifically Danish and slightly more obvious for the foreign reader. The most straightforward change is that Shaker chairs, Chinese chairs and steam-bent chairs and the Klismos type of chair and Round Arm chairs - all types specified in the museum display - have been re-arranged in the book and those groups given new names. There is a new category for "Peasant chairs" - here including the influential Shaker chair from the collection and the well-known Church Chair by Kaare Klint and the People's Chair by Børge Mogensen - and the rest are divided between Bentwood chairs and Frame chairs.

In the book the categories for form or type are:

Folding stools and chairs
Low easy chairs
Peasant chairs
Bentwood chairs
Frame chairs
English chairs
Windsor chairs
Shell chairs
Cantilever chairs

Each section is prefaced by a list of the specific chairs of that type or of that form along with the useful outline sketches that were developed for information panels in the exhibition.

The book concludes with profiles of nine prominent and influential Danish designers …. Kaare Klint, Mogens Koch, Ole Wanscher, Børge Mogensen, Hans Wegner, Finn Juhl, Arne Jacobsen, Poul Kjærholm and Verner Panton.

Again, these are short accounts but authoritative - presumably for the general reader who wants more information for context - and finally there is a short but again useful list of recommended books for finding out more.

review of the museum chairs

The Danish Chair an international affair
by Christian Holmsted Olesen
Designmuseum Danmark with Strandberg Publishing 2018

layout and cover design: Rasmus Koch Studio

  

Designmuseum Danmark
Strandberg Publishing
Rasmus Koch Studio

Pictograms used in the introduction to the exhibition for a diagram of the types of chair and to represent the specific chairs in each type are used here as stylish end papers to the book and then as a quick-reference index at the start of the section on a type or form of chair … here Low easy chairs. Most chairs have a double page spread - so here the Windsor Chair by Ole Wanscher from 1942.

There are historic drawings for some chairs - here the Y or Wishbone Chair by Hans Wegner and historic photographs including the assembly hall of Kvinderegensen in Copenhagen - the university hall of residence for women with the chair designed by Rigmor Andersen in 1931.

The last section of the book has short accounts of the lives and the training and work of nine designers “who shaped their field.”

 

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 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.

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Karmstol by Edvard Thomsen 1930

This chair, designed in 1930 by Edvard Thomsen (1884-1980) is interesting because it has features that suggest that its design is transitional … in part looking back to the style of older chairs that were an interpretation of classical forms and historic styles but in part the chair incorporates modern ideas and modern joinery.

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chair by Edvard Thomsen in Designmuseum Danmark

the Shaker rocking chair in the collection at Designmuseum Danmark

 

Designmuseum Danmark gives this rocking chair from the United States a prominent place in the introduction at the entrance to their gallery of modern Danish chairs and so, by implication, an important place in the story of Danish furniture in the second half of the 20th century. There are obvious links with the style and form of chairs designed by Ole Wanscher, Hans Wegner and Børge Mogensen and others in the 1940s and 1950s but I did not appreciate the complicated history of this chair or understand its direct influence until I read the account set out by Gorm Harkær in his monograph on Kaare Klint that was published in 2010.

In 1919 Kaare Klint took over the teaching of technical drawing for cabinetmakers at the Technical Society's school. His approach to furniture design was clearly set out in his programme where he states that the school "will not try to teach you to perform so-called beautiful specious Drawings where the whole room is reflected in the Furniture Polish: we will try to teach you to draw accurate and realistic line drawings. We will not try to teach you to draw Artworks in different Styles, but try to show you the beauty that lies in the perfect simple Design and Usability."

 
RP00074A.jpg

In the collection of Designmuseum Danmark but not currently on display… copy of a Shaker rocking chair made in beech by Rud. Rasmussen in 1942. The catalogue entry RP00074 gives the designer as Kaare Klint. Note the elongated vase-shaped turning at the top of the front legs above the seat that copies the form of the chair owned by Einar Utzon-Frank and drawn by O Brøndum Christensen in 1927 rather than the pronounced taper or thinning down of the upper part of the front leg on the Shaker chair purchased by the museum in 1935

In 1924 Klint was appointed an assistant professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, in the newly-established Department of Furniture Design, where, again, he emphasised the importance of measuring and drawing good examples of historic furniture and that took up much of the first year of the course. In 1927 Klint described these drawings as "the beginning of an archive of furniture studies." *

The Department of Furniture Design was based in the Danish Museum of Art & Design - now Designmuseum Danmark - and students made carefully-measured drawings of a number of key pieces in the collection including a chair by the 18th-century English furniture maker Thomas Chippendale which then formed a starting point for the design of several modern chairs.

The Danish sculptor Einar Utzon-Frank, who also taught at the Royal Academy, owned a rocking chair that was described as "in the American Colonial style" and that chair was surveyed in 1927 by O Brøndum Christensen. A precisely-measured drawing of a Shaker chair at a scale of 1:5 and photographs taken of the chair in 1928 survive. **

Then, in 1935, in an auction, the museum bought this Shaker Rocking chair, very close to the form of the chair owned by Utzon-Frank and it was recorded in the acquisition index as A32/1935 where it is described as a shawl-back rocker with a cushion rail … that is the thin turned, slightly curved bar that runs across the back at the top of the back posts of the back rest of the chair.

In 1937 Edward and Faith Andrews published Shaker Furniture and, after a copy of that book was acquired by the museum library in 1941, it appears that Kaare Klint began a correspondence with American museums about Shaker furniture. ***

The following year, in 1942, Rud. Rasmussens Snedkerier - the cabinetmakers who worked closely with Kaare Klint and made much of the furniture that he designed - made a copy of the Utzon-Frank chair. They appear to have used the survey drawing by O Brøndum Christensen because the upper part of the front legs of the Rud. Rasmussen chair - with an elongated, turned, baluster shape above the seat rail - matches the Utzon-Frank chair rather than the chair owned by the museum that has long, elegant tapering or thinning down of the front leg between the seat rail and where it is housed into the underside of the arm rest.

Also in 1942, Kaare Klint produced designs for a number of chairs in a Shaker-style for FDB - the Danish Co-op - who had just set up a new office for furniture design. Two chairs, one with arms and one without, given the numbers J20 and J21, were made as prototypes by Fritz Hansen Eftf although in the end they were not put into production. ****

the chair designed for FDB - photographed in the exhibition on the work of Kaare Klint at Designmuseum Danmanrk

 

The original rocking chairs were made in workshops at one of the Shaker communities in America and, from their design, probably at Mount Lebanon where the settlement had been established in 1787 and continued right through until 1947. The religious movement of the Shakers had originated in England but many of the group emigrated to America from the north west - particularly from Lancashire - in search of a more tolerant place to practice their nonconformist beliefs. They took with them ideas and styles and local carpentry techniques which influenced the buildings they constructed and the furniture and panelling and fittings that they made in the settlements they established. Then, having built themselves farm houses, schools and chapels, and because the religious settlements were rural and generally self sufficient and relatively isolated - so by nature closed or inward looking - then these styles and designs became rather fixed. In fact, rocking chairs of this design appear in auction house sale catalogues where some are given a late date of manufacture - some examples dating from early in the 20th century.

So although Klint was not exactly admiring a contemporary chair nor was he inspired by a chair that was particularly old but nor, and perhaps more important, was it a Danish style or from a Danish tradition.

In England, architects and designers of the Arts and Crafts movement responded to what they saw as the poor quality of design of furniture and factory-made household goods as the industrial revolution in England evolved. They looked for inspiration to what they appreciated as a the better craftsmanship of traditional oak furniture of the 17th century and artisan furniture, such as Windsor chairs and cottage chairs, of the 18th century.

However, the important difference between England and Denmark by the 1920s was that, apart from expensive workshop furniture made for companies like Liberties or Heal's, most traditional cabinetmakers' had long disappeared but in Copenhagen the workshops and the skills of cabinetmakers had survived and, even if they felt threatened by factory production, were trying hard to adapt to a very different society and were trying to make furniture for a different customer.

So for Klint it was more about the survival of cabinetmakers' skills rather than revival and the Shaker chair was, for him, an example of a design that he considered to be so good that it would be difficult or impossible to improve. Wasn't that why the rocking chair was one of the few copies made by Rud. Rasmussen rather than a unique and specific design from Klint?

He must have admired the honesty and modesty of the Shaker chairs: they were straightforward and what decoration there was derived from the form and from the joinery and the techniques of the assembly … qualities that inspired the Church Chair by Klint from 1936, with the Shaker-style ladder back and thin turned stretchers and inspired the designs for FDB. Perhaps the only thing that is surprising is that the man who designed some of the most rational storage furniture from the period - with large pieces of furniture with cupboards and a series of drawers - was not, it would seem, inspired by the fitted cupboards and chests of drawers that are some of the best proportioned and most beautiful pieces that were produced by the Shakers.

 

 

notes:

 *  Gorm Harkær, Kaare Klint, in two volumes by Klintiana (2010) page 635

 ** drawing RR model no. 6356 reproduced by Gorm Harkær on page 637 and the photographs page 637

 *** page 367

**** Gorm Harkær reproduces the drawings and photographs of the two prototypes on pages 640 and 641

 

Architects and furniture designers of the Arts and Crafts movement in England reacted to what was seen by some as the poor quality of design that was on display in the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 and the poor design of manufactured goods in the second half of the 19th century. A leading proponent for a return to the quality of hand-made furniture and household goods and textiles was William Morris. The Art Workers' Guild was founded in 1884 and the architect and designer C R Ashbee founded the Guild and School of Handicraft in London in 1888 that moved to Chipping Camden in 1902.

There were comparable Arts and Crafts movements in the Netherlands and Germany and Austria but all, in reality, producing expensive furniture for a wealthy middle class … closer in character to the style of furniture in Denmark by Gottlieb Bindesbøll and his contemporaries rather than the work of Danish designers in the 20th century.

PK24 / ECK24 by Poul Kjærholm 1965

photographed at Designmuseum Danmark in 2015 in their exhibition 'Reclining'

 

This has to be one of the most elegant recliners and one of the most stripped down and spare. It is simply a frame in sprung steel covered with a taut skin of woven cane and supported on the thinnest possible steel frame. 

There is a separate frame of steel that folds under the centre section of the seat - running parallel to the cane work but separated from it by spacers. This forms what looks like a sledge or from the side runners that rest on a simple frame … a third rectangle in flat steel strip but with the ends bent upwards but at an angle to form a cradle.

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plywood for furniture in the 1940s

 

There is an interesting group of chairs in the gallery at Designmuseum Danmark - most dating from the 1940s - that show how Danish designers and furniture makers experimented with using plywood.

Through the 1930s there was pressure on Danish furniture manufacturers to produce cheaper furniture, in part by moving production from the small workshops of the cabinet makers to factories and in part by exploiting new materials and by developing new production techniques for making more furniture in quantity.

Plywood could be produced with timber from relatively thin and relatively quick-growing trees and the sheets were light and easy to cut to shape; could be bent to a curve and, when pinned or glued over a wooden frame, plywood could be used for facing large cupboards or for the bottoms of drawers.

A patent was taken out in the 1790s for making a thin board of wood from layers of veneer that were stuck together with glue but the veneer was cut by hand and relatively rough although strong … alternate sheets of veneer are turned through ninety degrees so that the natural grain runs first along and then across, so the final board has considerably more strength than a comparable thickness cut from a single piece of timber.

Plywood was not produced on an industrial scale until the 1860s and the word plywood is recorded first in print in the US in 1917.

Thonet in Vienna in the second half of the 19th century made light-weight chairs with steam-bent frames that had seats with either woven cane or just a simple round piece of plywood that dropped into a rebate in the frame that formed the seat. Front legs and back posts were bolted to the seat frame and a second steam-bent hoop of wood was fixed just below the seat, instead of stretchers, to hold the legs vertical and again this was bolted or screwed in place. By using screws or bolts - rather than the traditional mortice-and-tenon joins of the cabinetmaker - the chairs could be shipped as separate parts and then assembled on delivery by someone with just basic skills.

By the late 1930s and through the war - through the 1940s - good timber for making furniture was expensive and not readily available so plywood was used, with a light frame, particularly for wardrobes or cupboards. In England this was often referred to as utility furniture.

From the 1920s furniture makers began to shape and bend plywood into more complicated and curved shapes. It was used in the construction of aeroplanes and - before glass fibre and plastics were developed -  for the bodywork of cars and marine plywood, using water resistant glue to bond the layers, was used to build boats.* If the glued layers are held under pressure in a shaped former or mould as they dry, then the piece retains that curve or shape after it is removed from the former.

In Finland, Alvar Alto designed furniture in the late 1920s and early 1930s where a plywood seat and back in a single piece was bent into an elaborate and sinuous curve and in the United States, in the early 1940s, Charles and Ray Eames designed the first chairs where plywood was curved in two planes to form a complex shell.

 

note:

 * I was taught to sail in a small dinghy - a Mirror - made in the school workshops from a kit with parts in marine plywood stitched together with wire and with the joins covered with tape. They were designed in 1962 with Barry Bucknell - a TV DIY expert. Over 70,000 were made and many raced. Bucknell lived in St Mawes - a beautiful fishing village in Cornwall - with his house looking over the beach so I guess that was where the link between sailing and TV DIY could be found. I'm not sure that design is exactly the right word as out on open water it felt a bit like being in a floating wardrobe. The dingy took its name from the British daily newspaper although I can't remember why … perhaps they published the drawings. The only excuse for including a footnote on Bucknell in a blog about Scandinavian design is that in his TV series he showed people how to do things like disguise an old door that had sunk panels by covering it with sheets of plywood - or worse with hardboard - to create a clean Scandinavian look …… on the cheap. At it's peak, his weekly TV show had 7 million regular viewers so the sort of numbers that style bloggers now dream about.

 

why so many posts here recently about chairs?

the Danish chair - an international affair - at Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen

 

 

Generally design blogs are about the latest and the newest and too often yesterday's post is old news … so even if there are categories and tags on a site there is often little reason for clicking or swiping back through past posts.

But there is now a lot of information and a lot of photographs on this site so is it possible to make stronger and clearer links to pull some of this together so it is accessible and is it possible to have a better structure on the site for slotting in future posts?

And its not just about linking information but thinking about how to present more information and more photographs than are published on a typical blog.

On-line sites have a phenomenal advantage over printed books because it's possible, in one place, to provide different levels of information, deeper within the site or just a link away, so there can be a lot more material for wider context or to explore a subject in greater depth with extra information or additional images that put a design into the context of local or social history or the context of work by other designers or in the specific context of a designer's total work.

So it's not just the what but the when and the how and the why.

Nor is it always easy to get access to works to take photographs for a blog …  do a Google search for a well-known piece of furniture - say the Peacock Chair by Hans Wegner - and there will usually be two pages of roughly the same view and they are either publicity images from the manufacturer or from a magazine or they are an image more like a quick holiday-snap and rarely are there any meaningful details. There are exceptions of course … sites with amazing photos … but not many.

Spending a lot of time at Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen to look, really look, at the display of their collection of modern chairs, it was clear immediately that this is an amazing resource. The chairs are raised up off the floor but can be examined close up and are well lit against a neutral background. The arrangement of the display shows just how many types and forms of chair there are and you can see, through the 20th century, how architects and designers were trying out ideas or see how they were inspired by the possibilities of a new material or a new technique of production

The museum typography is also important because it gives a framework for the subject and it prompts analysis …. it's absolutely fine to stand in front of a piece of furniture and say that's nice - I like that - or to say I really don't like that - and then move on but once you start asking why you like it or why it is good or bad or why it is interesting or why it is weirdly unusual or why, curiously, it reminds you of something else, then you should be able to find out more.

So, as an experiment, there has been a bit of a blitz here to look at a selection of the chairs but in more detail and with more photographs than on most blogs and to experiment a bit with ways of presenting the information, images and observations.

There is a new time line or chronological list for one obvious way to index the information and photographs.

Of course a time line is not the only way or the best way to arrange different objects but the easiest as long as you put that piece in that year in a wider context: it is not enough to know which year which designer designed which piece of furniture but was this a young designer at the start of their career or someone well experienced but trying something new or someone stuck in a rut and producing the nth version of the same thing in as many years?

These are chairs that come from the classic period of Danish design or were designed in the preliminary stages … so chairs that mark important stages that lead to the designs of the 1950s and 1960s.

From here, the plan is to look at more furniture in more detail - more chairs, more recent chairs - and to talk to designers and manufacturers about how and why and when a design came about and to look at other types of furniture in similar detail.

why does Denmark produce so many 'good' chairs?

the display of the collection of chairs at Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen

 

Chairs are a common pieces of furniture in most modern homes around the world but the chair has a special - almost an iconic place - in the history of modern design in Denmark.

At the design museum in Copenhagen, in a relatively new gallery, chairs from their collection are each given their own space, each elevated and each given spotlights that are set to come on as you approach.

Don't get me wrong … this is not a criticism … actually far far from a criticism because by lifting the chairs up from their normal place - on the floor with and amongst other furniture - you can appreciate the different designs; you can look at the details and see how the chairs are put together; and with the chairs arranged in groups you begin to see how they fit into a context or a sequence of similar or of very different chairs and, above all, you can see how well made most of them are … so they certainly deserve our attention.

But then take a step back … so why so many different beautiful chairs and from a relatively short period of time? - most in the gallery date from the period from 1930 to the last decade of the last century - and why so many chairs from a relatively small country?

They receive well-deserved acclaim and not just in Denmark but internationally - so much so that these chairs are widely imitated and, in some cases, they are copied so carefully that some are passed off as originals. Some chairs from the 1950s and 1960s, by certain designers, now achieve almost eye-watering amounts of money in auctions. And yet they were all made simply so that we can sit down.

Hans Wegner is said to have designed 1,000 chairs and of those 500 went into production. An exhibition in 2014 at Designmuseum Denmark was a thorough assessment of his remarkable work and took its title - just one good chair - from a comment by Wegner himself.

 

this was posted first on 5 October but has been moved to be at the beginning of a series that looked in more detail at some of the chairs in Designmuseum Danmark and were posted through October

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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:

Designmuseum Danmark on-line catalogue

 

Designmuseum Danmark can only display a proportion of their collection and, even when an object is shown in a gallery or exhibition, there is usually a limit to how much information can be included on a label or in a leaflet or guide so the on-line catalogue of the museum is an amazing desk-top resource for finding out more about an object or more about a designer or a manufacturer.

There is a separate index for the museum's collection of furniture and this can be searched by category; by a specific year or a decade; by the name of the designer or the cabinetmaker / manufacturer or with key words and the search can be narrowed down by selecting, for instance, a type of wood from a drop-down list.

 

Inevitably, the amount of information revealed through the search varies slightly from object to object - the museum points out that the catalogue is being updated as new information becomes available - but there is usually a photograph and often several view points, and there are dimensions; materials; usually a date of acquisition and, if the piece was purchased by the museum rather than given as a gift, there is often the name of the auction house and a date because sale catalogues can be an important source for more information. And for major objects there can be a specific bibliography if it has been included in a publication or an exhibition catalogue.

Designmuseum Danmark on-line site was redesigned recently and the catalogue of the collection can now be found from the front page by following the options or links:

Designmuseum Danmark home page / Library / Search in the collections / Furniture Index

The Red Chair by Kaare Klint 1927

Designed by Kaare Klint for Kunstindustrimuseet - the Danish Museum of Art and Design that is now called Designmuseum Danmark.

The largest version of the chair was used in the lecture theatre in the museum but there are also two smaller versions to fit at a table or desk and also two versions of the red Chair were made with arms - one with plain wood arms and another with padded or upholstered arm rests.

It is too easy now to dismiss this chair as 'old-fashioned' or at least not particularly relevant to what is happening now in modern chair design and that is, in part, simply because it is not a type or style of chair that is now popular.

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Chair for Kvinderegensen by Rigmor Andersen 1931

chair in Designmuseum Danmark

 

After studying technical drawing for a year in 1922 Rigmor Andersen entered the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts where she was a student under Kaare Klint in the new School of Furniture and then, from 1929 to 1939, worked in Klint's studio. Her designs for the furniture for Kvinderegensen, a residence for women students on Amager Boulevard in Copenhagen was one of her first major projects and included this chair from 1931.

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FH1783 by Hans Wegner 1944

the chair in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark

the series of chairs designed by Wegner that were based on the form of the Chinese Chair with the Y or Wishbone Chair to the right. This was part of the exhibition just one chair at Designmuseum Danmark that marked the anniversary of the birth of Hans Wegner 

Hans Wegner produced several chairs of this form - at least seven through the 1940s - with some going into production and some remaining as prototypes. Christian Holmsted Olesen in his book Wegner just one good chair illustrates these and explains the sequence of development that was to lead on to the design of the Wishbone Chair. 

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The modern Chinese Chair by Wegner was one of the favourite designs of Ejnar Pedersen - co-founder of PP Møbler - and in 1976 the company reissued the chair. It is still in their catalogue - PP66 - with an upholstered version - PP56 - added in 1989

CH36 by Hans Wegner 1962

 

A chair that appears to be simple but actually is very sophisticated - where the design takes as a starting point the Shaker type of chair.

It is part of an interesting trend with Danish furniture design through the whole of the modern period where designers seem to tread a course between being simple and robust as in being a country chair and being simple and functional as in being  a 'modern' chair. Not mutually incompatible ideas but not actually the same when you try to assess the character or the style of the furniture.

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chair in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen