tripartite Shell Chair by Hans Wegner 1949

the Tripartite Chair now in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark



More often than not, when someone describes a chair as unique then it is either hyperbole or they are writing for an advert or a sponsored post ……

…. but the tripartite shell chair - designed by Hans Wegner and shown to the public at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1949 - really is unique because just one chair was made by the cabinetmaker Johannes Hansen and after the exhibition it was not sold but taken by Wegner to use in his own home - the design was never put into production.

Wegner had previously designed furniture with shaped and curved laminated wood for Fritz Hansen - Chair FH1936 and a bench or sofa version FH1937 and the tripartite chair was not the only chair in plywood in the 1949 exhibition because Børge Mogensen, Wegner's colleague and friend, also showed a shell chair.

Although the form of the tripartite chair seems simple - a wooden frame with three separate pieces of laminated wood that are shaped and curved for a seat, back rest and head rest - it is difficult to describe the shape of the chair and almost impossible to describe the frame that supports that seat, back rest and head rest.

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Klapstol / Folding Chair JH512 by Hans Wegner 1949


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

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

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CH28 Savbukstol / Sawbuck Chair by Hans Wegner 1951

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

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

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

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


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

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

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the woven seat of the Shaker chair in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark



In 1942, when the cabinetmakers Rud. Rasmussem made a close copy of a Shaker rocking chair, the webbing for the seat, imitating the original, was woven by Lis Ahlmann but the chair did not go into production and, just two years later, when Hans Wegner designed a rather more free interpretation of the Shaker rocking chair to be made for FDB - the Danish Co-op - paper cord was used for the seat.

webbing on traditional upholstery - both chairs  in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark

Red Chair by Kaare Klint

Chair by Børge Mogensen



Webbing had been used as the support for traditional upholstery through the late 19th and early 20th century as the first layer that was stretched and fixed over the seat frame to support some form of padding that was then covered with fabric or leather.

Webbing was used on its own for the seats of some Danish chairs in the 1920s and 1930s - one good example being the chairs designed by Edvard Thomsen for the Søndermarken crematorium in 1927 - but as paper cord became popular in the 1940s, linen or canvas webbing became much less common.

Hans Wegner used webbing for the seat and back of the Pincer Chair from 1956 and the recliner JH613 (above) and the designer Finn Østergaard, who graduated from the Furniture Department of the School of Arts and Craft in 1975, produced a range of armchairs and high-backed chairs with woven webbing across the seat and back.

Generally, webbing works best with a square or a rectangular seat … it can be difficult to keep the tension even and webbing does stretch more than paper cord with use … and, certainly, webbing cannot be used with the complex joinery of many of the chairs designed by Hans Wegner whereas he could take cord across curved seat frames or around spindles or down through slots that were cut to take the cord around arm supports or the mortices and thin splats of chair backs.

Webbing was used more widely in other Scandinavian countries and by several prominent designers … so in Sweden, by Bruno Mathsson (below) and in Finland by Alvar Aalto.

detail of the webbing on a bentwood chair by Alvar Aalto

Chair 406


The traditional Shaker webbing - unbleached and a deep cream or buff colour - looks good with Danish oak so it is a pity that it has not been used more often as an alternative to cord for more straightforward dining chairs.


Shaker style webbing bought from America to recover a chair and photographed on the seat of a Wishbone Chair


J16 Gyngestol / Rocking Chair by Hans Wegner 1944

Hans Wegner designed a number of rocking chairs that were inspired by the 19th-century Shaker rocking chair in the collection at the design museum in Copenhagen. He copied the simple, straight, turned legs that are bird-mouthed over the shaped and distinctive rockers and he copied the vertical and distinctly upright and high back posts of the chair.

However, in this version, he combined those distinct elements with the vertical rails of the back and a deeper head rest that were inspired by traditional Windsor chairs from England.

With Børge Mogensen - who he knew from the School of Arts and Crafts - Wegner was commissioned by Frederik Nielsen of the Danish Cooperative Union (FDB) to design a range of good, well-made furniture to be sold at a reasonable price that could be afforded by couples and young families living in smaller houses or two and three-room apartments. 

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Deck Chair JH524 / pp524 by Hans Wegner 1958


Hans Wegner designed this elegant and simple recliner or deck chair in wood in 1958. 

There are two main sections … a long frame for the seat is gently curved in a convex arc that rests on the ground at the back but is raised off the ground by short tapered legs towards the front. 

Inset from the back is a frame for the back rest that is fixed to the seat frame with metal pivots on each side and held in one of four possible angles by a bar of metal hinged to the back rest and held at the bottom on sprogs on the seat frame … a mechanism similar to that on the Tub Chair also by Wegner and designed in 1954.

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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.


CH22 by Hans Wegner 1950

This low chair or easy chair from Carl Hansen - identified in their catalogues as CH22 - was one of the first chairs that Hans Wegner designed for the company. It went into production in 1950 and marked the start of a significant commercial partnership that continued through the rest of Wegner's long career.

This is not one of the best-known or most famous chairs designed by Wegner but it is important and significant for several reasons:

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Shell Chair FH1936  by Hans Wegner 1948

This is really a combination of types with a fairly conventional frame of legs and stretchers that forms a cradle for the thick curved plywood seat and the well proportioned and curved back rest that is also in thick plywood.

The side stretchers are shaped and curve down at the ends and the legs stop short of the underside of the seat. This is described by some critics as a cantilevered seat. The use of thicker plywood for the seat means that the normal seat frame can be omitted completely so this is plywood used in a more sophisticated way for more expensive furniture.

designed by Hans Wegner
made by Fritz Hansen Eftf

frame beech
seat and back surface veneer teak

height: 70 cm 
width: 73 cm 
depth: 60 cm
height of seat: 38 cm 


country furniture

country furniture in buildings at Frilandsmuseet - the open-air museum north of Copenhagen


In Denmark traditional country furniture is called bondemøbler or peasant furniture and in England cottage or farmhouse furniture or by some academics vernacular furniture.

This is the chairs and tables and cupboards and beds made before the industrial and before the retail revolutions of the 19th century by families themselves or by local carpenters who would use local materials - so where possible oak or, as oak became less easily available and more expensive, then other local timber including ash or pine. The use of expensive foreign timber is rare in country furniture, for obvious reasons, and highly finished and polished surfaces or veneer were beyond the experience of local makers unless they worked in a relatively large market town and had a larger workshop. As a consequence wood was left untreated or furniture was either finished with simple wax or oil, to protect the surfaces, or could be painted and decorated.

Upholstery was also an expensive job that required a specialist so seats were usually simply flat wood planks or possibly wood hollowed out but rush and cane or even rope were used woven over a frame for chair seats. Mattresses or simple seat cushions could be made from a tough fabric with a filling of straw or animal hair.

living in a single room - Den Gamle By - the open-air museum in Aarhus - note the bed in a drawer under the settle or bench


Wood for chair and table legs and for the spindles of a chair back or for stretchers between the legs - to make a stronger frame - could be turned on a simple lathe and in England these lathes were often set up out in the beech woods and the turned legs and spindles brought into town where the chairs would be assembled. Turning legs and spindles for furniture required the same tools and skills needed for making the spokes of wood wheels for carts and carriages. With turned legs and spindles the fixing was also relatively simple with the end tapered and then pushed tightly into a drilled hole and that avoided having to cut complicated mortice-and-tenon joints that needed careful work with a saw and a chisel that was best done on a proper work bench where the wood could be held securely in place.

Through into the 19th century - and even into the early 20th century - local blacksmiths could make hinges and catches and nails if they were needed for the wood furniture.

Wealthier farmers in a village or clergymen who wanted more elaborate furniture for their posher homes or for the parish church bought more sophisticated and expensive furniture from nearby towns or even from abroad and then the features and styles of those imported pieces might be copied or roughly imitated by local craftsmen.

These relatively simple and 'honest' country chairs … honest meaning straightforward and unpretentious … were and still are appreciated even in the town or city. In part, they were cheaper for workers to buy but in the late 19th and early 20th century people were moving into Copenhagen to work in the port and work in new industries and may well have brought furniture from where they had lived, out in the countryside or smaller towns, or they deliberately sought out furniture that reminded them of distant family or distant lives.

It was the unpretentious modesty and simple techniques, that looked back to straightforward local carpentry, rather than fancy foreign fashions, that meant that people saw these well-made but basic and relatively light but strong chairs with turned legs and rush seats as appropriate for churches.

Good country furniture can be seen in appropriate room settings in the open air museums in Denmark and it is worth spending time looking at these pieces to see where modern designers have taken and adapted ideas or, even more interesting, to see types of furniture that are rarely made now such as the clothes press or plate rack or even the bed built into a cupboard or the large plank chests for bedding.

Features from good country furniture can be seen in the sophisticated work of major designers of the modern period including the Nyborg Library Chairs by Hans Wegner, the 'People's Chair' by Børge Mogensen and, of course, in the Church Chair by Kaare Klint.

Church Chair by Kaare Klint

Chair for Nyborg Library by Hans Wegner

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.

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Påfuglestolen / Peacock Chair by Hans Wegner 1947

Now, we tend to use the term masterpiece for paintings … particular those by one of the 'old masters' … but it actually refers to a work made by an apprentice, journeyman or master craftsman to show off their skills. So surely, this chair is a masterpiece by Hans Wegner?

It's not exactly flamboyant or even particularly egotistical but it does show a number of real skills and an amazing command of design in three-dimensional space.

It takes a traditional type of chair - an English Windsor chair - and shows just how it should be done.

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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