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

 

early modern ... Vesterport, Vesterbrogade, Copenhagen

 

Vesterport on Vesterbrogade in Copenhagen, close to the central railway station, was designed by Ole Falkentorp and Povl Baumann and was completed in 1931. It is surely the first truly modern building in the city but if anyone notices it today then it is probably for the striking green colour of its copper cladding which, with patina, has turned a sharp but acid-pale tone. When new, before the copper changed colour, the building was known as the penny.

It was the first steel-framed building in Copenhagen with reinforced concrete floors and was built as an office building. The principle tenant was an English insurance company but the open-floor construction meant that it could be subdivided with non-structural partition walls depending on the requirements of any tenants. It is not just the method of construction but the scale of the block with its flat roof line and the grid-like division of the facades with continuous lines of windows above panels of cladding that is distinctly modern.

Vesterport fills a complete city block - although there is a large service courtyard - and at street level there were shops so, again in a modern way, this was very much a commercial building and it was in what was then a new and growing commercial area of the city.

The building has an important place in design history for another reason ... a significant and influential design gallery and furniture shop, Den Permanente, opened here in 1931 but closed in the 1980s.