side by side

The Chair by Hans Wegner 1949

NV44 by Finn Juhl 1944

The Chair

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

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

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


Finn Juhl (1912-1989)
cabinetmaker Niels Vodder

Cuban mahogany rosewood and leather

initially only 12 examples produced

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Certainly the chairs could not have been more different commercially.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


note: *

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

update to the post about The Chair

With the collection of chairs at Designmuseum Danmark in their new and beautifully lit gallery there was an opportunity recently to take some new photographs of The Round Chair that was designed by Hans Wegner in 1949.

This also seems quite topical somehow for it was the chair used for the first televised presidential debate between John F Kennedy and Richard Nixon in September 1960. The debate is now available on the site of the John F Kennedy Library. So many things have changed but the problems seem depressingly familiar.

The post on this site about the chair from December 2015 has been re edited and the new images added.


design classic: The Chair by Hans Wegner

the danish chair - designmuseum Danmark

design classic: The Chair by Hans Wegner 1949


a version of The Chair with upholstered leather seat

Hans Wegner showed this chair first at the Annual Exhibition of the Cabinetmakers’ Guild in 1949. 

Made in oak by the cabinetmaker Johannes Hansen, it was identified in subsequent catalogues as Chair JH501 but it was Wegner himself who described it as the “round one” and in Denmark it is known generally as The Round Chair. Exported to America, it is now known there simply as The Chair. It is still in production but is now made by PP Møbler and in their catalogues is chair PP501.

The chair shown in the cabinetmakers’ exhibition had a woven cane seat and cane was wound around the back rest to cover where the wood of the arms was joined to the piece of wood that formed the back. It was not until 1950 that an alternative version was produced, with leather upholstery rather than cane for the seat, and the form of the back and the joins that were used were altered so that the chair could have a plain wood back and arm rests without cane work. That version appeared in catalogues as the JH503 from Johannes Hansen and is identified now as the PP503 by PP Møbler.

Both the PP501 and the PP503 are available now in cherry, walnut or ash, as well as in oak - like the first version - and the finish - which makes a considerable difference to the character as well as literally to the feel of the chair - can be lacquer or an oil finish and the ash and oak can also be finished with a soap treatment. In part, it is these options for different timbers and different finishes that help make this chair so enduring and still so popular. *

There is something of the chameleon about the design so, in a dark wood, that has a high polish and with a leather seat, it has more than enough style and sophistication for either a boardroom or for a more formal dining room but in pale oak, with a matt finish and a cane seat, it looks decades younger and fits happily with a contemporary arrangement for a family room alongside furniture of very different design or period.

an early version of The Chair with cane around the back rest

Chair 501 with a cane seat but without cane wound around the back rest - photographed in the new gallery of chairs at Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen


The Round Chair was one of the first pieces of furniture that was designed after the second world war for commercial production. Clearly, it was not a cheap factory product but certainly marked a new direction away from the skilled but small workforce found in a cabinetmakers’ workshops and who were producing all high-quality furniture before the war. 

In February 1950, the influential American magazine Interiors published an article that showcased work by Finn Juhl, Borge Morgensen and Wegner but it was The Round Chair that was featured on the cover. The Round Chair was selected for the Good Design Exhibition - organised by the Museum of Modern Art in conjunction with The Chicago Merchandise Mart - that ran from November 1952 through to February 1953. That was the second year of the exhibition when the display was arranged or designed by Finn Juhl. ** The price tag on the chair appears to have been $125. ***

The Round Chair featured again in an exhibition in New York in the Georg Jensen store on Fifth Avenue in 1959 that focused on the work of Wegner and although it was the Round Chair that was on the cover of the catalogue it was, curiously, the cane version and with cane around the back so the original JH501. 

So, The Round Chair was one of the first important and one of the first commercially successful pieces to be produced in what is now referred to as the classic period for modern Danish furniture but when asked about The Chair, Wegner commented that, personally, he thought that it was his best achievement … “not because of its export success, but because I have been more thorough with it than anything else.”

Many people have written about just how modest, genuinely modest, Hans Wegner was so this statement is revealing. If he says he was thorough then it was almost-certainly a lot of hard work combined with experience and presumably a fair bit of determination. Understanding that is crucial to seeing why the design of this chair is so important. The proportions and the gentle curves of the chair look simple but simple does not mean easy and certainly does not mean basic. So part of being “thorough” was getting those lines and those dimensions and those relationships of the main parts of the chair right. Not perfect - to create an ideal - but right for this particular chair. That is, in part, about compromise … not compromise in the modern sense of doing what you can get away with but compromise in the sense of balancing what is gained or what is lost as elements of the design are changed. Here there are several broader points of compromise or balance or trading off that makes the chair such an important example of how the design process should work. So each part is reduced down … to put it crudely a straight leg with a square cross section could do the same job of supporting the seat and the arm of the chair … but take too much away and the leg looses its strength and the places where joints have to be cut to house the seat frame into the leg are weakened. The choice of wood for this specific design is an important consideration from the start … so the same design could not be made from birch. It is not hyperbole to say that the design reflects what Wegner knew about what good Danish craftsmen could do with good Danish oak … though again most Danes would be too modest to state that in that way. So from the start, the design built on well-established and well understood expertise. The quality is another and a very deliberate compromise although it might seem odd to describe it as a compromise in quality with a chair like this but in fact it was a very successful compromise. Cut quality and it is less likely to survive in commercial use but focus on it having to be a robust chair for the board-room or restaurant and it becomes too expensive and possibly too heavy and solid for domestic use in the home. It would be interesting to see if figures are available to show how many of these chairs are in restaurants and how many are in homes. Finally there was a careful balance between what could and should be done to use factory methods in the production … to simplify the design and to use machines to increase the numbers that could be made. This chair was aimed at large scale production for export or at least the production of more chairs than could be made in a small workshop … but from the start it seems to have been an important but difficult part of the design brief - to again use anachronistic and modern marketing jargon - to produce a chair in relatively large numbers but to produce a chair that showcased Danish craftsmanship and quality. 


The separate parts of a Round Chair shown in the introduction to their new display of chairs in Designmuseum Danmark


The vertical elements of the chair are all elegantly tapered and with the smooth and subtle curves of the back rest and the strong but thin profile of the arms this is one of Wegner’s most beautiful if not the most beautiful of his designs. 

Elements are shaped and cut back but not so much that it weakens the structure. Nor are the shapes imposed on the wood … the shaping of the arms and the rounding of the end of the arms, where they over sail the front legs, all exploit the way that the grain in a good piece of timber means that it can be cut and shaped and sanded smooth. One detail that shows well the techniques and skills of the cabinet makers is the shaping of the underside of each arm piece at both ends to form integral housings for the top of the leg. The on-line site for PP Møbler has photographs of a craftsman cutting or finishing that shape with what is called in England a spoke shave … a special plane for rounding and tapering a spindle with a cutting blade in the centre and handles on each side so the cabinet maker uses it with both hands.

For stability, all four legs of The Round Chair are set to be angled inwards diagonally at the top, or perhaps it is better to describe them as splayed outwards to the foot. This means that the joints between the legs and the seat frame have to be cut sharply and accurately, particularly the shoulders of the tenons, but these angles reduce the chance of tipping the chair backwards, as someone sits down, or sliding sidewards as someone stands up if their weight is not evenly distributed. It is also important visually so, even when no one is sitting in it, the chair appears to stand firmly and confidently on the ground. 

Faaborg Chair by Kaare Klint (1914)

Windsor Chair by Hans Wegner (1947)


To understand what this means, look at the Faaborg Chair designed by Kaare Klint in 1914. That chair has front legs that are cut square and tapered but vertical and the back legs are flared or curved out at the bottom to provide that stability but it makes the balance of weight for the chair appear rather precarious ... almost too delicate for the oddly solid and rather heavy back despite it being in cane. 

The low and quite wide silhouette of The Round Chair, when seen from the front, links it with Wegner’s design for the slightly earlier Windsor Chair from 1947 although in that chair the arm pieces are designed with a very different form being ramped up to just below the top rail that is housed between the back leg pieces, just below the top, and the back legs are not straight but given a slight change of angle at the point where there are the joins for the side frame and back frame of the seat. So, Wegner, through a series of designs for different chairs, was experimenting … trying to produce a simple but strong and stable design but one that combines straight legs with curved and rounded shapes that trim back the main vertical elements of the chair to the thinnest and most elegant profile possible without compromising the strength of the chair particularly at that crucial point where the legs are joined to the frame of the seat. Ultimately, what confirms that the design is both strong and stable, despite it’s relatively light weight, is that Wegner could avoid having stretchers of any form below the seat.

For The Round Chair, the complex shape and flowing form of the back and arm rest has been described by some as a propeller shape, because it reminds them of the complex curves for the blades on the first wood propellers on very early aeroplanes. The back and arms of The Round Chair although it reads as a single if complex shape is constructed with three separate pieces of curved and shaped wood that are then joined together … if it was cut from a single piece, it would not only waste timber but would snap or split where it curved round against the grain. 

Early versions of the chair had cane wrapped around the centre part of the back rest, in part, to link visually with the seat but also to disguise this fact that the back and arms were not a single piece of wood but a composite. The second version of the design is strong but, more important, more honest as the joins are made into a feature of the design. In several chairs Wegner made this strengthening of the joins even more obvious by inserting dramatic angled tails or combs in a contrasting wood to make them a strong visual feature.


the original form of the back with cane covering where the arm is joined to the back piece. Drawings by Wegner show an early version of the chair with cane also wrapped around the arm rests  


the modified design where the arm piece is run into the vertically set back piece with a marked and strong join that has become a distinct feature of the design


However, it is the first version of The Round Chair with a cane seat that shows off so clearly the skills of the cabinet makers … upholstery can be used to cover all sorts of tricks in the design of the frame to make it stronger or cheaper or easier to make but with a cane seat, there is really nowhere to hide anything. In a good, high-quality chair, the joints and the finish have to be perfect because everything can be seen. Although, of course, having said that, the upholstery on the 503 hides nothing for the leather seat is dropped into the frame as a pad rather than resorting to the common practice of taking leather or fabric right over the frame and fixing it with nails to completely cover the substructure of the seat.

There are several different ways to hold in place the canes of a woven seat. In the cheapest form of chair, panels of pre-woven cane are fixed across the seat frame and held down in a channel with a thin rod of cane but it can be difficult to stretch the cane work tight across the seat. In some chairs a series of vertical holes are drilled down through the front, the back and the side pieces of the seat and the canes are taken up through one hole, stretched across the seat to the opposite side and taken down a hole and then up through the adjoining hole and then back across the seat either straight across or commonly across a diagonal which then produces the popular honeycomb pattern. In other chairs, the cane can be taken over the outside of the frame and doubled back underneath - copying the usual method with rush seats - but that can make the cane work look rather solid or baulky.

For The Round Chair, the method used to fix in place the cane seat is rather more complicated. The cane is taken over the edge of the seat frame but then doubled back through long slots through the vertical face of the frame. These slots cannot be cut the full length of each piece of the seat frame because that would undermine the strength of the frame and make it difficult to cut and would weaken the joints where the frame is housed into the legs so these slots stop short at each end.


Because of these foreshortened slots the densely woven area of the cane seat is consequently set in from the frame but this becomes a strong feature of the design with adjoining canes crossed over in pairs to form a line of elongated Xs as an open border to the more-densely woven area you sit on. It becomes a positive element of the weaving pattern and, as with the earlier Faaborg Chair by Kaare Klint, it gives the seat a lighter look and a more distinct relationship with the floor which can be seen through the cane work.

There is a downward curving cross brace, running front to back under the seat of the cane version, that is important as it strengthen the frame but few people will even notice it - in part because the outer ends are also wound in cane so it is less obvious when seen from above through the cane work of the seat.


the underside of the chair showing how complicated the cane work really is with the stretchers of the seat actually in two pieces so that the cane is taken round twice to return to the outer face of the frame before being taken back across the seat. The stretcher running front to back braces the frame and keeps the cane work taut when someone sits down. The ends are wound with cane where they can be seen from above through the more open border of the seat


Wegner clearly saw the checkerboard pattern of the cane work on The Round Chair as both an integral and an essential part of the design.

So The Round Chair looks good; was in the vanguard of the rapidly developing style of modern Danish furniture in the early 50s; marked a change to producing not just cheaper furniture but more expensive pieces commercially rather than in a cabinet makers’ workshop and it helped establish an international market for Danish design but is it comfortable? In the end, ergonomics should be the test for any chair.

For a start, there is a marked drop or curving down of the centre of front rail and this gives the seat a slight hollow shape that takes a backside more comfortably.

Looking down on The Round Chair from above, you can see that the broad curve of the back forms a wide and generous seat - The Round Chair is 630mm wide overall so not the widest of dining chairs but the Wishbone Chair, designed in 1950, is just 550mmm wide. In some ways again, The Round Chair is reminiscent of the Faaborg chair although where that chair, designed by Kaare Klint in 1914, is different is that it has a level and continuous, horizontal line to the top of the back and arms, when seen from the front, which encloses the person sitting in it …  it seems to force your arms up higher to a more stilted angle to the body or you can just rest your elbows on the sides but then your hands should be set demurely together in your lap. That is perhaps the key to the comfort of The Round Chair, so, to put that the other way round, the shape of The Round Chair, with arm rests lower than the top line of the back, allows the person sitting in the chair to rest and support their arms on the side pieces of the chair, in a lower and more natural position.


The back rest itself is deep, set as a strong vertical but is gently curved in plan to provide a broad band of lumber support but the arm pieces, as they curve round from the back, twist to the horizontal with a slight swelling out, close to the back, to support the elbows, but then the arm pieces taper in and continue to a slight and chamfered or undercut lip beyond the front legs. That projection or over sailing helps to make the join, between the arm and the top of the front leg, stronger but also the fingers of the person sitting in the chair, drop naturally and comfortably over the end of the arm and that feels like a natural and relaxed way to sit …. with the arms along the top of the side pieces and then when getting up out of the chair it is easy to use your arms to steady yourself and then give a slight pressure downwards as you stand up. So …. easy to sit down in the chair, wide enough to fidget around if you are uncomfortable or bored and about as easy as possible to get out of.




Notes and context:


Wegner presented three chairs at the Cabinetmakers’ Exhibition in 1949 and they could not have been more different. Along with The Round Chair, he showed the Folding Chair JH512, designed to hang on a wall in a small apartment, and the dramatic tripartite Shell Chair, which has an amazing combination of bold cut-outs in thick plywood and a complicated bentwood frame. These were all virtuoso pieces and presumably for Wegner, then in in has mid 30s, they marked his coming of age as a furniture designer.


This photograph of The Chair was taken at the Wegner exhibition just one good chair at Designmuseum Danmark in 2014. It shows that Wegner, from this point on, returns to themes or ideas or techniques … not to copy or repeat a design but he back tracks to an interesting point where he could explore a different sequence of choices through the design process to take a design to a very different end. The Cow Horn Chair JH505 dates from 1952 and has shortened arm rests so that when not in use the chair can be pushed closer to the table. Office Chair JH502, with its dramatic deep back rest and a metal frame, was designed in 1955 and shows a development of the back of the Round Chair that provides more support for the spine and over a slightly wider range of positions as someone may have to use an office chair for much of the day whereas sitting on a dining chair is normally for a much shorter period. Wegner became interested in ergonomics and in the early 50s worked with Professor Egill Snorrason who had undertaken research on posture, particularly for patients who had polio.

When people talk about The Round Chair, many comment on just how comfortable it is which is said to be the reason why John F Kennedy requested Wegner’s chair when he appeared with Richard Nixon in a television interview in September 1960 - the first ever Presidential campaign debate - and an appearance for the chair that gave it considerable status.


John F Kennedy had aggravated a pre-existing back problem while on active service in the American Navy during the war although that was not widely publicised as it might well have been seen as a sign of weakness that could have been exploited by political opponents particularly as he was dependent on a number of strong pain-killing drugs. Kennedy was one of the first politicians who understood the importance of image so if he realised that if he moved around in his chair during the broadcast, simply because he was in pain and uncomfortable, it might be interpreted as being nervous or even evasive as he answered questions.

A Round Chair with cane seat was added to the collection of the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1953 (MoMA Catalogue 486.1953) and was the first of seven different chairs designed by Wegner that have been acquired by the museum.


* In 2015, the shipment of fake Wegner chairs made in China and destroyed by officials when they arrived in Norway were copies of The Round Chair.

** The first Good Design exhibition from November 1950 through to February 1951 was designed by Charles and Ray Eames.

*** A check-list in the MoMA archive of pieces in the exhibition includes just one chair by Wegner described as “Chair, Oak, Cane Hans Wegner” that must be The Round Chair and the retail price is calculated as about $125. One web site that calculates inflation suggests that $125 in 1951 would have been equivalent to about $1,280 or 9,000 Kroner or just over £1,000 now in 2017.

This post was edited and expanded and new photographs added in February 2017


the cost of good design and the real cost of fakes


The Chair by Hans Wegner is still in production by the Danish company PP Møbler ... here photographed at Illums Bolighus ... the furniture and design store in Copenhagen

Back in October several on-line design sites posted about Norwegian officials ordering the destruction of 100 copies of the famous Wegner Round Chair … a batch of fakes that had been ordered for a restaurant or hotel in Norway and made in China.

I’ve been sitting on this post for some time … appropriate I suppose because it’s about chairs … but the issue and, particularly comments on the original articles, raised several really important points that I had to mull over to write about after some careful consideration.

Of course, the first point is that copying a design without permission and without paying for a licence or copyright fee is at at the very least cheap skate, probably dishonest and in many countries actually a crime.

Some people could not understand how buying the chairs had broken the law but in Norway, as in Denmark, buying items that contravene copyright ownership is illegal for commercial companies so it is not just a manufacturer who could be breaking the law by copying a design although the law does still allow individuals to go abroad and buy fakes for their own use from countries like the UK where copyright laws seem to protect the manufacturer’s right to make a profit over the designer’s right to protect their work.

There used to be a phrase about passing off - implying deception - although I’m not sure anyone uses it now but one curious aspect about buying copies is the implied deception by a purchaser. I can see that someone obsessed by design might want to own at least a version of furniture they admire but furnishing a commercial space with copies of prestigious and expensive furniture is different. If there is not a big notice on the door saying “these are fakes but hoping you are still impressed” then presumably buyers are hoping that customers think that they have spent more on the refurbishment than they actually have. The Round Chair is very comfortable but was that the reason for buying the fakes? Other good chairs by other good designers are available … as the BBC might say. 

Buying copies is a missed opportunity. Sort of playing it safe. Buying what someone thinks someone else will be impressed by. Why not commission a design from a young designer or a new furniture company and actually make a big thing of that? A hundred chairs in a new restaurant could launch a career or a company.

Of more concern were the comments posted by readers. Some were in support of copyright protection but they were in the minority. Many of the comments showed a real misunderstanding of the design process and actually revealed a major gap in understanding between the designers and their customers … the people who at the end of the process buy the furniture or lighting or ceramics or glassware.

Some comments implied that really they thought that the design process must be quick, easy and over rated so designers are overpaid for what is, surely, not much more than a quick sketch or at most a nice drawing for the manufacturer.

Of course the reality is so different. An initial idea might come as a flash of inspiration but realising that involves a huge amount of time to refine ideas, trying and rejecting some versions, and dealing with the whole process of moving from a model or a concept version to something that can actually be reproduced in a factory. And that’s without factoring into the ‘cost’ of the design the training and years of hard-gained experience that came before the design and surely has to be rewarded somehow.

For the Form range, designed by Simon Legald and launched by Normann last year, there was a three-year development programme that meant a considerable investment in terms of time, effort and money during a period before there was any income. That money, rightly of course, has to be recouped from subsequent sales and has to be an element of the purchase price. That is lost or at best compromised if another manufacturer steals your design and then produces a cheap version that undercuts what you have to charge to recover the investment in the development of the design.

The Form range of chairs and tables is also a very good example of the technical aspects of design that all the comments to the story about the fakes ignored. When Form was launched, Normann had a display in their shop in Copenhagen that showed just how much care had been taken with the moulding process to get the rigidity of the plastic right for comfort, how much care went into the way the legs are joined to the shell to achieve both the look but also the strength they wanted, and so on. 

There are two points about that: the company making a copy is avoiding all that angst and cost but, perhaps even more important, most customers, clearly, don’t understand that the structure and the use of appropriate materials at the core of a piece is as important or more important than it’s appearance. Somehow, we have have got to a stage where people generally associate ‘design’ exclusively with appearance. It hints at a shallow understanding of the design process.

This goes only some way to explain the price difference between a genuine piece and the copy. One observation in the comments was that “Fakes wouldn’t exist if design wasn’t so expensive. Everyone should have access to good design.”

This seems to suggest that ‘design’ is seen as an ingredient rather than a process and wilfully fails to understand the basic economics. The implication in the comments was that the value/price put on the design side of production was substantial and if cut would reduce the ticket price … almost as if there were no costs between the design and the item appearing in the shop. The cost of materials, the wages to the people making the furniture, the cost of the factory premises in terms of rent or investment in buildings, investment and depreciation of machinery, the cost of power and water, the profit element for the manufacturer after the cost of administration and the tax levied on the profit, the shipping costs, the expenses of the retailer, their premises and staff, and the profit added by the retailer as well as their tax on profit and, in Denmark, 25% VAT and finally the transport cost of delivery to the customer are, almost certainly, all and every one more than any copyright fee earned by the designer. The sad reality is that if you doubled the designers fee it would make little difference to that final ticket price.

Major companies who own the rights to a design might, if they have a good and popular design, see a good return on what they paid the designer but in fact that regular revenue stream is usually what finances the next design or the promising design that for some reason does not simply walk out of the showroom. So add to that long list of costs the cost of advertising and the time spent talking to bloggers and magazine journalists and the investment in trade fairs just to make sure people know they have an amazing design someone might want to buy.

If your design is stolen and reproduced badly then it certainly undermines a designer’s and a manufacturer’s reputation.

Some argue that many fakes are indistinguishable from the original but then of course another economic reality kicks in. Legal controls on materials, sustainability, wages and so on means that there are few areas of the manufacturing process where cost can be reduced so, generally, quality suffers and what starts then is a race to the bottom. 

Conversely, if every purchase is of a genuine piece then volume sales might mean that the unit cost comes down. By buying a fake people almost guarantee that the price of the original can only come down if quality comes down as well.

People buying fakes are not striking a blow for the democratic right to buy good design but undermining the industry and that means more and more production, even by major companies, is outsourced to countries where labour is cheaper. In the short term, consumers might not see that as a problem. They have the chair they want, or at least a chair that looks like the chair they want, so where is the problem? Long term, with outsourcing goes the reason for retaining skill and knowledge and infrastructure locally. What goes is the ability to produce in Europe and with it the close and crucial link between the designer and the manufacturer. There are accounts of Wegner calling in to the cabinet maker’s workshop on his way home to see how work was progressing and to discuss the feasibility of an element of a new design. I’d say that that close working relationship and mutual respect was crucial for both the designer and the craftsman and that is reflected in the quality of the product.

Several curious comments about the business of copying designs were along the lines that surely a chair is just a chair and all designs derive, in one way or another, from what has been produced before. Wegner himself was inspired by the designs of other countries and other periods and he returned to earlier forms and earlier shapes he himself had designed but he did not repeat a design but explored different solutions. 

Although the chair is a basic piece of furniture there are almost limitless possibilities, particularly in using new materials. At the Autumn exhibition by cabinetmakers at Øregaard there were 18 very different chair designs and what was interesting to see there was that although those designs were clearly in that tradition of masters making perfect and expensive one-off pieces to show off their skills, most could, with few changes, go into commercial production. There was absolutely no indication that they were hard-pressed to come up with new ideas.

Nor is there a problem with manufacturers continuing to produce historic designs legally … that does not in itself mean they are living on past glory, as some comments suggested, or that it will stymy the work of new designers but generally it sets a standard and means that great designs continue to be available. The Wegner Round Chair is still made by PP Møbler in the right way, by skilled local craftsmen, and using the right materials. There is no sell-by date for good music or good books but new books and new music come out all the time … good design is no different.  

You can probably guess that I had no truck with comments along the line of a chair is just a chair so what is all the fuss about? 

Several comments about the destruction of the Wegner chairs asked rhetorical questions about what the designers, who are no longer alive, would feel about the cost of their furniture now because they wanted good design to be available to everyone. This is wilfully conflating several ideas. Hans Wegner, more than any other designer of his period, understood and appreciated the skill and therefore the value of the contribution made by the craftsman. He also understood completely the importance of using the best or the most appropriate materials and his designs were based always on the structural integrity of the piece. He understood, more than anyone, that a design like the Round Chair used expensive materials and levels of craft expertise which meant that it could never be a cheap chair. Don’t just look at the price of one of these chairs in the 1950s and conclude that was cheap. Compare that price with the average wage … in 1952 the average annual income in England was £589. Working families might only bring in seven or eight pounds a week. How many Wegner chairs could that buy?

That is why several of the Danish designers, including Hans Wegner, worked with the co-operative movement in Denmark to produce well-made and well designed furniture at a realistic price. The reality is that the Round Chair was always an expensive design.

Several comments about the fakes also suggested that designers from the Bauhaus in Germany wanted to produce cheap good designs for ordinary people. Again that is a distortion and an ironic misunderstanding of design history. Designers from the Bauhaus and before them, for different reasons, the artists and architects of the Arts and Crafts group in England, were appalled by the poor quality of mass-produced, factory-made goods for ordinary people - mainly because they simply reproduced badly, in cheap materials, what wealthy middle-class families owned. The designers of the Arts and Crafts movement were concerned that craft skills were being lost, particularly rural skills like chair making, as people moved from villages into towns to work in factories. Their answer was, in part, to return to simple, honest and well-made designs. Hand made and, inevitably expensive. The designers of the Bauhaus and architects at the start of the modern movement also wanted straightforward and honest designs but designs that made full use of industrial methods, new materials and exploited industrial scale of manufacture to keep prices down. If they were alive now they would hardly be advocating that every person had the right to buy a cheap Eames recliner.

early versions of The Chair can be found in auctions and at fine furniture dealers as here at Klassik in Bredgade in Copenhagen