Søren Ulrich

Søren Ulrich was at northmodern in August to show his furniture along with a display of the large selection of high-quality carpentry and cabinet-making tools that he sells through his company.

His furniture is made with great attention to the character and grain of the timbers he uses and his work has, of course, the quality that you would expect from a hugely experienced and skilled craftsman.

The style of his furniture is interesting - not looking back to usual sources of inspiration in the ‘classical’ period of modern Danish design from the 1960s and 1970s but a step further back to look at vernacular furniture for inspiration … to the best of everyday Danish furniture … to the simple, practical, well-made furniture of farmhouses, and working homes and to the sort of furniture that must have filled the many apartments built in Copenhagen after 1870.

For the shapes of the backs to chairs or for the form or construction details of legs or frames - these pieces are reminiscent of furniture from 1900 or 1910. This is robust, well-made, long-lasting furniture that makes use of the best carpentry techniques, for forming frames and for finishing the pieces, but makes it relevant to a modern home rather than being simply a copy or reproduction.

Søren Ulrich

 

 

the carpentry tools:

Part of the display at northmodern included a section of the trunk from an oak tree that had been split down the middle and was used as a display surface for a selection of high-quality wood-working tools.

A friend with some woodland had offered Søren an oak that was about to be felled but he accepted on the condition that he could cut down the tree himself, using a traditional axe, wanting to take the timber through all the stages from the standing tree to the finished furniture … but, he confessed to me that, half way through cutting down the tree, he began to feel that maybe it was one of the toughest jobs he had ever undertaken.

 

bikes at northmodern

 

Most of the posts here about the design fairs at northmodern have focused on furniture, and on design and craftsmanship but each fair has an extensive range of exhibitors showing products that are more broad in their context … what is sometimes described as lifestyle design.

Of course for Copenhagen you can’t get anything more ‘lifestyle’ than bikes. Danes may have a reputation for the design and quality of their lighting and their furniture but when it comes to spending their hard-earned money and treating themselves to something special, design wise, it’s just as likely to be a bike as a lamp or a chair that they buy … it’s difficult to appreciate just how many bikes there are in the city. Not just bikes but extremely expensive bikes. And an amazing number of bike shops.

At northmodern this August there were a fair few designers and manufacturers showing their latest bikes. Several showed bikes with amazingly small but incredibly powerful motors that are supposed to take away some of the effort but having had to leap for the side as people zoomed past trying out the bikes in the aisles of the exhibition, with rather broad grins on their faces, the boost was slightly more than a gentle push.

Two companies stood out. The first was, but don’t repeat this, not Danish but, scandal of scandals, French but the colours of the bikes from Martone Cycling Co are amazing.

The other company is actually from Copenhagen. Butchers & Bicycles make what appears to be THE luxury cargo bike but the real selling point is that their bikes are built to tilt™. Watching their videos, articulation of the frame allows the rider to lean inwards as they ‘bank’ around a sweeping corner … rather like motorcross and not that much slower.

Is it possible that Queen Boudica … Boudica of the chariots with knives attached to the hubs cutting a swathe through the enemy … spent her Hen Night in Copenhagen and took inspiration from the cargo bikes she saw in Christiania but just took the idea a tad too far?

Else-Rikke Bruun at northmodern

It has been quite difficult to write about these complex and sophisticated pieces. For a start they are stunningly beautiful. Of course that shouldn't make it difficult to describe them or talk about this furniture but then the superlatives start to stack up and begin to slide into hyperbole and loose their impact.

Also the pieces occupy an interesting middle ground: this is furniture - or at least they are pieces designed to furnish a room, which is slightly different - but in some ways they are closer to being sculpture than most furniture because they explore so carefully ideas about volume and space and explore the role of light and shadow in defining both.

Harlekin in birch

Veneer in birch

A strong feature of the screens is their texture although it may seem slightly odd to describe something on this relatively large scale as texture. As well as through touch, of course, texture is usually revealed by light playing across a surface to highlight changes on the surface that show that it is not smooth - so the texture of rough concrete or, and more appropriate here, the texture of a woven fabric or the texture of the surface of a woven rush mat or of a basket.

Nor are conventional definitions of style particularly appropriate here. The screens are minimalist in that they have a relatively simple repeat pattern and are made in a material with a uniform tone and colour and there is no added decoration - any pattern is formed by the technique of construction and not applied - but rather than being minimal - which often now just implies simple or basic - these pieces are better described as being restrained or sober and controlled.

Certainly the gentle curves of the chairs, when seen in profile, are complex but there is a purity of line and that is what, in part, makes them so beautiful … and that is said with no apology for slipping into hyperbole.

Nor do the pieces really conform to a strict sense of period or location because although they are, in some ways, typically Scandinavian - pale wood and high-quality construction for a start - they can also be seen to relate to Japanese and Chinese techniques of carpentry where separate elements are held together by intersecting and locking the parts into place rather than being fixed together by using carpenters' joints or screws or glue.

Nor are these forms and shapes specifically related to timber, in its most natural form, because Else-Rikke Bruun exploits, in a very sophisticated way, the intrinsic qualities of the plywood that she uses and plywood is manufactured rather than being timber that has simply been felled and then sawn and planed smooth. But also the screens are reminiscent of origami and could be made in paper or card although, of course, then they would be of a different scale.

These pieces show Else-Rikke Bruun exploring and testing, in different ways, both a material and the different technique or ways of working with that material … here the shaping and bending of plywood so that it retains a complex shape. Plywood can be bent and then held under tension, as in the screens, or, with the construction of the chair, sheets of plywood can be shaped with heat and pressure so at normal temperatures the separate sections are flexible but retain the shape of the curve of a former or mould.

The screens and the chair are important because they illustrate another aspect of the design process. It is fascinating to see the work of a designer who knows instinctively that they have reached a point with a design when it is absolutely right. Many designers would have to think carefully before being able to explain to someone why one part of their design is not longer or not a sharper curve or a thicker dimension but by instinct and through experience they know or they feel when something is absolutely right for what they are trying to achieve. And that really is difficult to explain.

 

Veneer was shown at the Biennalen exhibition of Kunsthåndværk og Design - the Danish Craftwork and Design Association - at Carlsberg Byen in Copenhagen in August 2015

Else-Rikke Bruun

Dansk Møbelkunst at northmodern

The 1950s and 1960s are often described as the Golden Age or as the Classic period for Danish furniture design. That’s useful to help spotlight the importance of works from this period or even as a way of making us concentrate and focus a critical eye because it is lazy to simply accept a label of greatness, applied by someone else, without trying to see why or how a designer or a design is important. But then there are also several problems with the perpetration of such a view … the view that a certain period was great … which seems to imply that other periods were not. When I have told people here in Denmark that I moved to Copenhagen to write about architecture and design then the too-common response is something along the lines of … “you should have been here in the 60s or 70s … now that’s when the Danes really knew how to design furniture.” That’s actually slightly shocking, when it’s said by Danes, and of course it writes off all the superb furniture designed and made in Denmark in the 1920s and 1930s - the vital precursors of that Classic period - and not only disregards all the good Danish furniture from the 19th century, or the 18th century and earlier but also, of course, blatantly ignores all the amazing furniture designed and made now by young Danish companies. 

But somehow more insidious is the grumble from some young designers themselves about all the well-established manufacturers simply reproducing the ‘old’ designs, living off a back catalogue, and not giving the current cohort an opportunity. That is in part simply a generational grumble that looks back, through the obvious successes, to what they assume must have been an easier time when, in reality, if you read about the way that Hans Wegner or Arne Jacobsen, for example, worked, then they too were having to work very hard to build reputations; they too were trying and not always succeeding in getting a commission or having to fight to get a design made in the way they wanted.

Dansk Møbelkunst is a major dealer in these great works of the great designers and cabinet makers of the 20th century and at northmodern they showed an amazing selection of masterpieces … examples of the very best of furniture from the 20th century. Here it was possible to look closely at and marvel at the details of workmanship and the small details of careful and precise design in these pieces and to see not just the quality of this furniture but to see the ways that the designers and the makers of the pieces played with ideas; tried different solutions to recurring problems or simply revelled in the possibilities they could see in the materials themselves. 

 

 

Above all, the display of these classic pieces of 20th-century design provided a broad and solid context for current design and production and, of course, they set a standard. New designs can be as good and some will be better if judged by the standards and expectations of our own period … not exactly on the shoulders of giants and all that but more about building on and being part of a very strong heritage.

 

Fredericia at northmodern

 

With such a large number of designers and manufacturers showing their work at northmodern it is a place where you actually have to revise a few of those myths about Danish design. For a start Danish design is not all about white walls or, when colour is used, all safe, soft and muted.

Fredericia took the opportunity at northmodern to show their work with Uffe Buchard from Darling Creative Studio to create the ‘Double F Hotel’.

Shown in May in their city-centre store as part of 3daysofdesign, the spaces created represent a bar, a hotel lounge and a dining room. Publicity material from Fredericia talks about the ‘bright colours, unexpected textiles and … homey atmosphere, which today’s traveller demands … A home away from home.’

All the furniture is from the current Fredericia range but here shown against very strong colours and with dramatic use of lighting and plants and some furniture is shown with new textiles.

The concept is inspirational. 

Design hotels all over the world are a target market for any major design or furniture company, not just for the contract itself, but of course many travellers now seek inspiration from where they stay on holiday or business trips … a stay in a hotel is a chance to actually try out a new design or discover a new idea for fittings or decoration or use different and sometimes outrageous bathrooms … and then try to reproduce the look or track down the furniture for their own homes. 

Colours chosen by Uffe Buchard and the very confident juxtaposition of certain classic designs could certainly be copied in larger apartments in Copenhagen or Oslo or Sweden and particularly in older buildings with higher ceilings and large sash windows but would be equally theatrical in the new harbour-side apartments with their dramatic light reflected back up off the water. A large apartment only because in a small or cluttered space the use of such strong dark colours can be claustrophobic but maybe I'm still too cautious about using colour in this way ... maybe all that’s needed is inspiration … and maybe a little courage … or conviction.

Fredericia

OneCollection at northmodern

At northmodern OneCollection showed the recently re-released France Chair that was designed by Finn Juhl and produced by France & Son from 1958.

Known originally as Chair FJ136, it was delivered as a flat pack which seems to have contributed to its popularity, particularly for the export market. 

More restrained than many of the designs by Juhl, the complex curves of the seat and back of the chair are a development of the 108 Chair of 1946 and the pronounced but gently-curved elbow rests on the arms are reminiscent of the arms of the Chieftain Chair from 1949.

OneCollection, France Chair

 

C W F France was an English businessman who from 1936 ran the Danish company Lama at Ørholm with the cabinet maker Eric Daverkosen, producing mattresses and furniture. After the War, the company expanded rapidly and at one stage, by the mid 50s, produced up to 60% of Danish furniture exports. The company changed its name to France & Son in 1957.  The working relationship between Juhl and France & Son was fascinating … Juhl was certainly not the most commercially focused designer of the post-war period.

It would be interesting to see production numbers for the chair because it was, possibly, the most overtly commercial of Juhl's designs. Clearly, this was not 'flat-pack' furniture as we think of it now but, unlike Mogensen and Wegner and most other major designers of the post-war period, Juhl did not produce furniture for the lower priced, more popular, sector of the market so he did not design for FDB - the Danish COOP.

 

A book on the France company - and their work with major Danish designers, including Finn Juhl, Grete Jalk, Ole Wanscher and Hvidt & Mølgaard - has recently been published: France & Søn – British Pioneer of Danish Furniture by James France from the publisher Forlaget Vita.

Haeng at northmodern

A great strength in the design sector in Denmark is the phenomenal number of small and independent companies - designers, workshops, craft studios and design consultancies - in the country and the number is growing all the time. 

I first met Jakob Forum with his company Haeng at Finderskeepers last year. Finderskeepers is a lively market place for design, crafts, fashion and food that was held over a weekend at TAP1 on the Carlsberg site in Copenhagen and is also held regularly in Aarhus. It attracts a really lively and mixed group of customers but with a strong element of young people and young families so it’s a great place to pitch ideas and new products.

Jakob has a background as a carpenter but has combined that with his idea for lighting that is very sculptural. The lights are put together from simple geometric elements that are beautifully turned in wood or made from natural materials like cork and wool. Each part has a strong sense of form and silhouette, but there are also strong colours. The starting point is a bulb holder and its light flex and all the other elements are threaded on to that so of course the flex itself can be a strong colour and can set the character of the final arrangement of the light.

Several ideas here are important: the individual pieces are beautifully made and presented and the final boxing and packaging is deceptively simple but well thought out and what is important is the participation of the buyer - not just choosing the individual elements, which is great fun, but also deciding, back at home, just how those pieces are to be strung together - and of course in the future, or in a different room or a different home, the pieces can be moved around to create a different effect.

a suggestion for the starting point ... a light on the display at northmodern

the light in my apartment that I bought last year at Finderskeepers in Copenhagen 

Haeng has just opened a store and showroom in Copenhagen and their stand at northmodern looked really good … this is all a very confident move forward for a new company and they really do deserve to succeed.

 

Haeng, Vesterbrogade 204, 1800 Frederiksberg

Opening - Wednesday to Friday 10 - 17 and the second Saturday of each month 10 - 15

northmodern - Copenhagen August 2016

Northmodern opens this week on Thursday the 18th August and continues on Friday and Saturday the 19th and 20th at the Bella Center in Copenhagen. 

This is a major trade fair for Scandinavian design where newly-established companies show alongside the well-known designers and design companies … the place to see the best of design from the region and an event where many Danish companies launch new designs for this Autumn. 

Northmodern shows clearly the strengths but also the breadth and diversity and the vitality of the design and manufacturing industries in Denmark.

 

northmodern, Bella Center, Center Boulevard 5, 2300 Copenhagen S

18th, 19th and 20th August 2016

Copenhagen Mountain in the snow

 

That’s The Mountain apartment building in Ørestad designed by Julien De Smedt and Bjarke Ingels and completed in 2008.

It’s on the east side of the raised section of the metro, just south of the Bella Center metro station, and between the two canals.

Julien De Smedt was actually at the Bella Center last week for northmodern, the Copenhagen design fair, where he had curated an exhibition by seven designers from his home city of Brussels but he was also at northmodern with his design partners and team from the Copenhagen based design company Makers With Agendas and gave one of the northmodern lectures - talking about both MWA and the work of his architectural practice JDS.

 

northmodern in Copenhagen

 

northmodern - the furniture and design fair in Copenhagen - was held at the Bella Center from 13th to the 15th of January. 

Walking around the event, it was obvious immediately that this was an extensive and complicated but carefully curated mix of companies and individuals with stands from major manufacturers; displays by companies who are retailers of furniture and household design; designers and architects and schools of design as well as independent makers so the event showed not only many aspects of the design industry but showed how they interlink and relate to each other.

In part northmodern is still a trade fair with manufacturers and importers exhibiting current ranges and, of course, new products to retailers … so buyers for larger stores and owners of independent shops in the region could be seen selecting and ordering new stock. This part of a design fair is as much about manufacturer and buyer knowing the tastes and preferences of the target customers as it is about design as such but it is a fascinating part of the design industry for these are the people in a strong position to encourage new trends in the way that homes throughout the region will be furnished.

The event provided a major opportunity for young designers to show their work to potential clients but it was also a chance for designers socialise … to meet up and see each other’s work. This year there was a large area devoted to new talent and to schools of design - the next generation of designers - with extensive displays by recent graduates from the Royal Academy in Copenhagen, students from the Technical School in Copenhagen and by students who had taken part in the design competition of FSC - the Forest Stewardship Council.

One hall concentrated on the work of craftsmen including cabinetmakers, glass blowers and ceramicists with a large exhibition of works by the group who are about to open Den Danske Keramikfabrik - their new ceramic factory on Bornholm.

northmodern is also an opportunity for designers to celebrate their work - OK show off but in a good way - with exhibitions of new work. Too few took the opportunity to try a bit of bravado even if it might mean stripping back and simplifying a concept for large scale production. Maybe that’s unfair because unfortunately the reality of economic pressures means that games and fun can be seen to be a bit profligate or self indulgent.

With short talks and discussions, given through the course of the event, it was an opportunity to hear about and discuss new ideas and find out about how and where designers see their work developing. As in August last year, there was a strong contribution by designers from Brussels but this time given more space in a central area so it was possible to see where the approach to design in Belgium differs from the general styles and forms seen in the work of young Danish designers.

 

 

There were also interesting displays from what are sometimes called ‘life style’ companies so for instance several manufacturers of bicycles. And, of course, food companies and coffee stands were carefully chosen so the event was showing the very best of design across a huge range of products. 

 

the Bella Quarter

 

northmodern was also a good opportunity to show models and drawings for the new quarter that is to be built around the hotel and this exhibition venue. Called Bellakvarter, it will include housing and commercial buildings as well as public green space. Earlier plans indicated that there were to be workshops for designers and craftspeople in the area, in part to replace workshops and studios that have been lost in the centre of the city, although the latest drawings seem to give these less prominence. A pity.