Kunsthåndværkermarkedet / The Craft Market on Frue Plads in Copenhagen

 

 

In the middle of August each year, there is a craft market on Frue Plads - the square next to the cathedral in Copenhagen.

Organised by Danske Kunsthåndværkere & Designere / The Danish Association of Craft Workers and Designers, this is an opportunity to see and to buy some of the very best ceramics, glass and textiles made in Denmark. These photographs of ceramics were taken this time last year and show the quality and the range of works sold here.

The current series of posts on this site is looking at aspects of how colour and texture are used in Danish design and Danish architecture and it seems curious that, on the whole, the current fashion for both buildings and for interiors in Denmark is for muted colours and, generally, very little or very restrained use of texture but in ceramics you find such strong forms or shapes and incredibly confident use of colour and texture in works that push both the material and the glazes used to new levels.

 

Kunsthåndværkermarkedet / The Craft Market 2018
Thursday 9 August 12 - 19
Friday 10 August 10 - 19
Saturday 11 August 10 - 16

 

mechanics in wood

the back and the arm rest of a Colonial Chair designed by Ole Wanscher in 1949

 

This is really a simple point about engineering in wood.

There are many factors that influenced modern Danish design and made the furniture of the period specific to the country and contributed to its success.

One key role was that of the cabinetmakers. Their work through the 1930s and 1940s and 1950s was not simply a matter of producing work of a high quality but their skills enabled designers to push materials - specifically their work with wood - in very new directions.

It was the close working relationship between the designers starting with Kaare Klint and his partnership with Rud. Rasmussen and then on of course through the collaboration between Hans Wegner with first Johannes Hansen and then the craftsmen of PP Møbler or Ole Wanscher working with A J Iversen or the work of Finn Juhl made by Niels Vodder.

This was not simply a matter of a maker realising a design: this was about being proud of a skill but having the confidence and the desire to push boundaries and that in fact was what was, essentially, at the heart of the apprenticeship and guild system … its DNA from the middle ages onwards. For cabinetmakers it was about taking the techniques of joining one piece of timber to another and adapting and improving and refining that, along with understanding what wood could and could not do, to make furniture that was, in terms of its mechanics viable.

It might seem inane or at best unnecessary to point out that, however beautiful or amazing the design looks, a chair fails, literally, if it collapses or if it is uncomfortable.

A chair by Finn Juhl shows the designer pushing the materials and the joiners skills to new limits. Other chairs by other designers from the classic period are more subtle but no less amazing. In the Colonial Chair by Ole Wanscher, designed in 1949, the turned posts of the back rest are just 30mm in diameter and the slats that support the cushion of the back rest are just 8mm thick and gently curved along a total length of 480mm but the slats are housed into the posts and the whole thing takes the weight of someone sitting in the chair and leaning back.

 

longer post and photographs of the Colonial Chair by Ole Wanscher

 

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.

 

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 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.

With a narrow curved top rail to the chair, there are nine vertically set spindles across the back intersecting with two narrow, curved laths to form a grid or lattice with a small rectangular block at each intersection. Note the top of the front legs were cut out of a block - rather than being turned - and that form shoulders for the housing of the front and side rails of the seat. The leather of the upholstered seat is taken over the rails in the traditional way.

 

Made in Cuban mahogany by Johannes Hansen, the Lattice Chair was shown at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1942 in a rather formal room setting with a round dining table, a version of the dining chair with arms, a small sideboard on a stand and a large cabinet over shallow draws, also set on a stand, and presumably designed for storing table wares and table linen. With patterned wallpaper and a framed landscape above the sideboard, this appears to represent a good and fairly traditional middle-class dining room.

Along with the dining room furniture there was a sitting-room area with a sofa and an arm chair, both upholstered in striped material and both on square wood legs with stretchers so again not particularly adventurous although the way the furniture was arranged was much much less pretentious and ornate than the furniture might suggest and looks forward to less formal interiors in the 1950s and into the 1960s … so the large window had a Venetian blind without curtains with a low trough across the window filled with house plants* and above the three-seat sofa were three prints in simple well proportioned frames in lightwood hung in a tightly-spaced line in a way seen in some arrangements by Kaare Klint. 

In his review of the furniture at the cabinetmakers’ exhibition FC Lund wrote in Arkitekten 

… this time, Wegner has turned away from 'flipper style' furniture and is now working with more restrained form expressions. The fact that the suite has been executed in Cuban mahogany makes it just one more example of the endless succession of 'red' furniture, but the artistic concept raises it above the mere banal. It is expensive but exquisite…

One of the chairs was purchased by the design museum so this was the first chair by Wegner to be in a public collection.

 

Hans Wegner (1914-2007)

cabinetmakers Johannes Hansen

Cuban Mahogany

 

note:

The house plants in the room setting were quite a period piece … most with ornate leaf shapes with what looks like a variegated Begonia, a Philodendron and the ubiquitous Monstera - known in England as a Swiss Cheese Plant - and popular through the 1950s and 1960s.

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

guide to the furniture of PP Møbler

 

This guide to the cabinetwork of PP Møbler was produced in 2016 and I was given a copy when I met their sales team at 3Daysof Design so I assume that it has been used mainly to promote the work of the company at trade fairs but is actually a well-written, general introduction to some of the best furniture made by cabinetmakers in Denmark.

It sets out a brief history of the company and discusses their work with different designers including Nanna Ditzel, Poul Kjærholm, Finn Juhl and Verner Panton but focuses on their important collaboration with Hans Wegner.

In a clear and straightforward way, it covers how timber for high-quality furniture is cut and prepared and how both traditional and new techniques are used together in the workshops to make the production of these major pieces possible and how new technology has been used to drive forward new designs and new approaches.

There is a useful introduction to the main species of timber they work with - oak, ash, maple and cherry - including a brief descriptions of grain and appearance and notes about how and why the different woods are used in the production of their furniture. The company has its own woodland and in this book they make some important points about the management of trees and about sustainability. When areas of woodland are felled and then replanted, a number of trees are left to protect new saplings. Those older and larger 'shelter tree' in a woodland have a longer growth period and when they, in turn, are felled, they are the source for much thicker planks - up to 5" thick - that are used for larger or more complex and important parts of chairs like the shaped backs. Pieces are cut to shape immediately the timber is delivered to the workshop but are then left for up to two years to condition. Complicated back and arm rests, that have to be made from several pieces that are joined, are cut from the same length of timber - as mirror shapes - so that colour and grain match across the back and for tables the leaves, for an individual table, are cut from the same tree for the same reason.

In the book there is a section or catalogue where each of the chairs has a short history of the design with an explanation of technical details that are specific or important to that piece. There are line drawings for each of their  chairs; easy chairs; chaise long; benches and a stool and tables or desks and there are even useful plans to show the arrangement of chairs around each of the tables with and without additional leaves.

Although relatively short, the book even covers maintenance of the furniture - explaining why certain finishes are applied with advice about how the wood can be cleaned and explains why a patina, developed over the years, is important as it makes each piece personal to the owner.

It is crucial that companies produce this sort of publication to engage customers but also, as schools cut back on teaching arts and crafts and as fewer people have the time or space to do woodwork themselves, it can't be assumed now that a potential buyer will know enough about wood and the techniques used in making furniture to understand why something was made in a certain way; see how a design reflects and respects the different characteristics of the trees used or understand why that has to be reflected in the price tag. Few buyers have the time or the inclination to become experts on cabinetmaking before they buy a chair but actually the more information they have then the more discerning they can be.

Books like this are also a way to give customers important information about sustainability. It may have been said by someone else somewhere else but there is a brilliant line in this book that I have not come across before … that a piece of furniture “should endure the time it takes for a new tree to grow.”

Much of this material and a good collection of photographs can also be found on the PP Møbler web site … including historic images of the workshops, images of the modern workshop equipment, with press photographs of the furniture produced and an explanation of techniques such as compression bending and the computer-programmed milling and cutting developed by the company.

PP Møbler

 
 
 

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

height: 76cm

width: 63cm

depth: 52 cm

height of seat: 44cm

now made in oak, ash, cherry or walnut

leather or cane

NV44

Finn Juhl (1912-1989)

cabinetmaker Niels Vodder

height: 73cm

width: 60cm

depth: 52 cm

height of seat: 47

Cuban mahogany rosewood

leather

initially only 12 examples produced

 
 

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.

Dansk Møbelkunst gennem 40 År

40 years of Danish Furniture Design - The Copenhagen Cabinet-makers’ Guild Exhibitions

In four volumes: 1927-1936, 1937-1946, 1947-1956 and 1957-1966

Compiled and edited by Greta Jalk - first published in 1987 and republished by Lindhart og Ringhof in 2017

 
 

a living room and study with furniture by the cabinetmaker Andersen & Bohm that was shown at the exhibition in 1928

these volumes of Dansk Møbelkunst Gennem 40 År are so important because they record just how and how quickly the work of the cabinet makers changed through even the first years of the exhibitions

This is a major reference work - not just for the history of modern Danish furniture design and the design of homes but these volumes, compiled by Greta Jalk, are also a record of social history - recording much about how Danish families lived or wanted to live through that period of massive changes in the middle of the 20th century - and indicate much about Danish business and the way that Danish design, through this period, was marketed.

There is a forward and a general introduction but otherwise the volumes are set out year by year with contemporary photographs of the furniture shown at each exhibition, along with some technical drawings. There are images of the covers of the exhibition catalogues - themselves giving an insight into Danish typography and graphic design through this period - and quotations from contemporary reviews of the furniture.

By the 1920s a widespread economic Depression across Europe was having a marked effect on the independent furniture makers and on the furniture trade in Copenhagen and to compound the problem, there was a clear change in the way people were living, so a change in what furniture they needed, with a growing number of people living in smaller apartments in the large number of new apartment blocks that were being built around the city.

 
 

Trade and craft guilds from the medieval period onwards had been formed to oversee the training of apprentices and to protect craftsmen and their work in their own cities - guilds were based in cities and towns - and to monitor and where necessary restrict competition. Usually the guilds also provided support for widows and retired craftsmen. Through the 19th century, in major historic cities in Europe, these craft guilds began to loose their relevance as methods of production, of all sorts of goods from glassware to furniture, moved from small workshops that served a district or a town or a city to larger and larger factories. So it is ironic that Denmark, producing now some of the best and most highly regarded modern furniture, does so because it’s old craft guilds survived longer than elsewhere and fought back and in the process adapted and changed. 

So the first Cabinetmakers’ Exhibition in 1927 was organised as a way of demonstrating the skills of the furniture makers in the city and to bolster sales or, rather, to revive flagging sales.

From consecutive years an unusual idea … a square card table and chairs with sharply-curved backs set on an angle so when they were pushed in they form a scallop arrangement. The table and chairs shown in 1960 had been designed by Kaare Klint in 1935 and examples of the same design in mahogany were shown in 1946 and 1948. This version in rosewood was produced to commemorate the work of Klint who died in 1954. Svend Eriiksen wrote that “The tradition established by Klint is tenacious and durable. It will take vigorous effort to keep it alive” and the critic from Jyllands Posten wrote of this furniture that “they still stand out as some of the finest pieces to have been made in this country.”

Exhibitions were held in different venues but at an early stage room settings rather than simple display stands were built. Clearly, the aim was to show people, particularly young couples, how they might furnish a new home and they encouraged people to see furniture made by cabinetmakers as not just for the wealthy upper middle classes but as a sensible source for well-made furniture for a broad range of families.

In the second year, in 1928, there was a crucial change when cabinetmakers began to collaborate with architects and furniture was shown that had been designed by Viggo Sten Møller and Kay Gottlob and a sideboard was shown that was designed by Kaare Klint that was made by the cabinetmaker Otto Meyer. 

That set a pattern and - to use a pun deliberately - that set the bench mark for the next forty years. These partnerships established an important precedence where designs and styles evolved - not just through discussion amongst the cabinetmakers but year on year as a response to what the market wanted.

This room from 1944 included Chair NV44 designed by Finn Juhl and made by Niels Vodder. The side table is interesting with an integral hot plate to keep food warm. Reviews were critical - one pointed out that “The table was a new and interesting kind of extension table; but it seemed as if its design was not really related to that of the other furniture”  and another thought “the curved chairs are nice to look at and comfortable - but the cost of making it.”

 

Obviously, this furniture can not be completely representative of all furniture made through this period and nor was it all successful. Some cabinet makers were more adventurous than others … some produced amazing pieces of furniture that were not widely appreciated while other designs went on to achieve commercial success and some pieces are still produced and sold today.

The photographs and drawings in these volumes show how the way of life in the city for many changed through this period so, for instance, large cupboards for storing 12 or more place settings for formal dining disappear and tables and dining chairs become more compact. There were few beds shown - presumably for the simple reason that people don’t buy beds too often - but towards the later years there was quite a bit of furniture for the garden or balcony.

from 1962 bar stools in rosewood designed by Mary Beatrice Bloch and beds in teak designed by the Icelandic designer Gunnar Magnusson made by Christensen and Larsen. The sofa chairs and combined dinning table work table are also in teak, designed by Steffen Syrach-Larsen and made by the cabinetmaker Gustav Bertelsen & Co.

 

What you see, above all through these 40 years, is how the shapes and styles of chairs and tables and cupboards become simpler visually so superfluous decoration of any kind disappears. 

That is not to suggest that the furniture compromised quality by becoming more basic so cheaper to produce. Actually the opposite. As clear form and shape become more and more important then there is nowhere for shoddy workmanship to hide. If there was any extravagance or bravado it was through using more expensive imported timbers such as walnut or teak but there was always a focus on quality of workmanship to demonstrate mastery of woodworking techniques. 

Nor is that an implication that the cabinetmakers were defensive or protectionist or reactionary because many of the pieces shown at the exhibition involved new methods of construction that required new machines and jigs and new ways of working with wood - many of the most adventurous designs by Hans Wegner or Finn Juhl would have been impossible to make without new techniques for shaping, bending and joining wood. Furniture makers were moving from the workbench to the idea of the larger workshop or factory where larger numbers of each piece could be made so these exhibitions were less and less about the one-off commission, although those must have been welcome, but more and more about the establishment of an outward-looking and successful furniture industry. 

L1240373.jpg
 

Chair designed by Jørgen Høvelskov and made by the cabinetmaker J H Johansens was shown in 1966.

One critic wrote “…The purpose in exhibiting at the cabinetmakers’ furniture exhibition is either to show furniture of supreme quality or or to suggest future solutions by means of experiments. There are one or two examples of these experiments such as the chair designed by Jørgen Høvelskov and made by Henning Jensen. It is intended to be very simple with a frame threaded with heavy cord, but unfortunately the total impression is anything but simple. The chair seems confused and unfinished, and it is correspondingly uncomfortable.”

 

Chairs at Designmuseum Danmark

 
 

looking at chairs to left or right or above or below you can see how a shape or type of chair evolves or how a form can be re-interpreted in a different material

At Designmuseum Danmark there is a relatively new display of their collection of modern chairs where the chairs are arranged by type rather than by designer or by displaying the chairs in chronological order. 

The museum typography for their chairs is one good and clear way of putting the chairs into fairly distinct groups where each group is defined by a form or shape and by the style of a chair … the form of the chair, techniques of working with a material and details of construction and style, being closely interrelated.

Most of the chairs date from the 20th century and were made by Danish cabinetmakers or Danish manufacturers although several older chairs and some chairs from outside Denmark are included where they provide evidence for how or why or when a specific Danish design evolved or if they are relevant evidence from a specific or wider social or historic context.

Most of the chairs are made in wood but there are chairs in metal tube, metal wire and even plastic so there are interesting examples where closely-related designs - in terms of style and shape - can be seen in tube-metal alongside a version in bent-wood although obviously the techniques and the details of construction are very different.

The main groups, defined by the museum, are Folding chairs and stools; Easy chairs - so generally lower and wider chairs - and Windsor chairs - with vertical spindles across the back to support the top rail or, in taller chairs, a head rest. Chippendale chairs have a sturdy frame of square-set legs, usually with stretchers between the legs, and a relatively low back and when they have arms these are housed into the uprights of the back. There is a group derived from Shaker chairs, from America - often with horizontal slats across the back. Chinese chairs and steambent chairs, are similar to the Chippendale Chairs but are distinct in terms of the sitting position which is more upright and more formal and generally the top of the back rail sweeps round into arm rests as a single rather than separate pieces. Round arm chairs and Klismos chairs also have curved and relatively low back rests that continue round into arm rests - with The Chair by Hans Wegner perhaps the most famous Danish example. A Klismos or Klismos Chair is a distinct classical or Greek type with short curved back rest across the top of the back uprights that are usually tapered and splay out down to the floor in a curve. Shell chairs include chairs in moulded or shaped plywood, moulded plastic or metal with shapes that provide, usually in one piece, the support for the seat and back without a framework, and are usually on a separate frame of legs or on a pedestal, that can be made from a different material to the shell, although there are shell chairs where seat, back and support are all moulded. The final group are Cantilever chairs where normally there is a strong base on the floor and some form of support for the front of the seat but no legs or support under the back of the seat - an interesting but not a common type in Denmark. 

chair by PV Jensen Klint c1910

armchair by Kaare Klint 1922

JH505 the Cow Horn Chair by Hans Wegner 1952

Ant shell chair by Arne Jacobsen 1951

EKC12 in tubular steel by Poul Kjærholm 1962

PK15 by Poul Kjærholm 1978

all in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen

 

The study and analysis of chair designs from different periods has been an important part of the training for designers in Danish schools of architecture and schools of design for a century. 

In the 1920s, the architect Kaare Klint was responsible for the conversion and the fittings of the buildings of an 18th-century hospital to form an appropriate exhibition space for the museum of Danish design - then called the Kunstindustrimuseet Danmark which emphasised the close relationship between design and production. Klint taught design in the museum where he encouraged architects and furniture designers to study and draw historic pieces and to study and appreciate cabinet making techniques even if most were not craftsmen themselves.

This division of chair types in the design museum is different from the groups set out by Nicolai de Gier and Stine Liv Buur in their important book Chairs' Tectonics where primary divisions are by material and then by the form and structure … so they look specifically at how the seat, back rest and support or legs are joined or fixed together and take that as the starting point for their classification of chair types.

Designer: Boris Berlin of ISKOS-BERLIN Copenhagen

Curator: Christian Holmsted Olesen.
Graphic design: Rasmus Koch Studio.
Light design: Jørgen Kjær/Cowi Light Design and Adalsteinn Stefansson.
Graphic design: Rasmus Koch Studio.

 

note:

this was posted initially on the 2 October but has been moved up to make a more-sensible introduction to the series of posts about chairs that were posted through October. The chairs were selected because they are important examples from major Danish designers but they also cover all the types of chair in the design museum typology.

These posts on chairs are also an experiment for this site in trying to present more photographs and slightly more information than is normal in a blog to highlight and analyse key features of each design. 

Selecting the category a Danish chair will take you to all the posts in the sequence in which they were posted and there is also a new time line to form an index to these posts:

Ladderback Chair by Ole Wanscher 1946

Ladderback Chair from 1946 by Ole Wanscher in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark

 

Chippendale type chair in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark that dates from about 1770 and must have been the inspiration for the design by Ole Wanscher

 

Chippendale stole / Chippendale chairs

This is a strange hybrid design that proves just how difficult it can be to place a chair into a rational typography but it is also a very good example of how a new design can use some earlier features but combine those forms or technical details of construction with new ideas to create what should be seen as a transitional form.

At the front and seat, this chair follows fairly closely the accepted form of the Chippendale type with a straight front to the front rail of the seat in plan but with a pronounced hollow. The seat itself is not upholstered although the museum catalogue suggests that when they acquired the chair it had a loose cushion although there is no indication if that is original or was added later for more comfort. The seat itself is plywood set down into a rebate in the frame of the seat.

The front rail and side rails of the seat are housed into the top of the front legs but this is given emphasis by forming a block that projects slightly forward of the rails and by being deeper than the rails and undercut where the leg below the block is turned. The outer corner of this block is rounded and the foot of the front legs are turned to form curious bulb-shaped feet - a ball shape would have a sharper shoulder.

There are straight stretchers running back from the front to the back legs, with a conventional section - thinner than they are deep with rounded top and bottom - but there is no cross rail and no stretcher between the back legs that are both common in a heavier or more robust Chippendale type chair.

 

But it is the back of the chair that differs most from the conventional form. The back legs are taken up to support the back rest and are curved to taper out from the seat - both at the bottom and at the top - but rather than being square in cross section are round and terminate with a rounded top more common on chairs by Hans Wegner. The back rest is a ladder with four slats but with an extravagant wave shape that is pierced in the centre with a long gash this is certainly neither a Shaker style chair nor a country chair. The arms of the chair are equally extravagant with a pronounced upward sweep from the back, where they are housed into the uprights of the back rest, to the rounded front that forms a hand rest if the hands are turned palm down and thumbs in before standing up. They are supported by tapered uprights set in from the end of the arm rest and set into the top of the seat half way along the side rail and are bent in a double curve that anticipates the arm supports of the later Y or Wishbone Chair by Hans Wegner.

 

Ole Wanscher 1903-1985

made in mahogany by Fritz Hansen Eftf


Dining Chair by Ole Wanscher 1943

An example by Ole Wanscher of a traditional or conservative design for a chair appropriate for a formal dining room.

Made by the cabinetmakers A J Iversen who produced a number of variations on the design and in other exotic woods including rosewood and walnut.

With sharp shoulders to the joins of the frame and using a fine grained wood the design is strong enough to omit the stretchers but otherwise this is another variation on the Chippendale / Red Chair type.

Note the fine bead that is taken around the edge of the elements of the back rest - including the cross pieces of the double X. The back uprights are reduced in thickness above the seat with a small elegant shoulder on the inner side and the leather of the seat has a sharp sewn edge ... all high-quality work from an exemplary cabinetmaker.

A version of the chair from 1942 in mahogany with the same double X pattern across the back has a rather lighter and simpler and conventional frame to the back, rather than the cross piece, but has stretchers.


 

Ole Wanscher was 18 months younger than Arne Jacobsen but his furniture represents a rather different and more conventional or traditional aspect of Danish mid-century design and his work shows just how difficult it is to use general terms such as modern with any sense of a precise definition. Much of Wanscher's furniture, particularly dining chairs, are conservative and perhaps best described as revival or possibly even as neo-classical survival having much more in common with chairs of about 1800 than with work by Jacobsen.

But that moves into an area of making subjective judgements about a design to try and decide if something captures a general style of a period - so follows a contemporary trend - or is truly innovative - taking a form or technique or material in a new direction that influences others and sets what will be popular next - or is unique - with a design that owes little to precedent but with few other designers following.

In terms of being transitional, it is difficult to see Wanscher himself producing the Colonial Chair of 1949 without intermediate steps and here, with the Ladderback Chair, Wanscher was establishing a relatively new type for modern chairs … a wide low easy chair in wood that was not upholstered.

Deckchair by Kaare Klint 1933

chair photographed at Designmuseum Danmark when it was part of a major exhibition on Kaare Klint

 

 

This is not exactly a recliner - you don't lie back in a horizontal or almost-horizontal position - but by having the foot rest raised level with the seat you are 'sitting with your feet up' to use a slightly old-fashioned English phrase that is more than a straight description of how someone is sitting but implies just a bit of pampering or self indulgence.

The chair looks as if it would be most appropriate for the deck of an ocean liner but when it was first shown at the Cabinetmakers' Guild Furniture Exhibition in 1933 it was described as suitable for a garden terrace.

It is a clear example of Klint's interest in ergonomics - with a careful focus on dimensions and angles so that, for instance, the angle of the back rest, although fixed, was comfortable and the head rest was at the right height for someone of an average size and the arm rest not only has to be in the right relationship to the seat, in terms of height, but the right length so that the hands are naturally close to the ends so, with palms down and fingers over the ends, the weight of the body can be raised slightly and transferred forward to stand up. It seems odd to bother to describe that movement … we change our centre of gravity automatically without analysing what we are doing as we stand up from a chair … but if the designer gets it wrong then we feel uncomfortable or awkward without  perhaps understanding exactly why.

However, the chair also illustrates well two other aspects found in the design of modern Danish furniture but rarely discussed as much as either the craftsmanship or the aesthetics of a piece.

First the chair is ingenious. This is clever and deliberately complicated design. The foot rest is supported on a relatively thin and light prop and when raised it doesn't just support the feet but forms a continuous curved line that runs from the ground at the back to the front edge. So the foot rest has a practical function but also contributes to the clear aesthetics of the design.

But when the prop is tucked back, the foot rest hinges down and the chair can be used more conventionally with the feet down flat on the floor.  So ... beautiful and practical.

The back is slightly concave and almost the same curve is picked up for the strut that forms the front leg and the support of the arm rest. The seat has a frame which also acts as the front and back rails of the chair and the seat extends back beyond the line of the back rest and the bottom cross piece of the back rest is raised so that neither sticks into you. Then the whole chair actually folds up so each of the pieces, if not actually fitting snugly together, has to at least be the right length to work with the hinge points or the chair would only half fold or, worse, might fold in on itself with someone sitting in it. So every line and every angle has to work when the chair is open and when it is folded. That's the ingenuity. To design the chair was, in effect a very complex mechanical puzzle and was about the resolution of engineering problems even if the workmanship is that of a cabinetmaker.

And the second aspect that was and still is important in Danish furniture making, though rarely discussed, is what can be described as the engineering of fixings and joins. So here in this chair, the success of the piece depends on the finely-made brass hinges and pivots that hold the chair together. Not only do they have to be strong enough to take a lot of weight - not just dead weight but in some parts weight acting on a lever - but these must have been designed with some form of locking nut … not that the parts are locked in place, as the sections have to open and close, but they have to lock onto themselves so that over time they do not work loose.

The simple form of this is to have two nuts on a bolt so that one is held against the piece and a second bolt is added and then the two bolts turned in opposite directions to lock them into place against each other but leave a constant and hopefully unchanging space between the inner nut and the head of the bolt on the other side of the piece being held. But these brass fittings are much much more sophisticated than that.

What you see in the deckchair is not the use of ordinary bolts and fixings but pieces that were almost-certainly made specifically for these chair and they are carefully recessed, so they are flush with the surface of the timber, and even the positions of screw heads were determined to hold the fitting in place without splitting the wood.

The Devil, as always, is in the detail.

 
 

designed by Kaare Klint

cabinetmaker Rud. Rasmussen

height: 91cm

width: 58cm

depth: 150cm

teak or oak with rattan seat and back rest

brass fittings

quilted and covered cushion and head rest

exhibited at the Cabinetmakers' Guild in 1933

copper and Copenhagen buildings

 

Copper and the copper alloys of bronze and brass are amazing metals with a long history of use in Denmark for a wide range of uses including making domestic vessels; for coins; for making weapons, particularly ornate weapons for ceremonial use or to display status, and copper and bronze, because they are relatively easy to work, have been used in jewellery and in the decorative arts, particularly for cast sculpture. From the late medieval period onwards copper and bronze have also been used on a much larger scale in architecture, for covering and protecting the roofs of important buildings and, again, because the metals are durable but relatively easy to work and because they can be used as thin sheets that can be shaped and joined together, copper is particularly good for covering domes and spires where the metal layer can be supported by a strong formwork or framework.

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copper after Vesterport

government buildings between Christiansborg and the harbour in Copenhagen by Thomas Havning 1962-1967

 

In terms of style, Vesterport can hardly be said to have set a fashion as few buildings copied the use of copper cladding although through the 1930s and well into the 1950s many did have brass window and door frames and brass architectural fittings including handrails for staircases.

Superficially the government buildings in Copenhagen at Slotholmgade and Christians Brygge designed by Sven Eske Kristensen and Thomas Havning and built in the 1960s are reminiscent of Veserport. The blocks have the strong colour tone dominated by green and of course with the continuous lines of windows and very regular lines of panels divided by ribs forming a regular grid but only the roofs and certain fittings are copper or brass … the panels below the windows and vertical divisions between the panels are in a dark green polished stone or slate.

However, more recently, the offices and tower at Pakhusvej near Amerika Plads by Arkitema has facades in copper. It was completed in 2004 and although now darkening in colour there is no sign yet of a surface patina of verdigris which shows how slow the transition can be even though this building, opposite the terminal for ferries from Oslo, is subject to winds off the sea.

 

the main tower and a detail of the copper cladding at Amerika Plads by Arkitema 2004

 

Most recently the Axel Towers in the centre of Copenhagen, close to Tivoli, by Lundgaard and Tranberg and nearing completion have been faced in tombac- a copper zinc alloy -and again it will be interesting to watch as this prominent, building - close to the City Hall and very close to the SAS Hotel by Jacobsen and two blocks from Vesterport, changes the visual dynamics of the area as its colour changes.

 
 

Axel Towers, Copenhagen by Lundgaard and Tranberg ... work nearing complettion

Mindcraft16 ... Sølvgade Chair by Cecilie Manz

The Sølvgade Chair by Cecilie Manz - when seen alongside the other works in the Mindcraft16 exhibition - appears to be the most conventional piece because it is restrained, rather self-contained and certainly does not draw attention to itself. In contrast, many of the other pieces are deliberately flamboyant and deliberately controversial to push conventions and to challenge the visitor. 

However, the design of the chair goes in the other direction by taking the design of a chair back to basic principles it raises interesting and important questions about how designers and manufacturers should approach the production of a new chair. Why is that important? Well, a chair is perhaps the staple piece of furniture and usually has a major place or even an iconic place in the catalogues of the major Danish design companies. New chairs are launched at regular intervals and old designs are revived as a matter of pride in a well-known back catalogue. Most design buffs can reel off a list of classic chairs but would find it more difficult to name more than a couple of classic table designs or a couple of sofas.

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Mindcraft16 ... ceramics

Works by four ceramicists were selected to be included in the Mindcraft16 exhibition at Designmuseum Danmark.

They could hardly be more different showing four very different approaches to working with clay but all four makers are exploring what they can do with clay, testing boundaries and challenging preconceptions about ceramics. 

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