design classic: PH 5 lamp by Poul Henningsen 1958

With his designs for lamps and light fittings, Poul Henningsen sought to control electric light to produce even and glare-free illumination. His drawings show detailed studies of how light was reflected back off surfaces and it is said that he had a study or work room at his home in Hellerup where the walls were painted black so that he could trace the way light spreads out or, for pendant lamps, he could see how different curves on metal or glass shades could be used to direct some light down and some of the light up to reflect back off the ceiling.

He established his own independent studio in 1919 and with the Danish lighting company Louis Poulsen his first lamps were shown in Paris in 1925. Through the next 40 years he produced a series of lights that used a combination of shallow, curved shades, in either metal or in glass, that focus the light down or out at an angle across a wider area and these were combined with coloured baffles to change the colour tone of the light or he used a series of flaps or petals, again of glass or metal, to hide the light source and control the direction and angle of the beams of light.

These different lamps might appear to be about appearance - about style and fashion - or, with the very large lights, about drama but in fact they allowed for such a precise control of artificial light that they were used in work spaces and in museums and galleries - used in the first trade exhibition on the opening of Forum in 1926 and in the exhibition spaces and staircases of the Design Museum in Copenhagen - and even, on long stems set at an angle, installed in ranks to floodlight indoor tennis courts.

The PH 5 was first produced by Louis Poulsen in 1958 and is a large lamp with five metal shades 267mm high and with an overall diameter of 500mm but it has been so popular in Denmark that it has been claimed that every Danish family has at least one PH 5 light.

 

 

Poul Henningsen was also a writer and critic and when the PH 5 was released he wrote with self-mocking humour: 

“For a generation I have believed that consideration for the consumer and common sense would prevail, but now I have become a fatalist. I have accepted fate, and with Louis Poulsen´s permission I have designed a PH fixture which can be used with any kind of light source, Christmas lights and 100 W metal-filament bulbs. Although a fluorescent tube would be too much to ask in the existing form!” 

 

Louis Poulsen

note:

The PH 5 lamp in the photographs has slightly warped shades and some small dents in the edge because it has been used in at least four different apartments - at least four as I bought it at an antique market attracted by its unusual deep grey colour. Over the years it has had two trips across the North Sea and has been dropped at least once by removal men. Needless to say, new lights from Louis Poulsen are perfect - you have to add your own marks to make it yours.

 

design classic: Bankers Clock by Arne Jacobsen

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Bankers Clock in the collection of Designmuseum Danmark

 

Designed in 1970 for for the National Bank of Denmark in Copenhagen and still in production - sold by Rosendahl. The hour marks around the face have a line of twelve small squares along the radial with the square nearest to the centre blacked out for number one, the second square blacked out for two and so on round to twelve at the top with just the outer square blacked out. The effect creates a fascinating spiral outwards through the twelve hours. Compared with the minimalism of the City Hall Clock, designed by Jacobsen in 1955, these little squares seem quirky or even superfluous, but then the intermediate marks for the minutes on the earlier clock face are not strictly necessary … minimal design is not necessarily about stripping back to the starkest and most basic point but about when you stop in that process of reduction.

design classic: Series 7 Chair by Arne Jacobsen

 

The Series 7 Chair, was designed by Arne Jacobsen for Fritz Hansen and was first shown at an international exhibition in Helsingborg in 1955. It has a moulded plywood shell, in a single piece for seat and back, that is supported on a tubular steel base with four thin legs that are slightly splayed outwards and meet at the centre under the seat.

Not only is the Series 7 still in production, over 60 years later, and still the best-selling chair from Fritz Hansen, but it is said to be the most copied chair in the world. Does that make it the first truly universal chair … even the first egalitarian chair? In part that depends on its original and its current price and, I suppose, the number of countries where it is sold because, strictly, to be universal, it has to be available to a very broad demographic. 

Certainly it is a very interesting chair because it has had such a long period of popularity. In part this is because it was not only very much a product of its period but was also incredibly advanced … so, it must have felt very ‘modern’ to buy one in 1955. But actually you could suggest that the design is so simple … so stripped back to basics … that it is as far as is possible timeless. But can it be of it’s period and timeless?That raises the question about why some designs, over time, drift out of favour … become boring or old fashioned or politically inappropriate … a Corbusier chaise covered in zebra skin for instance … and others become icons.

Initially it was not so different that it meant that the customer was taking a risk but the design was also advanced enough that, to some extent, at least some might have seen its potential to remain popular although I’m not sure that even Jacobsen himself would have anticipated that the Series 7 would still be in production into the second and presumably the third decade of a new century. 

That in itself is interesting because in 1955 Jacobsen was a young architect trying to establish his career that was then associated primarily with designing houses but his reputation is now secure as one of the great architects and great designers of his generation. So, in that sense, the Series 7 could be claimed to be iconic and part of that odd current fascination with famous names. Is the chair ‘great design’ because it is by Arne Jacobsen or is Arne Jacobsen a great designer because he designed the Series 7 Chair?

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design classic: Margrethe Plastic Bowl 1950

Margrethe Plastic Bowl - Collection of Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen

 

Designed by Sigvard Oscar Fredrik Bernadotte (1907-2002) - son of King Gustav VI of Sweden - an industrial designer who founded Bernadotte & Bjørn Industry Design (B&B) in Copenhagen in 1950.

 

design classic: Kartio by Kaj Franck 1958

 

Kaj Franck (1911-1989) trained as a furniture designer and interior designer in Helsinki and after graduating in 1932 he worked as an illustrator, textile designer and interior decorator. In 1945 he joined the ceramic company Arabia and became their chief designer but also worked in the late 1940s for Iittala and in 1951 he was appointed artistic director of the Nuttajärvi glass works so he is now more widely known for his glass and tableware designs.

In 1955 he was awarded the Lunning Prize and travelled first to the United States and then to Japan. 

The Kartio tumbler was designed in 1958 as one of several simple and practical pieces of table glass that were produced for both domestic use but also for commercial restaurant and cafe use and also for export. Kartio means cone and the shape could not be simpler … a truncated cone with a flat base and angled sides. It stacks easily and the smooth, slightly-rounded thickening of the base not only gives the tumbler a good balance when picked up but helps to prevent the stacked glasses being chipped and scratched.

One definition of good design is that there is a point reached in the design process where nothing can be added and nothing taken away without spoiling the form of the work and that is certainly true of the Kartio tumbler. The simple shape has beautiful clean lines and proportions and it is obvious that if, for instance, the angle of the side was made steeper and the top tighter then it would not be as easy to drink from or as easy to stack and if the top was taken outwards it might look more dramatic but would probably be less stable. The design has been refined to a point where visually and physically it has a strong sense of equilibrium.  

Another yardstick by which to judge good design is that it should express the best qualities of the material and its form and any decoration should reflect and make the best of the characteristics of the manufacturing process and, unless there are very good reasons, that form should take as the starting point its ultimate function. The Kartio tumbler certainly ticks all those boxes. Perhaps some people would argue that this makes the glass rather stark or even slightly boring and some might use words like functional or utilitarian pejoratively as an implied criticism but it is the simplicity of the design that makes it timeless. Some good design is good because it simply and quietly gets on with the job it was meant to do. The Kartio glass is coming up to its 60th birthday but my guess would be that anyone who is not a design historian would be hard pressed to guess its age.

Over the years Kartio has been made in coloured and clear glass and is still in production by Iittala who now control the Nuttajärvi works. The catalogue from the design museum in Helsinki, Kaj Franck Universal Forms published in 2011 has a short but interesting section on which colours were chosen and why and why and when over the years new colours were added and some colours stopped. Even the simplest design can be influenced by or set new fashions. 

design classic: PK25 by Poul Kjærholm 1951

 

Poul Kjærholm designed some of the most beautiful and most striking of chairs of the modern period of Danish design.

At the age of 15 he was apprenticed to a cabinet maker in his home town of Hjørring in Jutland but moved to Copenhagen in 1948 where he continued his training at the Kunsthåndværkerskolen - the School of Arts and Crafts - then based at the Kunstindustrimuseet - now Designmuseum Danmark. It was Hans Wegner who introduced him to the industrial design of Germany and to Ejvind Kold Christensen, then establishing a company that manufactured pieces by both Wegner and then Kjærholm. The younger designer moved across almost completely to using industrial materials rather than wood although he used natural materials, particularly leather, with amazing almost stark effects which emphasises the clean precise lines of the furniture that bring his designs closer to engineering and certainly a long way from the forms and techniques of cabinet making.

The PK25 was made from a sheet of steel that was cut and then shaped in a hydraulic press, and given a matt chrome finish and with a single length of sailing rope wrapped around for the seat and back.

design classic: Flowerpot Pendant by Verner Panton

 

Designed by Verner Panton in 1967, initially the Flowerpot pendant lamp was made by Louis Poulsen but is now produced by &Tradition

Verner Panton (1926-1998) trained as an architect at the Royal Danish Academy of Art in Copenhagen. After graduating in 1951 he worked first in the office of Arne Jacobsen before starting out on his own. His furniture designs are renowned for his use of strong vibrant colours and in 1960 produced the first single-form, injection-moulded plastic chair.

The design of the Flowerpot Pendant is deceptively simple with a half globe over the light and, inverted, a small half globe of half the diameter that covers the light bulb.

A display in Designmuseum Danmark shows a number of the strong colours produced through the 1970s.

&Tradition package the lamp in a clever and well-designed box … a good example of packaging not just protecting the lamp, but providing background information for the purchaser and of course making storing and stock management for the retailer easier. Presumably a lot of people just dump the box, barely giving it a second thought, but packaging really is an important part of the design, production and sale sequence.

 
 

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

 

design classic: Chair 406 by Alvar Aalto

 

First produced in 1939, Chair 406 was designed by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto (1898-1976). 

The frame is in laminated and bent birch with solid birch cross rails. In this example, the webbing is in natural linen but the chair is also made with black linen webbing or with leather strapping. Chair 406 is still in production by Artek although now only available in Finland.

 
 

Its form and details come from the honest and straightforward use of laminated or plywood techniques of production so, for instance, the ends of the side pieces are rounded off by sanding because cutting plywood square, as carpenters do with solid timber, can leave splits or tears along the edge of the outer layer of the piece. 

 
 

The open shape of the side pieces form a stretched or distorted S shape - so in effect the seat is cantilevered without back legs and means that there is some flexibility or a slight give in the seat and back that makes the sitting position comfortable even if the chair does not have traditional padded upholstery. 

 
 

A high back gives good support and the long arms and their relatively low position makes them comfortable as a rest for the elbows if your hands are in your lap - so when reading a book - but also support the under arm if you sit with your arms along the wood with your hands over the end, palm down, and from that position the arms provide perfect support and balance when pushing up or steadying yourself to stand up.

 
 

Upper and lower cross rails of the seat and frame in solid birch are tenoned into the side pieces and the lower section of the frame below the seat is thicker to give it strength and make it just slightly more rigid. A middle bar across the back is simply placed across the frame with a lapped or halving joint and drilled and fixed with screws … not the most elegant part of the design but originally this was intended to be a relatively simple and relatively cheap chair.

 

design classic: Pelican Chair by Finn Juhl 1940

 
 
 

Finn Juhl (1912-1989) had trained as an architect, at the Royal Danish Academy of Art, and not as a furniture maker, so his design for the Pelican Chair was realised with the cabinet maker Niels Vodder and two of the chairs were shown at the exhibition of the Cabinet Makers’ Guild in 1940. With their strong sculptural form and simple but hefty wooden legs set at an angle, the chairs must have caused a fair bit of discussion and controversy at the exhibition and subsequently commercial production was limited. 

A version of the chair - with thinner and upturned wings set lower to the back - was shown at the Cabinetmakers' Exhibition in 1939 with a sofa, desk, chairs and shelves that were all made by Niels Vodder. In a review, Hans Hansen wrote in Arkitekten that the "general opinion will probably be that the whole arrangement is most peculiar, but it offers a valuable chance to challenge established norms, and arouse discussion ...." and when this, the final version of the arm chair, was shown in 1940, Eiler Abel, again in Arkitekten, thought the chairs "resemble more than anything tired walruses."

OneCollection reintroduced the design at the Cologne furniture fair in January 2001 and now,  to mark its 75th anniversary, have produced a special edition of the chair covered in a fabric based on a drawing from 1942 entitled Macbeth by the Danish artist Asger Jorn - a contemporary of Juhl’s who studied in Paris under Fernand Léger in the late 30s and also collaborated with Le Corbusier.

 
 

 

Although the new Pelican is true to the scale and shape of the original chairs from the 1940s, those first chairs had a pine frame with several layers of upholstery but for the current version this has been replaced with a hard foam shell with a steel core.

 

height: 68cm

width: 85cm

depth: 76cm

height of seat: 37cm

 

details of chair now in production from OneCollection

design classic: cutlery by Jens Quistgaard

In 1953 Jens Harald Quistgaard (1919-2008) designed a set of cutlery or flatware in satin-finish stainless steel with teak handles called Fjord.

In 1954 - the year that Quistgaard was awarded the Lunning Prize - a variation of the design went into production called Kongo with handles in black nylon with a plug of pewter in the end that appears to be the continuation of the steel through the handle.

The pieces are beautifully weighted and balanced and sit well in the hand. On the spoon and the fork, the edges of the bowls are finely chamfered and there is a thin elegant spine down the axis as the steel shaft transitions into the handle. There are no collars or decoration so there is a very clean silhouette.

Each piece is marked “DANSK DESIGNS GERMANY” with the logo of four ducks and the initials JHQ.

design classic: stool by Piet Hein

Piet Hein (1905-1996) was a scientist, a mathematician, an inventor, a designer and a poet. He studied philosophy in Copenhagen and then, after a time as a student at the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm, he returned to Copenhagen to study theoretical physics at the Technological University. 

He joined the resistance during the war and wrote poetry and started to write for Politiken shortly after the Nazi occupation under the pseudonym Kumbel or Kumbel Kumbell … the name Piet or Peter or Petrus means stone and a hein or hen is also a stone but specifically a tombstone - or also in Danish a kumbel or kumbl.

Hein’s father was an engineer and there are strong influences from both engineering and mathematics in Hein’s designs for furniture and lighting.

The bar stool is 780mm high and with a maximum diameter of 360mm. On the underside of the seat is a square plate to which the verticals of the support are fixed with the the verticals tapering inwards to slot into a metal bottom plate with a foot rest formed from two further pieces of bent metal rod. It is a substantial and heavy piece. 

The stool was designed in 1968 for Fritz Hansen who still produces the famous and popular Super-elliptical table, designed in the same year by Hein in collaboration with Arne Jacobsen, and there is a close relationship between the support of the stool and the leg units of the table. The shape of the top of the table is constructed from a formula determined by the French mathematician Gabriel Lamé. Piet Hein had used the shape first for a traffic island in Stockholm but also designed plates, following the same shape, and bowls based on the super egg - the shape produced by spinning a super ellipse around its axis. 

As can be seen from the label on the underside of the seat, this stool was produced by Fritz Hansen in 1993 to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the design.

design classic: JH604 by Hans Wegner

Although known primarily for his furniture, Hans Wegner did design a number of lights that were produced commercially, including the JH604. 

A small knurled knob on the stem of the pendant means that the position of the bulb can be adjusted in relation to the bottom edge of the metal shade … the shade can be raised to expose the lower part of the lightbulb (as in the photograph) for a general and wider area of light, for instance if it is used over a side table, or it can be lowered so that the bulb is covered when it is hung above a dining table in part to form a tighter pool of light but also so the bulb is tucked up above the lower edge of the shade and does not dazzle people sitting around the table. 

In the original design, a rise and fall unit in a metal globe just above the shade meant that the whole light could be raised up out of the way when there were candles on the table.

This version of the light is produced by Pandul and the rise and fall unit is in plastic in the ceiling fitting which is, apparently, more reliable, but for me it reduces part of the distinct character of the light that made it look so much 'of its period' … although I guess some would argue that the modification makes the present version simpler and therefore rather more timeless.

For writing this post, I tried to work out why I like this light so much - the photograph shows the light I fitted over my dining table a few weeks ago. Some of the reasons are fairly obvious … I like the simple but beautiful profile of the light, its quality and its size … it is surprisingly large with an overall diameter of 510mm. I also realise that part of its appeal is its place in design history. As a design historian I am fascinated by that period in the 1920s and 1930s when design aesthetics changed in Europe with the wider take-up of industrial materials and industrial methods of production for domestic furniture and fittings. The interest in tubular steel, chrome and so on can be found most obviously in the works of the Bauhaus in Germany but there were contemporary products from Austria, France, Belgium, Holland that explored both the new materials and the style that emerged. Of course the JH604 is later, it was designed about 1960, but illustrates clearly that Denmark took its own course through this period … chrome, steel and glass were all used through the 1930s, 40s and 50s but for me the style always remains Danish. This really could not be a Bauhaus lamp. Why? I’ll have to think about that a little more before I write a post on that theme.

For a photograph of the light with a metal rise-and-fall unit see page 72 of the recently published book on Wegner, Wegner just one good chair by Christian Holmsted Olesen (Design Museum Danemark and Hatje Cantz 2014). There is also the reproduction of a working drawing on the same page and on page 77 a photograph of the light over the dining table in Wegner’s own house in Gentofte.

Pandul

design classic: PJ149 by Ole Wanscher 1949

 

The PJ149, also known as the Colonial Chair, was designed by Ole Wanscher (1903-1985) and was made by P Jeppesen Møbelfabrik from 1949 onwards. The company later changed its name to PJ Furniture A/S.

Wanscher came from Copenhagen, from a well-established, middle-class, academic family … his father was the art historian Vilhelm Wanscher. Initially Wanscher trained as an architect, first at technical school and then at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, but moved almost exclusively to furniture design. In the 1920s he worked in the office of Kaare Klint and it was Wanscher who produced the first drawings for Klint for the Red Chair for the Danish Museum of Art and Design. For Klint, as part of that project, he produced detail drawings of a Chippendale chair in the collection of the museum and the influence of 18th-century English chairs with arms and the inspiration of more vernacular English ladder-backed chairs can be seen in the design for Jeppesen.

The chair is remarkably light, with the cross-section of the legs and stretchers reduced to the minimum but the chair retains strength through the careful design and position of mortice and tenon joints. Where the arm meets the back post it is swept up which not only makes the profile much more elegant but allows for a thin but tall tenon, to compensate, and the front post of the arm is taken down across the side frame of the seat to be housed into the rail between the front and back leg. This reinforces the side and provides extra strength where most needed … when standing up people instinctively put their hands down over the ends of the arm rests and push up meaning that the end of the arm takes all the weight. The vertical post is expanded below and behind the side rail of the seat without appearing to compromise the slenderness of the frame.

Despite its appearance of refined elegance, the chair is carefully designed for commercial production: the woven cane seat is on a frame that is constructed independently and then dropped in when the chair is finished or assembled.

Slender slats of the ladder back and the separate covered cushion for the seat and back also mean that not only does the chair appear to be lighter and simpler but it avoids a separate and, for many chairs, a complex stage of traditional fixed upholstery. 

Features such as the turned tops of the front legs and the back uprights and the simple loops of leather over the uprights holding the back cushion in place show how every detail of the design of the chair was refined.

Colonial chairs in the Library/Meeting room of the hotel, SP34, in Copenhagen

 

The Colonial Chair is still in production - made for Carl Hansen & Son and in their catalogue as OW149.

dimensions

  • maximum width: 650 mm
  • overall height: 850 mm
  • height to front edge of seat: frame 360 mm / cushion 440 mm
  • overall from front to back: 685 mm