Maud Jarnoux at Statens Værksteder for Kunst

the first stages of the project - assessing and recording the historic urban colour palette in the city
select any image to open all the photographs in sequence as slides


the colours on woven panels of thin ash veneer

Recently  I had the opportunity to meet the French designer and teacher Maud Jarnoux who was at Statens Værksteder for Kunst / the Danish Art Workshops on Strandgade where she has been working on a project inspired by the light and the colours of Copenhagen.

Walking around the city, she has sketched buildings and details of the architecture with annotations of the colours and matched those colours on site using pastels.

Back in the studio, those colours were matched in acrylic paint that was applied to sheets of thin card and again checked against small flakes of paint collected or checked against the notes and back out at the buildings.

Maud feels that the colours have not only changed over time - as fashions and paints change - but that colours also change from area to area and with the types of buildings and also with the light in different parts of the city that are reflected in subtle differences.

The next step, to me, seemed to be the amazing and incredibly creative and imaginative stage of the project.

Maud describes herself as a colour designer but she is also a textile designer. She cut the sheets of painted card into regular strips and these were then woven together in various combinations that were inspired by and reflect many of the colour combinations seen around the city on its buildings.

I have always been fascinated by the light in the city and in the colours of the plaster and the woodwork of the buildings and have got as far as appreciating that colour varies with the quality of the plaster or wood or stone. Uneven surfaces absorb or reflect light across a wall to cause distinct and often subtle changes in the density and quality of colours and - although Danes may take the work of Danish house painters for granted - the woodwork of doors and windows in the city, usually using linseed oil paints so with a matt finish, have a depth and a consistency and a quality of colour rarely matched in other cities …. but what this project by Maud Jarnoux did was open my eyes to strong and distinct combinations of colours in a single building: a deep warm pink on a wall combined with a gun-metal grey on woodwork or the range of deep green colours used for woodwork or stonework that is not actually a single consistent colour but a colour created by a range of often very different colours in distinct flecks or grain.

In a final stage, back in the workshop, colours were matched in linseed oil paint that was applied to split lengths of ash and these thin strips of coloured wood were woven together into large panels, using different weaving patterns and different combinations of colour, for what are, in essence, the weft and warp.

With woven fabrics it is the weave and the combination of different thicknesses of yarn and different colours that together create a texture and pattern and that controls how we perceive the overall colour and character of the textile. Here, that has been achieved with wood.

There is a link with the weaving of baskets and, in some cultures, the weaving of panels for walls and fences in willow or reed or split laths and other materials, with or without the bark stripped but this seems to me to be a truly remarkable and extremely imaginative project that makes us look again and reassess and appreciate anew the colours in the buildings around us.



I am extremely grateful to Maud for the time she spent to show me her work on this project, and to discuss what was done and why, particularly as it was at the very end of her stay in Copenhagen and she was having to pack away the work to return to Paris.

Above all I’m incredibly grateful that then she generously sent me her own photographs and allowed me to reproduce them here.

This is the only post in this blog that has used the photographs of another photographer throughout the piece but here the essence of the work is colour matching so it was important to use photographs that Maud herself feels reflect the work she has done. This is a remarkable and imaginative project to identify the colours that give a city and its light its distinct character.

These photographs should not be reproduced without permission.

This is another amazing example of the important role of the workshops for research and for facilitating creative projects in design and crafts in the city.

Statens Værksteder for Kunst

A Visual Inventory by John Pawson



This is not so much a review as a simple signpost to an important book.

A Visual Inventory is a collection of annotated images with the photographs taken by the British architect John Pawson when travelling. The book is about colour and about light - so how colours change with different qualities of natural light - but the images are also about the photographer being aware of and sensitive to shape and form and texture and pattern and of age or how buildings and landscapes and materials change over time … those basic elements of all architecture and all design. Above all, the photographs invoke a strong awareness of place as different latitudes and different climates can be associated with what are often distinct colour ranges or tones and with specific patters and forms of building.

Above all the book is an insight into how an architect and designer sees his world and what draws his attention and what, specifically, he looks at and records for inspiration in his work.

Single images are printed on each page with short notes but are set in pairs across each double-page spread and linked by shapes or subjects or location. None of the photographs have been cropped or altered so the process of taking the photographs is clearly considered with care so they reflect, in a straightforward and honest way, the reaction to the subject by the photographer at a specific moment.  

John Pawson also has an Instagram site that should be bookmarked by anyone trying to appreciate and understand our landscapes and our buildings in terms of colour and tone and texture.


A Visual Inventory, John Pawson, Phaidon (2012) 

John Pawson on Instagram

Anatomy of Colour



The Anatomy of Colour begins with types of paint - from distemper to lime wash to milk paint and more - and then Patrick Baty sets out the sources of pigment for those paints so through white paint, black paint and then on to each colour through the blues, the browns, greens, reds and yellows - so, generally, for each colour, he traces the development from natural pigments, from plants and minerals, to the by-products of emerging industries and then on to the first pigments by industrial chemists. 

Historic practices and techniques for house painters are discussed; there are fascinating reproductions of historic catalogues for the paint brushes and the tools of professional painters and the author looks at the early organisation of guilds and paint companies. However, for designers, the important contribution of the book comes from the extensive number of historic colour charts reproduced along with summaries of early colour theories and detailed discussions for each major period or each major style and fashion, that helps set historic design within the context of colour. He combines longer sections of text with carefully designed double-page spreads and uses longer captions effectively so you can sit and read the book cover to cover or you can use the book and its images as a reference encyclopaedia seeing where cross references take you.

We tend to describe styles and the relatively distinct periods of interior design in terms of the forms and types of furniture that were popular in a certain period and we also recognise distinct patterns that appear on furniture or are reproduced on textiles but certainly styles or periods can have distinct preferences for colours or, and more interesting, for the juxtaposition of certain colours. Even the choice of materials can be determined by what are fashionable or unfashionable colours so distinctly orange Oregon Pine was popular for a relatively short period and Formica was as much about having a wide selection of deep strong colours as it was about having a smooth clean surface for food preparation.

Reproductions from historic paint charts and books or articles about colour theories by contemporary artists and designers show how the presentation of colours and any general discussion about colour can influence our choice of colours for our homes. We may not even realise we are being influenced because, of course, although we feel now that there is almost infinite choice, what we see clearly here is that what designers select and what companies produce and make available and what they advertise all influence that choice.

It is absolutely right to describe this book as an anatomy of colour because, in a careful and scholarly way, the technical development of household paints and the theories of colour and the preference for certain colours in certain periods is dissected. It feels, in a good way, like sitting in an old-fashioned lecture theatre with high banks of seats to watch someone with skill take something apart, with care, to say now look at this … isn’t it fascinating … and this is how and why it works.


The Anatomy of Colour, The Story of Heritage Paints and Pigments, Patrick Baty, Thames & Hudson (2017)

the Shaker rocking chair in the collection at Designmuseum Danmark


Designmuseum Danmark gives this rocking chair from the United States a prominent place in the introduction at the entrance to their gallery of modern Danish chairs and so, by implication, an important place in the story of Danish furniture in the second half of the 20th century. There are obvious links with the style and form of chairs designed by Ole Wanscher, Hans Wegner and Børge Mogensen and others in the 1940s and 1950s but I did not appreciate the complicated history of this chair or understand its direct influence until I read the account set out by Gorm Harkær in his monograph on Kaare Klint that was published in 2010.

In 1919 Kaare Klint took over the teaching of technical drawing for cabinetmakers at the Technical Society's school. His approach to furniture design was clearly set out in his programme where he states that the school "will not try to teach you to perform so-called beautiful specious Drawings where the whole room is reflected in the Furniture Polish: we will try to teach you to draw accurate and realistic line drawings. We will not try to teach you to draw Artworks in different Styles, but try to show you the beauty that lies in the perfect simple Design and Usability."


In the collection of Designmuseum Danmark but not currently on display… copy of a Shaker rocking chair made in beech by Rud. Rasmussen in 1942. The catalogue entry RP00074 gives the designer as Kaare Klint. Note the elongated vase-shaped turning at the top of the front legs above the seat that copies the form of the chair owned by Einar Utzon-Frank and drawn by O Brøndum Christensen in 1927 rather than the pronounced taper or thinning down of the upper part of the front leg on the Shaker chair purchased by the museum in 1935

In 1924 Klint was appointed an assistant professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, in the newly-established Department of Furniture Design, where, again, he emphasised the importance of measuring and drawing good examples of historic furniture and that took up much of the first year of the course. In 1927 Klint described these drawings as "the beginning of an archive of furniture studies." *

The Department of Furniture Design was based in the Danish Museum of Art & Design - now Designmuseum Danmark - and students made carefully-measured drawings of a number of key pieces in the collection including a chair by the 18th-century English furniture maker Thomas Chippendale which then formed a starting point for the design of several modern chairs.

The Danish sculptor Einar Utzon-Frank, who also taught at the Royal Academy, owned a rocking chair that was described as "in the American Colonial style" and that chair was surveyed in 1927 by O Brøndum Christensen. A precisely-measured drawing of a Shaker chair at a scale of 1:5 and photographs taken of the chair in 1928 survive. **

Then, in 1935, in an auction, the museum bought this Shaker Rocking chair, very close to the form of the chair owned by Utzon-Frank and it was recorded in the acquisition index as A32/1935 where it is described as a shawl-back rocker with a cushion rail … that is the thin turned, slightly curved bar that runs across the back at the top of the back posts of the back rest of the chair.

In 1937 Edward and Faith Andrews published Shaker Furniture and, after a copy of that book was acquired by the museum library in 1941, it appears that Kaare Klint began a correspondence with American museums about Shaker furniture. ***

The following year, in 1942, Rud. Rasmussens Snedkerier - the cabinetmakers who worked closely with Kaare Klint and made much of the furniture that he designed - made a copy of the Utzon-Frank chair. They appear to have used the survey drawing by O Brøndum Christensen because the upper part of the front legs of the Rud. Rasmussen chair - with an elongated, turned, baluster shape above the seat rail - matches the Utzon-Frank chair rather than the chair owned by the museum that has long, elegant tapering or thinning down of the front leg between the seat rail and where it is housed into the underside of the arm rest.

Also in 1942, Kaare Klint produced designs for a number of chairs in a Shaker-style for FDB - the Danish Co-op - who had just set up a new office for furniture design. Two chairs, one with arms and one without, given the numbers J20 and J21, were made as prototypes by Fritz Hansen Eftf although in the end they were not put into production. ****

the chair designed for FDB - photographed in the exhibition on the work of Kaare Klint at Designmuseum Danmanrk


The original rocking chairs were made in workshops at one of the Shaker communities in America and, from their design, probably at Mount Lebanon where the settlement had been established in 1787 and continued right through until 1947. The religious movement of the Shakers had originated in England but many of the group emigrated to America from the north west - particularly from Lancashire - in search of a more tolerant place to practice their nonconformist beliefs. They took with them ideas and styles and local carpentry techniques which influenced the buildings they constructed and the furniture and panelling and fittings that they made in the settlements they established. Then, having built themselves farm houses, schools and chapels, and because the religious settlements were rural and generally self sufficient and relatively isolated - so by nature closed or inward looking - then these styles and designs became rather fixed. In fact, rocking chairs of this design appear in auction house sale catalogues where some are given a late date of manufacture - some examples dating from early in the 20th century.

So although Klint was not exactly admiring a contemporary chair nor was he inspired by a chair that was particularly old but nor, and perhaps more important, was it a Danish style or from a Danish tradition.

In England, architects and designers of the Arts and Crafts movement responded to what they saw as the poor quality of design of furniture and factory-made household goods as the industrial revolution in England evolved. They looked for inspiration to what they appreciated as a the better craftsmanship of traditional oak furniture of the 17th century and artisan furniture, such as Windsor chairs and cottage chairs, of the 18th century.

However, the important difference between England and Denmark by the 1920s was that, apart from expensive workshop furniture made for companies like Liberties or Heal's, most traditional cabinetmakers' had long disappeared but in Copenhagen the workshops and the skills of cabinetmakers had survived and, even if they felt threatened by factory production, were trying hard to adapt to a very different society and were trying to make furniture for a different customer.

So for Klint it was more about the survival of cabinetmakers' skills rather than revival and the Shaker chair was, for him, an example of a design that he considered to be so good that it would be difficult or impossible to improve. Wasn't that why the rocking chair was one of the few copies made by Rud. Rasmussen rather than a unique and specific design from Klint?

He must have admired the honesty and modesty of the Shaker chairs: they were straightforward and what decoration there was derived from the form and from the joinery and the techniques of the assembly … qualities that inspired the Church Chair by Klint from 1936, with the Shaker-style ladder back and thin turned stretchers and inspired the designs for FDB. Perhaps the only thing that is surprising is that the man who designed some of the most rational storage furniture from the period - with large pieces of furniture with cupboards and a series of drawers - was not, it would seem, inspired by the fitted cupboards and chests of drawers that are some of the best proportioned and most beautiful pieces that were produced by the Shakers.




 *  Gorm Harkær, Kaare Klint, in two volumes by Klintiana (2010) page 635

 ** drawing RR model no. 6356 reproduced by Gorm Harkær on page 637 and the photographs page 637

 *** page 367

**** Gorm Harkær reproduces the drawings and photographs of the two prototypes on pages 640 and 641


Architects and furniture designers of the Arts and Crafts movement in England reacted to what was seen by some as the poor quality of design that was on display in the Great Exhibition in London in 1851 and the poor design of manufactured goods in the second half of the 19th century. A leading proponent for a return to the quality of hand-made furniture and household goods and textiles was William Morris. The Art Workers' Guild was founded in 1884 and the architect and designer C R Ashbee founded the Guild and School of Handicraft in London in 1888 that moved to Chipping Camden in 1902.

There were comparable Arts and Crafts movements in the Netherlands and Germany and Austria but all, in reality, producing expensive furniture for a wealthy middle class … closer in character to the style of furniture in Denmark by Gottlieb Bindesbøll and his contemporaries rather than the work of Danish designers in the 20th century.

dining chairs by Inoda+Sveje

The Japanese designer Kyoko Inoda and the Danish designer Niels Sveje - who have their studio and showroom in Milan - have produced two dining chairs - DC9 and DC10 - in partnership with the Japanese cabinetmakers Miyazaki.

Back in September, during the London Design Festival, they took part in a talk and discussion at Aram's store in Covent Garden with Daniel Aram and with Marcus Fairs - the founder and editor of the online design magazine Dezeen. The event was streamed live on the Dezeen site but is still available to view on the Dezeen Facebook page. They made important points about the links between Danish and Japanese design and about the importance of both craftsmanship and quality in furniture production and about how designers and craftsmen can work in a close partnership.

This year has seen a number of exhibitions and events in Copenhagen that have marked the centennial anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic links between Japan and Denmark and it was inevitable that similarities between modern Japanese design and modern Danish design and the influence of each country on the art and design of the other has been discussed.

Perhaps the most obvious characteristics found in modern design in both countries are the appreciation of natural materials and the importance placed on craftsmanship and to these Daniel Aram added that both countries have a 'design rigour' … meant presumably in the sense of being thorough or meticulous. He elaborated on that point by observing that Japanese and Danish designers and craftsmen seem to master materials in order to produce beautiful objects.

In the session at the Aram store, Niels Sveje explained how their partnership with the Japanese cabinetmakers developed.

Miyazaki are a small company - with about 25 people - but all parts of production are done in house and everyone works on furniture that is produced in batches so there is a concentration or focus that helps to ensure quality control. As with PP Møbler in Denmark and Nikari in Finland, Miyazaki have taken on board modern technology and, again, not to reduce the cost of production but so quality can be improved or where something can be done in their workshop now that was not possible with traditional handcraft techniques.

Niels Sveje explained how they worked with the workshop in Japan. Initial designs were produced with a 3D design package but the next stage was to make a project type and that was then modified in the workshop because "ergonomics is something you have to feel with your body." That produced a chair that was, in effect, a one-off sculpture, and they had to develop their own scanner to take that on to a design that could be put into production. The result is a chair where shape and form and tactile qualities combine with innovative technical details for how the wood is cut to shape and the parts finished and joined together.

Such a meticulous design sequence meant a development period of two years but Niels Sveje justified that in the conclusion of the session when he said that his aim, when designing the chair, was for a piece of furniture that could be in production for at least his own lifetime.

Throughout the discussion there are fascinating observations about design and aesthetics … so all parts of the chair were to be tactile for the person using the chair and sitting in the chair and the sensation was compared with wearing a shirt - specifically in the sense that with a shirt, in direct contact with the body, in the way a chair is in direct contact, you feel all parts - the inside and outside - and surfaces cannot be separated. The design of a chair has to work with 'natural curves' so the lines are, he explained, where you expect them to be.

Daniel Aram added practical but positive comments about shipping costs and delivery times but perhaps the most important point was made by Niels Sveje when he said that the owner of the Japanese workshop was himself a cabinetmaker and was in the workshop every day … and that is different "from when you have an accountant leading the company." He concluded by saying that the design and production of the chair was a mutual achievement so it "couldn't work if you took one of us out of the equation."



DEZEEN on linethe discussion at the Aram Store


why does Denmark produce so many 'good' chairs?

the display of the collection of chairs at Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen


Chairs are a common pieces of furniture in most modern homes around the world but the chair has a special - almost an iconic place - in the history of modern design in Denmark.

At the design museum in Copenhagen, in a relatively new gallery, chairs from their collection are each given their own space, each elevated and each given spotlights that are set to come on as you approach.

Don't get me wrong … this is not a criticism … actually far far from a criticism because by lifting the chairs up from their normal place - on the floor with and amongst other furniture - you can appreciate the different designs; you can look at the details and see how the chairs are put together; and with the chairs arranged in groups you begin to see how they fit into a context or a sequence of similar or of very different chairs and, above all, you can see how well made most of them are … so they certainly deserve our attention.

But then take a step back … so why so many different beautiful chairs and from a relatively short period of time? - most in the gallery date from the period from 1930 to the last decade of the last century - and why so many chairs from a relatively small country?

They receive well-deserved acclaim and not just in Denmark but internationally - so much so that these chairs are widely imitated and, in some cases, they are copied so carefully that some are passed off as originals. Some chairs from the 1950s and 1960s, by certain designers, now achieve almost eye-watering amounts of money in auctions. And yet they were all made simply so that we can sit down.

Hans Wegner is said to have designed 1,000 chairs and of those 500 went into production. An exhibition in 2014 at Designmuseum Denmark was a thorough assessment of his remarkable work and took its title - just one good chair - from a comment by Wegner himself.


this was posted first on 5 October but has been moved to be at the beginning of a series that looked in more detail at some of the chairs in Designmuseum Danmark and were posted through October

read more


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.



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:

Sir …….... was this old fashioned when it was first new?


last summer, on certain days, steam trains were run on the line out from Copenhagen to Klampenborg for families heading off to to Bakken, the amusement park, and the beach at Bella Vista. These engines were used on this line through the late 20s and 1930s so if Arne Jacobsen, who lived first in Ordrup and then in Klampenborg, had come into town by train this is how he would have travelled. Realising that, there suddenly seemed to be an odd contrast between this technology and the clean, simple lines of Jacobsen's buildings. Not everything is modern at the same time ... or in the same way ... or at least not in retrospect


One summer, when I was still at university, I went back to the town where my parents lived and spent a month or so helping in the local museum, where I designed and made a few display cases for their loan collection that was sent around schools and I taught some school groups.

It was a new town … built under the New Town's Act as what was called an 'overspill' for London … a town for a bright new future, in bright new homes, as one way to replace the slums and bomb-damaged housing of the capital … or that was the plan. Through the 1950s and 60s the town spread rapidly across fields and open country to one side of a small but well-established market town that was on the main road from London to Edinburgh and had been there for well over a thousand years. Looking back, what was curious was that the newcomers had their own town centre and their own system of local government - a Development Corporation rather than a town council - their own new factories for new jobs - and few of the young couples who moved out from London had any interest in the old town. Most of their kids, the kids I taught in the museum, who were born in the town and by then in their early teens, had never even been into the old town.

For one group I was planning a walk along the old high street to point out ponds where, in the 18th century and probably earlier, cattle driven to market in London were watered for several days to gain a bit of weight after their long walk from either Wales or from Ireland before the last stage of the walk to the meat market and the same ponds were used to soak straw to make hat brims for the local hat-making industry in a nearby town. It was obvious the kids had little understanding of history or social history or any way of understanding why these things might be important - everything they knew about was less than twenty years old - so in the museum, where I could keep their attention rather better, I got them looking through old photographs before the walk, getting them to talk about what they thought about what they were looking at in the photos. 

One photo showed an old timber house dating from the 15th or 16th century but it had actually been used as a garage in the 1930s, when the photograph was taken. Hard against the front wall of the building was a petrol pump with an upright and a long arm so that the nozzle for fuel could be swung out across the wide pavement to any vehicle on the road. In that photo was an amazing motor bike, that was being filled up by a man from the garage in overalls, and there was a smiling bloke in a leather jacket and with a tightly fitting leather hat with ear flaps and a pair of what were called flying goggles jauntily pushed up to sit on the top of his head.

One girl, probably 14 years old, sat looking at the photo for ages. She saw me watching her and said "Sir" and then there was a very long pause. "Sir" ……… and she pointed at the bike. "Was this old fashioned when it was first new?"

Out of the mouths of children …. and all that.

But that simple question actually raises a lot of interesting points about how really clear any of us are about history and what fashion or technical development or even change over time means. Obviously something is new. Full stop. Not first new. But for how long does something very new, in terms of its design, remain a novelty? Do we wait for the next new to come along and realise the old new is now old? How often do we just carry on with something because basically it seems to work - so wonder do we really need something new?

From television and films and from reading and half-remembered lessons from school, most people have a fairly broad view of history, so maybe the main big events in rough sequence, but certainly only a vague idea about everyday life for ordinary people even when our grandparents were small. 

If you talked to a group of kids in their early teens in Copenhagen now and told them about many of the apartments in the city, in the fairly recent past, that shared a toilet out on the communal landing with at least one other family and used a wash house in the courtyard for doing laundry and went to a communal bath house down the street or otherwise washed in the kitchen, sink how would they react? Would they be surprised or shocked or slightly disgusted? Their parents might not remember apartments like that but their grandparents certainly would. And if kids don’t appreciate how different life was in the 1940s or 1920s how do they see change with any sort of context? 

And, perhaps more important, judged by the standards of the day, a toilet on the landing, even if it was shared, was actually something to be thankful for, something strikingly modern, and much better than going down to a toilet in the yard like their parents … a toilet that did not flush but where you used ash or earth to cover over anything until the whole thing was emptied by a man with a shovel and a cart. Modern and convenient? Again all a matter of context.

It’s not nostalgia or any suggestion that the past was a better time but possibly just that it seems to be important to understand and remember how we got from there to here and why. Not just in political or economic terms but for the architecture and the design of the products we use every day.

But I'm also trying to understand why we are all so focused on now and so drawn to the novel and the new and the fashionable. Maybe it's just that I'm getting old and realising that maybe progress is not all it’s cracked up to be. Or maybe I was just old fashioned when I was first new.


the petrol station on the coast road just south of Klampenborg designed by Arne Jacobsen in 1937

Ordrup … the garden of the landscape designer G N Brandt


While tracking down material about how Arne Jacobsen used geometry and proportion in the process of design - specifically to see how and where he used the Golden Rectangle - there were several intriguing references to work by the Danish gardener, landscape designer and teacher G N Brandt.  

Brandt was a generation older than Jacobsen - some twenty-four or twenty-five years older - and they might not normally have known much of each other’s work particularly in the late 20s when Jacobsen had just finished his studies and just qualified as an architect but in 1927 Jacobsen married Marie Jelstrup Holm whose family lived in a villa in Ordrupvej and in 1929 the couple moved to Ordrup - to a house at Gotfred Rodes Vej 2 that Jacobsen designed and had built for them and where in 1931 he then added a design studio and office for his architectural practice … so for some fifteen years, until Jacobsen fled to Sweden in 1943, he lived and worked just a few streets away from where Brandt lived in Ørnekulsvej. The walk from one front gate to the other is 450 metres so each must have known of the house and the garden of the other.

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shouldn’t we talk about architecture more?


What a building looks like is important but in the end a building has to be judged by how it works - judged to see if it is doing what it was meant to do - not judged just by how it looks in a presentation drawing or in a beautiful photograph taken in exactly the right light. We judge a building by how it relates to either the crowded busy street in which it stands or to it’s landscape setting.

To understand a building you need to walk up to it, walk around it and walk through it, and, if possible, see it at different times of day and in different seasons.

And it helps if you can look at a number of buildings by the same architect to put the work in some sort of context … it’s that old ‘compare and contrast’ exercises we had to do in English lessons when I was at school though I’m not sure if that sort of thing is still on the curriculum.

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when was modern?


There is a problem … what do I call modern architecture? Perhaps the obvious answer is to just call modern architecture modern but then design historians talk about Post-Modern architecture from the 1980s and early 1990s so surely anything more recent has to be post post modern? Or is that just trying to be too rational?

For me I couldn't possibly be old fashioned so one way of looking at this is to say that anything that was designed since I was 15 is modern. But then my modern can't be your modern unless you were 15 when I was 15 which is possible but a bit of a coincidence.

Why 15? Well that's roughly the age when adolescents seem to have developed both a more realistic sense of time and history and an interest in fashion and a sense of a personal style … before that it tends to be just wanting exactly the same things as everyone else in their class at school.

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just how difficult can it be to design a staircase?

the recently remodelled staircases in the Illum store in Copenhagen


Well, actually, quite difficult.

A staircase is not just a major feature in any building but it can also be a particularly difficult part of the design to modify if other parts of the scheme are changed as the plan develops. It becomes a difficult game of consequences - change one part and another no longer works.

It might sound like stating the obvious but a staircase really does have to function well. A doorway can be slightly too narrow or a window sill too high and people grumble. If a staircase is too steep or too dark or the steps are irregular or too small then it is difficult to use easily and it might even be dangerous. 

A design for a staircase normally has to start with the dimensions for the height and depth of a step - the tread and the riser - fixed by the average foot size and the average stride pattern so a tread of at least 300mm and a step up or riser of between 150 and 200mm. These can vary slightly from one staircase to another but not by much and they have to be consistent and ideally consistent through the full height of that staircase. Just watch how many people stumble at the top and bottom of an escalator if it has stopped moving so after a number of abnormally high steps you get into a rhythm for the stride and then hit two or three very shallow steps at the end. It is interesting that even though people clearly understand the escalator has stopped many still stumble.


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writing about design on the internet gets more serious ….

This was posted by Em Fexeus under the dramatic heading I'm not dead


I don't mean serious as in grim and pessimistic but that writing about architecture and design on the internet can be much more grown up and more challenging - it should make us think and make us want to understand more - and could certainly be much more about the world we really live in.

Both design in general and our built environment in particular are too important to be limited to a finger swipe in a bored moment and certainly what's posted should be less about envy and aspirations that can't be realised - swish images that just make us, the readers, increasingly more discontented with our own life and encourage us to go out to buy something that will, we are told, make life easier or better or make us look more stylish or more fashionable.

Don't get me wrong, Instagram and Pinterest are good if people want to use those apps to create 'mood boards' for inspiration and as a starting point to find out more. But there should be more.

Good design should be about making things that work in a better way or to encourage design that uses materials in a better way, and certainly blogs about design should be much more about looking carefully at what makes good design good and bad design bad so we become more discerning about what we want and what we buy.

For most of us, urban settlements rather than the countryside are our normal everyday environment so the buildings we live in, work in or use for shopping or leisure and the streets and squares that form the settings for those buildings are definitely important. They need to function properly and if they look good and make our lives better or easier it really is a bonus.

Perhaps we all need to look more carefully at the buildings we use in order to understand more and question more about what is going on in our built environment so we can decide what is good and what is poor architecture and we should expect and demand more.

If we don't look at the underside of the table; if we don't plonk down in the sofa before we buy it; if we don't look at the label to see that the materials are genuine and sustainable; if we don't say no, that doesn't work; if we don't see that it's a cheap and nasty copy; if we don't look up from the shop window we are walking past to see if the street is a pleasant or an unpleasant place to be and if we don't start understanding more and questioning more then we end up with the architecture we are given and the design we swipe through on our phones when we have nothing better to do.

This was posted recently by Lotta Agaton on her design blog 

experts on the web

Dansk Møbelkunst, with showrooms in Copenhagen and Paris, deal in major examples of Danish furniture and decorative arts, of the highest quality and specifically from the period from 1920 through to 1970. 

They have produced a number of outstanding publications on Danish furniture design and monographs on a number of Danish designers including Jacobsen, Klint, Kjærholm and Wegner.

Their web site is a good source of information where they profile pieces of furniture that are currently in their show rooms but their blog also includes assessments of important historic buildings in Denmark where they are associated with major designers from the 20th century or have important schemes of decoration.



People who deal professionally with furniture or ceramics or glass build up a considerable expertise in part because they are actually handling and examining and assessing an amazing number of items. More and more, this expertise is published by them on web sites and blogs and can provide important and interesting insights for the general reader. There is now so much material out there, available on the web, that occasionally pointers or suggestions might be useful.

1934 are an English company who also deal in 20th century furniture. They have an accessible style of writing on their site and have good photographs of pieces that have not been scrubbed clean and lost their patina … the pieces they sell may seem more realistic if your budget does not stretch to museum quality works. They also write general pieces about the period … for instance a good article on the Frankfurt Kitchen.



OEN  imports into England and sells mainly Japanese ceramics and wood wares but also a selection of books and some glassware and some metalwork. Looking through the site reveals just how close Danish and Japanese design can be, in terms of aesthetics and in the way natural materials are appreciated and their characteristics and qualities exploited with such care by real craftsmen makers. The photographs, particularly the high-quality photographs of details of the works themselves, and the growing number of videos on the site of makers working are particularly informative and revealing. 

KADK exhibition of graduate work 2016

The annual exhibition of the work of graduates from KADK …  Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademis Skoler for Arkitektur, Design og Konservering… continues until the 21st August.

This is project work by 162 newly-qualified architects and 80 designers. Themes covered reflect current concerns about the environment, sustainability and, on the architecture side, adapting existing buildings to new uses or fitting new demands, in terms of evolving life style or new expectations, within an existing urban landscape. 

What is fascinating is to see that courses and projects set by academic staff clearly reflect major new concerns that the formal education and training system has to respond to now but the projects also show the personal concerns and interests of this, the next generation of architects and designers, as they grapple with and resolve these problems with huge amounts of energy and considerable imagination.

Student projects are divided into the separate teaching disciplines … so Building Design and Culture; Building Design Technology; Building and Landscape Design; Art and Design; Product Design and the work of the Institute of Visual Design … but there are recurring themes across the disciplines such as the exploration of the potential of new materials; to balance that, a focus on new ways to use traditional building materials and building techniques such as timber framing and a focus on using marginal land … both less hospitable topographies as climate change means the occupation of more extreme environments and the need to reuse difficult brown-field sites in densely built cities rather than encroaching further on agricultural land beyond a city boundary.

Over the next week or so more detailed assessments of some of the projects will be posted on this site. 



Afgangsudstilling Sommer 2016

KADK, Danneskiold-Samsøes Allé 51, 1435 Copenhagen K

continuing until the 21st August 2016 and open every day from 11.00 to 18.00

admission free