Ladderback Chair by Ole Wanscher 1946

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

 

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

read more



 

Deckchair by Kaare Klint 1933

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

 

 

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

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

read more


copper and Copenhagen buildings

 

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

read more

copper after Vesterport

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

 

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

 
 

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

Mindcraft16 ... Sølvgade Chair by Cecilie Manz

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

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

read more

Mindcraft16 ... ceramics

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

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

read more

Karina Noyons

 

Back in August, at the Kunsthåndværker Markedet - the craft market on Frue Plads in Copenhagen - one stall that immediately caught my attention was the work of the jewellery designer and goldsmith Karina Noyons. 

Her work is striking - simple but very clever and inventive - playing with strong geometric shapes but twisting them around so rings or bracelets are held out from the body. So for instance, by putting a square outside an inner circle of a ring. Here clearly is a designer's and a goldsmith’s skill that, to repeat something discussed regularly on this site, develops from experience and from working directly with a material, to understand what will and what will not achieve a desired result. What this jewellery also illustrates so well is that the simpler the piece then, as here, the more perfect the workmanship has to be … minimalism shows up any flaw and to misappropriate a much used phrase … less means more skill.

But above all, what I could see in the jewellery, is a fantastic and clearly justifiable self confidence that's combined with a really good sense of humour. That was obvious in the clever display that used illustrations by Rasmus Bregnhøi as a background for the jewellery with suggestions about how the more unusual or less conventional pieces could be worn.

read more

Karina Noyons

Rasmus Bregnhøi

 

the glassmaker Rick Gerner

 

In the Autumn there were two opportunities in Copenhagen to see the work of Rick Gerner: at northmodern he was one of eighteen young designers from Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi Designskolen (the Danish Royal Academy schools of design) who showed their work in an area called Talents and Schools and then, in September, graduate students from the Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi School of Ceramics and Glass on Bornholm showed their work in an exhibition, Silica Visions, at the Round Tower in Copenhagen.

Rick Gerner is from the Netherlands and started his design training there but began to question if his studies, and the approach to what he was doing, was right for him and right for what he wanted to achieve. He discovered glass making; realised that the very direct, hands-on approach of training within a craft discipline, rather than dealing with design as simply a stage in the production process, was what he really wanted to do and he transferred to Bornholm.

Understanding that, you can see in his work the enthusiasm and the determination of the convert … there is a focus and an intensity in his work but also the sense that he is testing and pushing the boundaries as he tries to understand the material he has chosen to work with.

He has gone back to basics; not just looking at glass itself as the raw material - looking at what can and cannot be done with molten glass in the process of making a glass vessel - but he has also analysed how he uses the tools needed to gather the glass; form it into shapes and crimp or cut or finish the vessels he has formed. He has made the tools he needed and for his graduation project he has photographed and analysed how he uses those tools. 

This is like a young writer exploring the sounds and rhythms of the words of their language or a professional musician finding what they feel to be exactly the right instrument for them to play and then exploring and experimenting and finding the limits of what they can do with the sound and with the strengths and the limits of that instrument. And, of course, all young craftsmen, learning their trade, test the boundaries and develop an understanding of what they can and cannot do with the materials they are working with - Rick Gerner is only unusual in that he has analysed and photographed and written about that process.

He works with a straightforward glass that has tones of green with slight variations in that colour - minerals and chemicals have to be added to make glass that is sharply clear or deeply coloured or to make it perform in different ways in its molten or finished state - and this basic quality gives his finished work a warmth with slight irregularities and slight inconsistencies that bring the pieces to life. It is the impurities that gives the glass the qualities that show it was made by hand and not formed and moulded in perfect regularity by a machine but it is also the irregularities in glass that give it its reflective qualities. 

Of course, perfectly consistent glass - with each piece produced being exactly the same as the first and the last - has distinct qualities and distinct benefits for certain work but the character and the qualities of the glass are different to the glass made by Rick Gerner. Surely, this is comparable to the differences between stoneware and porcelain in ceramics; between copper and steel in metalwork or between raw linen and fine cotton in textiles. That is not to make a judgement based on quality or intrinsic value but simply a distinction between different types of material that vary between a softer irregularity or a sharper and more consistent regularity. And it’s not to say that one is better and the other worse … just different. The individual materials have inherent qualities that the designer has to understand and exploit.

The shapes and forms in the glassware produced by Rick come directly from the methods and techniques of the production itself and so there are links back to the shapes and forms of decoration in ‘honest’ and straightforward glassware from the late medieval and the early modern period of the 16th and 17th century. Back to that period when the glassmakers of the Netherlands and the north German states and, further afield, in Bohemia, began to develop successful glass industries that produced everyday glassware for the table. But the forms and decoration developed by Rick Gerner are only similar because the material and the techniques he uses are much the same now as then but he is bringing to his craft his own tastes and his own distinctly contemporary eye. As said so often now on this web site, this is not about reproducing historic designs but about starting with well-established craft skills and taking them in a new direction that has to be appropriate and relevant to modern life and modern needs.

Rick Gerner

 

Søren Ulrich

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

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

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

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

Søren Ulrich

 

 

the carpentry tools:

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

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

 

Treen

 

The old English word for household items such as spoons and kitchen utensils that are made out of wood is TREEN … a word that also implies woodworking that was possibly undertaken outdoors, out in the woods, but was certainly the sort of task undertaken in the farm or village workshop.

At northmodern Søren Ulrich had a large squared-off block of timber that was standing upright as part of his display. It had a series of round holes drilled carefully and deliberately in a line just below the top.

While Søren was answering questions from someone else I stood looking at the block - curious and slightly perplexed. Given that there were a number of clamps on or near the block Søren must have thought I was either rather naive or even pretty thick when I asked what the holes were for. He took up one of the clamps and instead of a pad at the opposite end to the part that screwed in and out - the sort of clamp I have used - there was a prong or spike pointing horizontally out which was slotted into one of the holes and then the screw part tightened down to clamp a piece of wood … so in fact this block of timber was a transportable work bench to be used for carving.

 

Recently, Søren has made a range of wooden bowls and spoons and ladles and so on … treen. Some of these were in the display at northmodern with various pieces of wood showing the different stages of the production … the first a roughly-shaped piece of wood, the second after an initial work with a plane, the next marked out with the shape of the proposed implement in pencil. As, at that point, there was no one else wanting to speak to Søren, he picked up one of the marked out pieces and clamped it to the top of the bench and started deftly to form a spoon. 

It was hardly surprising that, as he worked, a crowd formed to watch but I tried to take photographs of the sequence.

Søren used a series of gauges and chisels to hollow out the shape, quickly swapping from one to the next, supporting the piece with a thumb as he cut down and round, using the angle of his body to lean into the cut, using body weight to provide the force but his hands to guide the cutting edge.

 

This must have been much like it would have been watching a village carpenter in the 19th century or the 18th century or the 17th or, in fact, any country carpenter back through the Middle Ages supplementing his income and using smaller pieces or off-cuts of wood between the jobs for local families making them benches or tables or chests.  

That’s not to say that the spoons and bowls and ladles made by Søren Ulrich are some sort of charming curiosity of a rural craft that is more part of a museum demonstration than anything else because the shapes and forms of his pieces are distinctly modern … just that they are very much part of a long and admirable tradition.

 

 

the finished work

Dansk Møbelkunst at northmodern

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

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

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

 

 

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

 

Silica Visions - Round Tower, Copenhagen

Silica Visions is an exhibition of work by the students who have graduated this summer from the ceramic and glass course of the Danish Royal Academy design school at Nexø on Bornholm.

The quality of the work is impressive but what is so amazing is the diverse approaches to the materials and the extensive experimentation with techniques.

In some, strong sculptural form is the result while in others, with fractured surfaces, the pieces seem close to their origin as minerals while in the work of others, smooth trails of colour or globules of material emphasise and exploit the high temperatures required to produce all these works. 

Obviously, each student is only represented by one or at most a few pieces of their work but does indicate where, right now, their interests are focused and it will be intriguing to track careers and fascinating to see who, if anyone,  moves into commercial design work and who, in the coming years, set up studios or workshops.

Of course the exhibition is not in the Round Tower itself but in the large gallery space above the church and reached from an upper level of the tower. There is generous space to see the works and the natural light from the windows can create beautiful and at times quite dramatic effects.

gallery of images

Silica Visions continues until the 27th September

OneCollection at northmodern

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

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

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

OneCollection, France Chair

 

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

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

 

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

Lotte Westphaell at the craft market

 

The ceramicist Lotte Westphaell trained at Kolding and now has her studio in Silkeborg.

Her distinctive and elegant pieces illustrate several major points about design and the design process that have been discussed on this site but are well worth repeating.

These are slabs pots but not the normal style of slab pots that immediately spring to mind. Raising the sides of a vessel by pinching the clay and pulling it upwards or by forming the sides with thin rolls of clay then smoothed together or forming a flat single sheet of clay and then raising it around a flat and usually circular base … making a slab pot … as techniques predate moulding or throwing pieces on a potters wheel. It would be wrong to see such pots as crude or basic and in skilled hands those techniques can be used to make thin and well-shaped and well-finished pots but here the clay is a fine porcelain body in a mixture or recipe that Lotte has developed for this phase of her work and the finished work is an incredibly refined and elegant slab pot.  And phase is the right word because on the stall at the craft market it was possible to see several pieces that reflected stages in more than three years of development.

What makes the finished ceramics so elegant and so astonishing is that the partly-dried sheets of clay for the sides are slashed and the strips of darker clay inserted and the sides rolled thinner again so that the design is actually not applied as it might appear to be but is an integral part of the material of the piece. The tall sides are then built up by butting together thinner strips and, as any potter will tell you, the most difficult part and the most vulnerable part likely to be revealed in the firing is any joins. Here the join also has to be precise as the style of the finished work has an exacting graphic quality. The strips added to each other reminded me of ikat and textiles where strips or woven ribbons are sewn together to form a larger piece. When I suggest that, Lotte Westphael smiled and said that actually she has studied in Japan and suddenly it was obvious that the finished works do have that fascinating design aesthetic that can be seen independently and with clear but subtle differences in Denmark and in Japan. The colour palette of the finished works could be typically Danish or, on the other hand, typically Japanese.

What these ceramic works show so clearly is a complicated relationship between the interests and the evolving style of the artist; a design concept that evolves and develops over a sequence of works and designs for pieces that rely on the confidence to push both the material and the techniques used in new directions or to new boundaries or limits. To use phrases like confidence or courage when talking about design might seem odd to someone who does not design or does not make but actually that sense of focus combined with the determination to realise an idea is at the core of much new design work. Courage? Well yes. For most potters the works they sell are their only income. So safer to stick with making what people have bought before. Confidence? Well yes because, for instance here, the clay in the early stages of the production is not self supporting so the sides are set out around a former but as the clay dries it shrinks so remove it too soon and the piece collapses or try to remove the former too late and it won’t come out. Hours of work can be lost.

A kiln will take days and days of work in a single firing. Get that firing wrong and that time and that potential income is lost. Few potters would talk about those aspects of their work to a customer … particularly in the environment of the craft market … but this clearly is a good example of one of those points where design skills, technical skills, the understanding of what the materials can or cannot do and the imagination to try and realise new ideas all come together.

 

Lotte Westphaell, Anedalvej 1b, Silkeborg