the recent launch of three new chairs from TAKT

 

Design X Change at Designmuseum Danmark two weeks ago was my first chance to see the three new chairs that were launched a month before by a new Danish furniture company called TAKT.

Not only are the designs new but the marketing is innovative because, from the start, the company will market on-line direct to their customers. By keeping the cost of marketing as low as possible "in a transparent way" and by using sustainable materials, then they can "make quality goods more accessible."

With this approach and by working with a number of established designers, they clearly echo the principles of FDB in the 1940s and 1950s when they first marketed good-quality modern furniture designed by well-established designers to make good, well-made furniture of a high quality.

In this initial launch by TAKT there are three chairs. Design and development took 18 months and the chairs are made for them by the furniture maker Kvist - a well established Danish company.

The chairs are beautifully and precisely made and well finished. By focusing on perfectly-cut joinery with well-designed mortices or pegs or channels to hold the separate pieces together, then the parts of the chair can be thinner and therefore lighter in weight.

Each chair has a distinct character but you can see links between the designs … for a start they all make the best use of high-quality plywood for seats and back rests and the Tool Chair designed by Rasmus Palmgren is almost a text-book example of how to exploit all the best characteristics of plywood. The plywood of the seat is bent down on each side to give it strength and the front edge is simply held in a channel is a front frame in bent wood and the vertical sides are flared out at the back to form tabs that act like mortices to hold the seat into the bent-wood frame of the back.

Cross Chair by English designers has echoes of the classic stacking chair designed by Vilhelm Wohlert in the 1950s for the art museum at Louisiana. The TAKT chair has two h-shaped frames that cross over under the seat using interlocking slots at the intersection and giving the chair its name. The curved back rest, fixed across the uprights, is simple and elegant but what is impressive is the way it clicks into place as you assemble the chair because Cross Chair is delivered packed flat. That click is testament to the precision of the cutting of the joints that gives the chair a sense of precise engineering unusual with timber. Another very nice detail is that the ends of the cross rails are curved down - to drop the tenon down further where it is housed in a mortice at the top of the front legs but the top of the leg is also just slightly lower so does not press hard against the underside of the seat to give a more refined design and a slight emphasis to the line of the seat by having that space.

The third chair, Soft Chair by the Danish designer Thomas Bentzen, has a strong sense of Danish design from the late 1960s rather than the 1950s with distinct and marked verticals - so with echoes of the Ferry Chair by Wegner. The legs are a uniform thickness rather than being tapered and are vertical, rather than splaying out, and there are horizontal stretchers or cross rails between the legs. This framework supports an ingenious seat and backrest in plywood where both are curved sharply round at the edge to grasp the frame. It looks almost like leather draped across the frame but there are clever fixings holding both seat and back in place. Despite the apparent complexity of the design it has strong parts with simple fixings so again it is delivered flat.

Part of the team at TAKT is Nicholai de Gier who teaches at the Royal Academy. He wrote a seminal work on chair design - Chairs' Tectonics that was published by The Royal Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture in 2009. In the book he classifies the form of construction for different types of chair and that same attention to detail and detailed understanding not only of style but techniques of construction is applied to the new collection from TAKT. It is important to emphasise that it is a strong part of the Danish design tradition to reference earlier designs but take them forward or experiment with alternative solutions to specific problems.

TAKT have a good on-line site - crucial for this form of marketing - that links to an 'image bank' with photographs of the chairs from all angles and with photographs of details.

Looking at the chairs as you walk around them you can see respected here a clear aim in classic Danish design to make furniture that is beautiful from any angle.

 TAKT


The display at Design X Change was in a marquee in the great central courtyard of the design museum. It is a very pleasant temporary venue for museum events but the light was oddly flat and not good for taking photographs. The team from TAKT were incredibly patient and let me take chairs outside to take photographs. Please note however that these chairs are not designed or made for garden use.

 
 

Tool Chair

Designed by Rasmus Palmgren from Finland
Beech
natural, black, grey, pale blue, mid blue
FSC-certified wood

delivered assembled


Cross Chair

by English designers Luke Pearson and Tom Lloyd of Pearson Lloyd
Oak and matt black
an option is to have the seat upholstered in the eco-labelled wool Hallingdal from Kvadrat or aniline leather
FSC-certified wood


Soft Chair

by the Danish designer Thomas Bentzen
Ash
FSC-certified wood

 

“when we reside differently we also behave differently” *

 


When the Danish Architecture Centre moved into its new building last summer, their first major exhibition was called Welcome Home and looked at Danish housing. The first section to that exhibition was a timeline that gave an overview of the development of housing in Denmark through the century from 1900 and then the main part of the exhibition looked at recent housing … at how the planning and the building of homes is evolving and changing with new requirements for appropriate homes; new configurations of living space; new approaches to conservation and the use of new building materials and new construction methods.

 Immediately after that time line - and really part of the introduction - there was an important section that looked at statistics for housing in Denmark … first at data that marks out some of the differences in lifestyle when people own their homes and  when people rent their homes and then at data that demonstrates that there are now many different types of household. And these different family dynamics seem to suggest that different people now need different types of home at different stages in their lives.

Particularly in Denmark, a well-established and strongly democratic country with less-obvious extremes between wealth and poverty than in may countries - it is easy to assume that change is now relatively slow and that a home is simply a home and most people live in much the same way. In fact, statistics show that society is changing quickly … or at least quickly when compared with the time needed for planners, architects and builders to respond by trying to build the homes people want in the places where people want to live.

When you look at the statistics, there are fascinating differences for people who rent their home and for those who own their home. Perhaps the most important - over the long term - is that owners have eight times the equity of someone who rents but statistics also indicate that the most obvious or most tangible difference between owning and renting a home is in the size of that home … the average space for an owner-occupied home is 143.3 square metres but the average size of a rented home in Denmark is 82.4 square metres.**

But, actually, it is how that space is occupied in Danish homes that forms a more intriguing social study of day-to-day life and day-to-day needs because the difference between owning and renting would seem to influence more personal habits … so the owners smoke, on average, 10 cigars a year but tenants only 3 and there are differences in amounts of bread eaten or whether people drink more beer or more wine if they own or rent their home.

 

This data was presented in a dramatic way as a large dining room with a single large table with chairs around it and set for a meal but with table and room divided straight across the middle with one half with everything in white and the other half - the renting side - with everything in red.

Looking back, it was slightly odd … as if everyone involved in designing the exhibition could not or would not flesh out the presentation of basic numbers with more details about everyday life - as if that would be too insensitive or too awkward - too political - so it was like walking through a clever window display in a furniture shop but with numbers and percentages rather than price tags but there was little context let alone anything in the way of an explanation. Perhaps, simply, it was not the place to make more nuanced conclusions about differences that must also reflect age and education, for instance, as much as owning or not ones home.

That does not mean that the differences described were not interesting and not important and certainly conclusions from the data should have a strong impact on planning decisions and, of course, in political debate. However, owning or renting may in fact be a rather crude and blunt division that probably camouflages just how rapidly our attitudes to our homes is changing.

For a start, in Denmark, there is an almost equal division, in terms of overall numbers, between those who rent and those who own their home but it is actually the proportion of people renting that is now increasing and planners and developers have to take that on board.

There must be many reasons for this and it is difficult to see which are most important: it is obvious that fewer and fewer people stay in the same home throughout their adult life and, for at least the first decade of adult life, and possibly longer, it can be important for a career to be flexible about where you live and be flexible about moving on and that is certainly easier if you rent. ***

In Denmark there is a strong and relatively well-controlled sector for rented-housing which makes this easier and that is particularly important in Copenhagen where statistics suggest that now, each year around 10,000 people move into the city and this seems set to continue over the next decades. The city is now responding to that influx with laudable speed so last year there were more new homes built in Copenhagen than in any year since the 1930s although I have not yet found statistics to show what proportion of those new homes are to rent and how many are to buy.

 

People have moved to the city from other countries - particularly other parts of northern Europe - but when you talk to people, it is soon clear that many have moved into the city from Jutland and Funen and from Bornholm so, in Denmark as in so many countries around the modern world, there is a marked migration from rural to urban areas. Planners have to take that into account and reports have actually been commissioned to help form a policy for demolishing or finding a new use for an increasing number of empty properties and depleted communities in some rural areas.

This increase in demand for homes in the centre of the city is not just fuelled by newcomers. In the second half of the 20th century, many young couple moved out from the city to suburbs to find new houses with gardens and more space when they started a family, but it is now clear that young couples appreciate the advantages of living in close to facilities and to shops and entertainment so accept smaller inner-city homes and apartments but now expect that communal courtyards, parks and public squares and streets will provide the attractive and safe outdoor space their children need.

It was also clear from the statistics that it is not just newcomers who drive the demand for new homes but more and more people in the city are choosing to live alone - now 40% of homes in Denmark are occupied by a single person and that is an increase by 57% over the last 25 years - so even if no one was moving into the city there would still be a demand for more homes.

There are various reasons … from young adults moving regularly before they establish a career or people, if they marry, marry later and when married, many more couples divorce, so then have to set up separate homes, and, of course, people live longer so that increases the possibility of having to spend a period as a widow or widower living alone.

Young adults in Denmark move on average every two years … so that is one obvious reason why the demand for rented properties is strong.

The average age for getting married in Denmark is 35 years old for men and 32 for women so that suggests at least a decade of flexible home arrangements. If not always spent actually living alone many young couples presumably maintain two separate homes until they have children and not always then.

Statistics show that living alone also includes many more older and more established adults so in the broad age group 30 to 49, 19% of all men and 9% of all women live alone or, to put that another way, in that age group, two out of every three people who are living alone are men. It might be sexist or even politically incorrect to even suggest that men and women living alone live in different ways with different requirements but I'm sure that designers if not architects are already taking this into account.

One in four Danes is over the age of 60 - a marked increase since 2000 when it was one in five - and average life expectancy now for women in Denmark is 82.9 years and for men 79 years. This has to have an impact on the number of houses needed overall and of course on the type of homes needed for older people … in 1900, on average, women lived to 56 and the average lifespan was only 53 for men.

Of course, the most common type of family still has parents and children living together so there are 436,097 Danish families with two adults and their children living together in one home but there are now also 115,627 households in Denmark with a mother who is living with her children but without a partner and 86,000 fathers with shared custody and these men must need different forms of housing to men without children. There are 10,086 single mothers with children but also visiting children and 8,069 single mothers with visiting children.

In all, the statistics show 37 different family types of which the rarest is where the mother and father have children together but both also have children from a previous relationship and they are all living together … in 2017 there were 31 families in Denmark that had that specific family dynamic.

What is important is that most of these statistics come from hard data - not opinion polls asking for responses to questions and then rounding up to form a national average - so real information updated regularly and therefore over a short period - or short in planning and design and building terms - and able to spot, track and respond to trends. This is not about looking for next year's fashionable colour or even spotting an increasingly influential architect but of trying to understand what sort of housing and where and what sort of infrastructure and built environment people first of all need and, if you are talking about satisfaction or well-being or even long-term health and happiness - then what forms of housing people want.

The way we live is changing and changing fast so the conclusion has to be that we now need housing that is much more flexible in at least the arrangement of the accommodation provided. One good conclusion of this section of the exhibition was that, "different types of family have different requirements for the perfect home."

 

notes:

* It was interesting that a main information panel in the exhibition included the statement “Når vi bor anderledes, opfører vi os nemlig også anderledes” …. when we live differently, we also behave differently … but I'm still trying to process the implications.
** Being English, I feel that should be seen in context: 82 square metres is not a small home … the UK has some of the smallest houses in Europe and there, across all types, an average home is about 70 square metres.
***  My grandparents lived in the same house for over fifty years but so far I have lived in eight different towns or cities.

All the data repeated here is from the exhibition Welcome Home that was at the Danish Architecture Centre from 7 May 2018 through to 23 September 2018 and was a collaboration between the Centre and SBI - the Danish Building Research Institute.