shop interior by Kaare Klint for FA Thiele


background / history

Købmagergade is one of the two main shopping streets in Copenhagen and number 3, close to the intersection of those two streets, is a wide building with two separate shops running back into the property and a central doorway for access to the staircase and to the floors above the shops. The building appears to have just escaped the catastrophic fire in the city of 1728 and may date back to the first half of the 17th century - the adjoining building was damaged and had to be rebuilt. Number 3 was rebuilt between 1816 and 1834, when it was owned by a restaurateur - Jean Pierre Casadaban -  and in 1847, an extra floor was added with, presumably, a new roof and at that point the street frontage took on its present appearance.

The shops have very high ceiling heights where, as in so many of the older buildings in the centre of the city, the floors of the main level, originally six or seven steps up from street level were brought down to pavement level, cutting into the space of basement rooms that were originally half below ground and half above ground - a form of plan described as a half basement or semi basement.


In the middle of the last century, the shop in the left or south half of the building at number 3 Købmagergade was occupied by the opticians  F A Thiele. They are now in a shop further north along the same street - but in 1944 they commissioned the architect Kaare Klint to design a new shop font and new interior fittings here.

Work was delayed and did not start until 1951 when Klint was assisted by the young architect Vilhelm Wohlert, who had studied under Klint, and the shop was actually completed in 1956, some two years after Klint died.

It is a complicated space with the front part of the shop just two steps up from the pavement but the space then narrows and towards the back runs through into a back building at a higher level, eight steps up from the floor of the front space, although the ceiling level is constant.

Klint and Wohlert designed a reception and waiting area at the front and, back down the shop, there were 18 tables or desks with chairs, where patients were seen by the opticians, including tables set along a narrow balcony that returned back towards the shop front from the raised area at the back. At the very back there was a small office but with a glazed front wall.

Unlike the present arrangement, the back part of Thiele's had windows looking into a narrow back courtyard so there was natural light.


Distinctive fittings included high and narrow units of small drawers - next to the staircase in the middle of the shop - for storing the glasses but the interior also made striking use of large flush panels veneered in wood and areas of vertical and closely spaced narrow strips of wood that picked up the tight linear pattern of the ceiling, that had narrow strips running front to back, and the bolder lines of the closely-spaced rafters of the underside of the balcony.

The drawer units were along the side wall but also returned across the shop beside the staircase and taken up higher than the floor level of the space beyond and seem to have included a flower planter across the top and formed the barrier or parapet of the upper level.

These steps up to the back had open treads and the handrail had closely-spaced vertical battens so again a strong linear design. Note how the wide handrail curves at the top and bottom to level off to horizontal so it was at the right level for your hand as you approached and as you reached the last of the steps.

The interior is about clean simple lines but the planes of walls and fittings define a clever interrelationship of spaces and volumes marking not just changes in the underlying building - that the architects were given - but define different areas of the shop ... so a progression from pavement through the display space of the shop window to a counter and reception area, a waiting area and pay desk, stations for consultations, storage of stock and an office at the far end, above everything but with its glass wall, a place from which to supervise all. Perhaps one of the most elegant essays in functional architecture in the city.

The front window was again a deceptively simple but again an exceptionally sophisticated design with a wide lintel across the door to divide the very high shop window across the centre. This was deep enough to carry lighting with a series of spot lights over the window displays and narrow opaque panels for the lights over the entrance. The glass on either side was set at the front edge for the areas of window display but the entrance door was set on the back edge of this horizontal feature with narrow windows on each side to form a covered entrance lobby. At the front or outer corners the sheets of glass forming the sides of this lobby are butted up to the large plate-glass windows of the shop front without vertical frames - something we now just take for granted but then, presumably, both novel and daring.

Plain boards below the windows set the height of a solid panel in the bottom of the otherwise glazed door and the windows were large undivided sheets of glass so there is an apparent simplicity to the design but in reality a complicated and clever game with planes and lines and spaces.

The demolition of this interior has to be seen as a major loss.


a cigar shop for Hirschsprung by Kaare Klint


At the start of his career, Kaare Klint designed other interiors for commercial properties in the centre of the city but, like the shop for the optician F A Thiele designed at the end of his career, these have not survived.

In the exhibition of photographs Then & Now there was a view taken in 1968 towards the west end of Strøget - the walking street - looking west across Gammel Torv and on the far side of the square, on the north or right side of the next section of the street, was a cigar shop owned in the early 20th century by Hirschsprung.

It was not far from the court house - lower down the public space on the west side of Nytorv, the lower part of the square - and not far from City Hall so this must have been a prime location to serve all those lawyers and politicians.


The interior of the shop had mahogany counters and floors in black and white marble but with green linoleum on the floor behind the counter and there was what sounds like a strong and distinct colour scheme with the walls painted russet. Designed by Kaare Klint working with the architect Povl Baumann, it was completed in 1916 or 1917, and was given a city design award in 1918.

Klint designed furniture for the shop - with a version of the chair he designed for Dansk Kunsthandel - and ashtrays and sconces in bronze but he also designed the lettering for the signs on the black and grey facades on this prominent corner site.

Unfortunately, the contrast with the store here now could not be greater.

Surely the interior and exterior, as the work of one of the most important Danish designers of the early 20th century, could and should have been protected so that it survived. That's not a plea for anything and everything old to be kept but surely new uses can be found for historic shop interiors of a high quality without compromising financial returns. Commercial chains clearly do not want to or cannot afford to keep these interiors but the city cannot afford to loose them.


Diagonally across the square from the cigar shop is the Stelling building by Arne Jacobsen from the 1930s and there the shop interior has just been refitted and again with no reference to the important original design and, by coincidence, for the same shop chain.


a new display for the Spherical Bed by Kaare Klint

The Spherical Bed, designed by Kaare Klint in 1938 and made in Cuban mahogany by the cabinetmaker Rud. Rasmussen, is now back on display at Designmuseum Danmark in a small gallery space along with the mirrored dressing table from the same year and a number of drawings by Klint.

The globe in wire - to show the underlying geometry in the design of the bed - and a wire-frame version of the dressing table were conceived by Boris Berlin and made by Rasmus Heide.


Dressing Table designed in 1938 when it was shown in the exhibition on the work of Klint at Designmuseum Danmark in 2014


Designmuseum Danmark on line

Recently, major changes have been made to the on-line site for Designmuseum Danmark. Not only have pages and routes through the site been rethought but this is part of a much more extensive reassessment of the visual or brand image of the museum itself that has been undertaken by the Urgent Agency and Stupid Studio.

There is clear information on the site about opening times, exhibitions and news - as you would expect - but this is also the portal to the online catalogue for the museum collection so it is also a major research tool.


The extensive long-term exhibition of current Danish design from 2000 to 2015, under the title Dansk Design Nu, has a section on Danish typography, graphic design and book production. Type and graphic design has always been an important aspect of design in the country - for instance for corporate image for the Copenhagen Metro or for the newspaper Politiken and, of course, the national newspaper Berlingske has it’s own typeface. 

And manufacturers of classic products and furniture, obviously associated with Denmark, do actually spend considerable time and thought on corporate logos, advertising, packaging and catalogues of the highest standard … even if customers discard the box with hardly a second thought, a study of the process of purchasing would surely find that exactly the same product presented in a shoddy or badly-designed box would not sell as well.

Denmark has a well established and, hopefully, a thriving book industry and not just for books on design.

For it’s own packaging, publications and products, Designmuseum Danmark has digitised the font ‘Flexibility’ that was developed in the 1960s by the architect and graphic designer Naur Klint (1920-1978).

On so many levels this is an inspired choice. Klint was the son of the architect and designer Kaare Klint and the grandson of Peder Vilhelm Jensen-Klint so he was, importantly, a member of one of the great families of Danish design but of course Kaare Klint was, as its main architect and designer, the creator of the Design Museum that the visitor sees now, as he was responsible for the work to convert the 18th-century hospital into a museum. He also taught design in the building when it was the home of the department of Interior and Furniture Design of the Academy of Fine Arts.

More important, perhaps, the typeface, with it’s relatively broad letters and generous spacing, is good over a broad range of sizes and line weights for digital on-screen use.