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.

What is also important with the Sølvgade Chair is that the form of the chair is not looking back to the work of the cabinet maker's working with Hans Wegner or Finn Juhl, in the classic period of Danish design from the 1950s and 1960s, so quite curved and sculpted or shaped in form but is more closely related to designs from Børge Mogensen and through him back to his master, the pre-war designer and teacher Kaare Klint. The stripped-back but elegant simplicity of the Sølvgade Chair is different from but close in its structural details to the Chair 122 from 1952 by Mogensen or his design for the Haarby Chair for FDB - the Coop - and produced by CM Madsen.

 

the Haarby Chair and Haarby Table by Børge Mogensen made by C M Madsen of Haarby for FDB

 
 

Rather than square-cut legs, most wood-framed dining chairs have turned and shaped legs - often made as thin as possible while leaving enough wood at the top of the legs to be able to cut relatively strong mortice-and-tenon joints, with or without pegs, to hold together the frame of the seat. As the legs are made thinner then usually strength is provided by cross rails below the seat to link together the legs into what is hoped to be a light and elegant framework. 

Similarly, the strongest arrangement for the legs is for them to be vertical and for the back legs to continue up in single straight pieces of wood to support the back rest. If the back legs are splayed backwards to make the chair more stable or simply to make the profile more elegant then the angle of the change of angle at the level of the seat is even weaker. Even where the uprights are vertical there is a problem where the back rest applied directly against or between these uprights because it would be at an uncomfortable angle for the person sitting in the chair … possibly OK for a desk chair or a school chair but certainly not good for someone wanting to feel comfortable and relaxed at a dining table.

Cecilie Manz resolves this problem by shaping back the two uprights on the front or seat side and facing a thin shaped back rest across them at that angle.

On the Sølvgade Chair there are no cross rails at the front or on the sides and although there is a back rail, just below the back of the seat, it actually replaces a back piece for the frame of the seat which is omitted … a detail that makes the chair when seen from the back much less solid or cumbersome. The seat itself is a thin shaped piece of wood dropped into rebates in the seat frame. The back of the seat itself is rounded off and although the front edge of the chair is set square, the front of the seat itself has rounded corners and the front edge of the rebate is set almost as far forward as possible to create what comes closest in the chair to a decorative detail … decorative only in that it is not structurally rational.

 
 
 
 
 

The chair is made in Oregon Pine … or rather Douglas Fir although even that is a misnomer as the tree is not a true fir. It came originally from the west coast of the USA, where it grows tall and straight and has a relatively high and relatively narrow crown and the tall straight trunk has few if any side branches. That is important because there are not as many knots or whorls in the grain that are found where branches have grown but been broken away or trimmed off when the tree was felled.  

Because of the natural height and its straight growth, the timber has been used for construction work including for timber piles and for the masts of ships. A number of Danish architects in the 1960s used the pine for cladding walls and ceilings … almost-certainly the house built for Børge Morgensen in Soløsevej in Gentofte has ceilings in Oregon Pine.

The wood has a straight but strong and pronounced dark grain and an orange colour that can be seen clearly in the Sølvgade Chair. The colour has made it less popular over the last few decades than paler timbers like ash or oak. Cecilie Manz studied in Finland after graduating from The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts School of Design, and of course the use of thin-cut sheets of wood, most often used for making plywood, have been used there for furniture much more than in Denmark.

Mindcraft16 continues at Designmuseum Danmark in Copenhagen until 8th January 2017

Cecilie Manz