At Carl Hansen & Søn, during the 3daysofdesign events, the CH22 chair, designed by Hans Wegner in 1950, was given prominence in the showroom in Bredgade because it is now in production and will be released at a special launch today, Friday 3rd June.
Along with the Wishbone Chair, the CH22 was one of the first chairs designed by Wegner for Carl Hansen and helped establish the strong partnership between the designer and the company that continued until the end of his life.
The CH22 is low with wooden arms and broad flat elbow rests and a deep oval-shaped wood back rest that has a shallow curve and strongly rounded corners that appears to be a development of the Shell Chair from 1948. Like the Wishbone chair, the CH22 has tapered side rails where the underside is horizontal but the top edge drops down by about 3 degrees from the back to the front.
A distinct feature of the chair frame are curved and shaped vertical supports that have been described as looking rather like axe handles. These rise up from the side rails, are halved across the sides of the seat, and housed into the underside of the arm rest … a form of construction that is not that common in designs by Wegner but is reminiscent of the Colonial Chair designed by Ole Wanscher in 1949. This contributes to giving the chair a more-distinct look of the 1950s than many designs by Wegner. Of course in part that is what makes it’s reintroduction by the company now so appropriate as there is a rapidly-growing appreciation of the interior design of the late 40s and 50s.
Wegner is acknowledged as a master of ergonomics: he designed extremely comfortable chairs. What is discussed less is that he designed very different chairs, experimenting with different forms of construction, various techniques of production and various possible functions for different designs. The height of the seat and its pitch, on a specific chair, or the angle and length of the chair arms, and so on, will all effect how people sit in a chair and how they use it. Of course Wegner also appreciated that, after a few minutes, people shift or move in the chair and he tried to allow for that.
Another variable is the proportions of the person sitting in the chair … their height of course but particularly the distance from the back of the knee to the base of the spine and the distance from the base of the spine to the small of the back. That means that really you should not buy a chair just because the look or the style appeals … you have to choose carefully the chair that is comfortable for you and the chair that suits best how and how often you will use it, what you will be doing while you are sitting in the chair, and, rather more personal, your normal posture … prim and upright or tending to slump … to put it rudely
I asked if I could try out the CH22 in Bredgade. What struck me was that by far the most comfortable position for me in this chair was to push the base of my spine back into the angle between seat and the back and to sit with a more upright posture. The response was a smile from Morten Hansen. That was why, he said, or, at least, that was one of the reasons why, the company has released this design now.
They have identified one interesting change in the sort of chair people need and a new way in which they use chairs while they work on certain tasks.
Surely sitting in a chair is sitting in a chair and always was and always will be you say. Well no. Through the medieval period and in fact well into the 17th century, chairs tended to be a symbol of status and most people sat on stools or for meals sat on benches. In the 18th and 19th centuries chairs became much more common and were rather upright with a relatively high seat - around 18” above the ground - for what is generally defined now as a dining chair. Lower chairs with arms to be used when relaxing are, in crude design history terms, a distinct type of the 19th and 20th centuries.
Sitting at a desk to work meant initially sitting on something close to a dining chair although for most work it was generally better to do without arm rests to the chair which can restrict the elbows as the hands move across the desk. All sorts of office chair appeared through the 20th century from chairs on castors to chairs that rose up or dropped down as they were spun on a vertical thread - often wooden - like a giant corkscrew. When personal computers first became common they were initially on the desk-top or beside the desk and a standard desk chair was normally used even if the posture was not quite right for long periods of work at a key board and monitor or screen.
Perhaps you can see now where this is going.
Carl Hansen & Søn have realised that with the increasing popularity of lap-top and tablet computers, a different chair is appropriate .… the CH22, with its deeper, wider, and lower seat - about 14" from the ground to front edge of the seat - and with its broad, flat, arms that support the elbows but with a more upright spine support gives a comfortable position for a distinct form of chair for a new way of working. Of course, that’s not to say this is a design with one use … more an interesting and good design that actually happens to be really comfortable if you are sitting down to work on a laptop computer.