A new Nordic perspective
by Martina Metzner
Evidently, the Danes don’t treat famous furniture as sacrosanct objects, and adaptations seem to actually be welcomed. You never get the feeling that the Danes treat the heritage of that Golden Age (their name for the epoch in question) as iconic, nor do they spin myths around it. Yet what is the situation with regards new approaches and ideas? Is the past a massive influence on the new Danish design that so captivates the rest of the world these days?
And where, if not at Muuto, would we possibly find the answer? In recent years the furniture maker, along with trade rivals such as Hay, Normann Copenhagen, &tradition and, as the latest addition, Menu, have really been rocking the design scene. If you want to pay Muuto a visit at its Copenhagen premises you will have to climb the steps of a building located in the old part of town, but rest assured, the effort is well worth it: Showroom and headquarters extend across several storeys, high above the rooftops of the Old Town. If you ever dreamed up your ideal workplace, up here would come pretty close. The open-plan offices are suffused with light, the interior is bright and welcoming. Separated by vanity screens, people work in groups of four; the desks can be manually adjusted for height, meaning you can work standing upright if you so wish; and there are “Silence Rooms” for when you really need to concentrate – needless to say, all outfitted with Muuto furniture and boasting fresh flowers. Not to forget the company-own culinary facility (staff restaurant would be too bland a description for the kind of cuisine created here) which, with its open kitchen, extremely friendly chef and amazing view has the appeal of dining in the kitchen of some good friends. And as soon as you have made your way up to the rooftop terrace with its genuinely fantastic view of Copenhagen you will inevitably ask yourself: Does this still pass as a workplace or is it not rather heaven on earth?
New perspective, looking back
After we’ve made our way back down again, Muuto’s Managing Director Peter Bonnén beckons us over. Alongside Kristian Byrge Bonnén, a young and lanky guy with a beard, is one of the co-founders and is proud to present his latest creation to us: a chair made of fully recycled PET. When we ask him whether he thinks there is such a thing as new Danish design he stays cool, and explains that it was precisely for this reason that he and Kristian Byrge decided to establish Muuto back in 2006. The word Muuto is derived from “muutos”, which is Finnish and roughly translates as “new perspective”. Offering a new perspective, in the wake of Arne Jacobsen and the like, says Bonnén, spiced up with a strong shot of personality, now that is what they had in mind. Unlike Hay, Muuto therefore collaborates exclusively with Scandinavian young design talents, including Anderssen & Voll (Norway), Andreas Engesvik (Norway), Jonas Wagell, (Sweden), Cecilie Manz (Denmark), Thomas Bentzen (Denmark), Claesson Koivisto Rune (Sweden), Jens Fager (Sweden), Ole Jensen (Denmark) and Mika Tolvanen (Finland). Functionality, quality and simplicity are at the heart of their endeavors. The difference between past and present suddenly becomes clear: Simple, yes sure, but less austere than previously, rather more playful, Bonnén explains. Yes, and of course there are references made to the old times, an example being “Unfold”, a luminaire by Form Us With Love, which takes its cue from an industrial luminaire – but is made of rubber. Sorting to a tried-and-tested shape and jazzing it up with a new, completely untypical and therefore surprising material, or so the strategy seems.
Frama, too, represents and advocates New Nordic Design. In 2011, Jase Kotan, Niels Stroyer and Driton Memisi founded the company as a spin-off from the sales agency for Established & Sons and Stellar Works. The reason: The trio was fed-up with how foreign companies made money with Scandinavian-inspired design, prompting them to reinforce their roots with the new label. Like Muuto, Frama preferably works with Danish designers such as Nicholai Wigg Hansen (who is the brain behind the Ikea classics “Locker” and “Jules”) and Toke Lauridsen, they have their wares produced in Denmark, Lithuania, Sweden and Poland, but design mostly themselves. Durable materials, purist workmanship, and a back-to-basics mindset form the matrix of their business model. To which they add a clear statement: “We are not interested in making something new – all we want is to improve the standards.” That this claim does not hold true becomes evident when we look at the “9.5° Chair”, whose slanted lines place it somewhere between concept and design. But let’s not go into that.
Instead, let’s talk about sustainability. Is it true that the Danes are paragons of acting socially and ecologically responsible, as they keep telling us? In Denmark, you don’t have to look far to find evidence of this outlook. Sure, some things are clearly marketing stunts, for example in the “Babette Guldsmeden” (the four-star hotel where our group is staying) where Balinese-style four-poster beds and first-class service are juxtaposed with towels bearing an “eco” label. That said, in many places the issue is taken to heart, for instance at EGE Carpets, who have teamed up with the Danish fashion designer David Andersen to create a carpet-cum-fashion collection: Carpets transform into dresses made of is carpet trimmings as their basic material. These are not meant to be worn, of course, but nonetheless very inspiring.
Just like the other Danish companies we are visiting EGE Carpets holds a certificate for its efforts in social and environmental management, including the internationally applicable ISO 14001 standard. That the Danish manufacturers in the premium sector (unlike the Germans, the Danes don’t call it premium, however) have the majority of their goods produced in Scandinavia goes without saying. The most impressive example of producing locally is most probably the cooperative of carpenters and joiners of Peter Klint. Here, in an erstwhile warehouse in the old Nordhavn, experienced craftspeople have been working together with budding designers for some years now – an amazing, vibrant place, complete with a café, that brings together traditional craftsmanship and cutting-edge technology: Tucked in behind circular saws and timber trestles you will hear the humming sound of a 3D printer.
No matter where you cast your eyes, one thing is obvious: The Danes in general and Danish furniture makers in particular very much have their mind set on promoting regional matters. Noma, a Copenhagen restaurant that the Diners Club has in recent years repeatedly honored with the accolade “World’s Best Restaurant” and which stands out for its conviction to only use regional produce in its creations, is setting a very clear example. The Danish Architecture Center (DAC) has likewise jumped on the sustainability bandwagon. Whether it’s exhibitions, seminars or trainings – they’re all geared towards a green and healthy future. The most recent example is a project entitled “DK 2050 – what will Life be in Denmark like in 2050?”; for it, the DAC brought together representatives of the worlds of society, culture and business. The DAC’s most favorite undertaking is the Bryghus Project, however, a building that Rem Koolhaas’ firm OMA planned in line with the latest standards in green and energy-friendly construction. The Center expects to relocate to its new premises in 2016. Considering all of the above, it’s not surprising then that the EU Commission has named Copenhagen the “European Green Capital 2014”.
After two days in Copenhagen and countless chats with designers and manufacturers you realize that Danish design is the most vibrant it has ever been. Its history is being transferred into the future with utmost care and circumspection. Nonetheless, young designers are given plenty of space to unfold. Pairing the two approaches is paying off: Companies are making good money with the rekindled interest in Danish Modernism and people’s passion New Nordic Design. Even though it shares the same DNA with its trailblazers, the renditions impress with a new playfulness and boldness. Put differently: “Simplicity” in Danish design has shed its austere and elitist appeal and is instead presenting itself with a wee twinkle in the eye. Things are decidedly democratic and it is not without reason that Niels Jörgensen has placed “modesty” at the heart of Danish design. Some argue that the prices people have to pay in Denmark in general and for furniture in particular are far too high for such a claim to hold true. The Danes don’t share this attitude, however. Because there is no “cheap-is-cool” mindset. People know that good and solid workmanship has its price and that production pays wages in the country itself. And there is another factor that is making Danish design blossom, and that is that the Danes are extremely open towards new, smart and above all green technologies. Innovation and environmental awareness are no opposites, however. To close with the words of designer Louise Campbell: “Today Scandinavian designers have one foot in an airplane while the other is deeply rooted in nature.”
Part 1 of the article you'll find here:
In the good-life lab: As regards design, Denmark certainly has its finger on the pulse of things. Is this anything more than a re-edition of Danish Modernism? Are objects being made sustainably inside Denmark?
Danish Architecture Center (DAC)
Exhibition "Urban Nature" at Museum København