Reviving Danish furniture classics
von Armin Scharf | Mar 29, 2012

It all began with the sofas "P2"and "P3", which Vilhelm Lauritzen designed in 1936 for Copenhagen's Radiohus. A very streamlined, elongated sofa in two lengths with four or six simple legs. Now 75 years later the sofa is being made again, this time by the Brdr. Petersens Polstermøbelfabrik in Aarhus, Denmark. Other classics of Danish furniture design are also being produced as faithful replicas of the original. For example, "The Seal", a set comprising a twin-seated sofa and two armchairs: Ib Kofod-Larsen originally drew the flowing lines in 1956 for Swedish firm OPE Möbler.

It is an unusual business that the two brothers Erling and Egon Petersen engage in, a journey into the past and back, which starts with the search for the original plans, and above all, the patent owners. According to the two furniture-makers this latter task is the hardest of all. But generally you are dealing with their descendants, who are absolutely delighted about the re-edition of their parent's or grandparent's design. Especially as they do not come away empty-handed: The Petersens pay them a set license fee for every item sold.

Detailed detective work

Wherever old drawings have survived, they work according these, mostly together with original furniture items. "It is always great to have plans but an old piece of furniture gives you a better idea of the qualities and comfort," explain Erling and Egon Petersen. When they only have the original item (as with the "Oda Chair") it can naturally be measured and reconstructed but the hidden constructional details cannot be inferred. Ultimately what is decisive say the Petersens is that the outer dimensions are retained although they sometimes enlarge the volume of the upholstery which has sunk over the years so that it looks the way they imagine the original probably did. If they can examine several originals they can make fairly accurate statements about the wear. Subsequently, the upholstery is realized using modern materials, today's foams are more efficient and can be processed more quickly – time is also an issue when producing replicas.

Which is why cutting-edge technologies are used in production: most of the wooden structural parts are made using 3D milling machines, but where it makes sense manual working methods are also employed. This is essential, for instance for the finish which is done entirely by hand. "This may be the most time-consuming part of the work but it is very important for the final result."

Constructional enhancement

But what if they detect weaknesses when analyzing the original? They have a relatively pragmatic attitude to this in Ormslev: "Sometimes we alter the construction and use modern materials if this means extending the product's life," says Egon Petersen, who is responsible for the constructional aspects. And because the furniture could be said to have undergone a fifty year endurance test the strengths and weaknesses of a construction can be clearly read and remedied. After all, in the end the replicas have to cater to today's requirements such as larger or heavier people. "We always retain the original dimensions but in some cases we strengthen the construction." Say by concealing steel profiles in delicate wooden struts. But: "The changes should be such that the character, the look, and the feel of the furniture are retained." Anything else would hardly be acceptable because ultimately it is the proportions, lines and elegance that say make "The Seal" by Ib Kofod-Larsen appear so classic. The two armchairs with backrests of differing heights and the two-seater sofa can be had with a fabric or leather cover and a frame of solid oak, walnut or teak.

From supplier to an insider tip

An interesting case is the "Oda Chair", also unofficially known as "nursing chair" because it permits a very relaxed position and also offers a lot of space. Jørgen and Nanna Ditzel designed the organically shaped item in 1956, but it was only produced for a few years. The Petersens finally found it at auctions and antique dealers. The replica can be ordered with fabric covers and legs of oak, walnut or teak, while there is also an optional footrest. Moreover, it was the Petersens who first gave the chair a name: "Oda Chair" recalls Japanese furniture collector Noritsugu Oda, who was a good friend and supporter of the Ditzels.

Established 1973 as supplier to the Danish furniture industry, Petersens Polstermøbelfabrik has morphed into a tip amongst friends of classic design. And that is to stay that way: "We are just looking at several new things." Nor do the brothers only restrict themselves to Denmark, since what is decisive is the quality. "Good design is always a delight whether it is Danish or not."

This is what Nanna Ditzel’s armchair, now named "Oda Chair”, looks like when its wooden structure is exposed, photo © Andreas Weiss
The padded, half-finished backrest of the "Oda Chair” waits for completion, photo © Andreas Weiss
Preparing the "Oda Chair” for upholstery, photo © Andreas Weiss
Cutting the upholstery fabric for the replicas of the furniture classic, photo © Andreas Weiss
Without upholstery, "Seal” reveals its extremely delicate wooden structure, a furniture masterpiece, photo © Andreas Weiss
Building replicas as a team: For the Petersens nothing but top-quality craftsmanship will do, photo © Andreas Weiss
Egon and Erling Petersen cutting the upholstery fabric for the seat of the "Oda Chair”, photo © Andreas Weiss
Construction of the classic Danish piece of furniture is a typical example of individual production, photo © Andreas Weiss
Fitting the wooden armrests onto the "Oda Chair”, photo © Andreas Weiss
Egon and Erling Petersen in their workshop, photo © Andreas Weiss
Rebuilding the classic is above all manual work, especially when it comes to the finish or upholstery, photo © Andreas Weiss
Blast from the past: The original spring seat cushion of the "Oda Chair”, photo © Andreas Weiss
Fitting the finished seat shell into the "Seal” frame, photo © Andreas Weiss