Knud Erik Hansen

A Rich Heritage

Carl Hansen & Son is one of the classics among Danish furniture manufacturers, with a rich portfolio of iconic designs. We spoke to CEO Knud Erik Hansen about the company's DNA and its future.

Alexander Russ: Carl Hansen & Son has a rich heritage that goes back more than a century. How would you define the company's DNA?

Knud Erik Hansen: First of all, we're a family business: Carl Hansen & Son was founded by my grandfather and has been family-owned for 114 years. There's a very strong family ethos and a very open exchange – with our employees as well, even though we now have over 600 people working for us.

The company has grown a great deal over the last twenty years. Can you tell us more about how this happened?

Knud Erik Hansen: Yes, that's absolutely right. In 2002 Carl Hansen & Son only had 30 employees, but we now have three ultra-modern factories in Denmark that manufacture our furniture. That means there are about 60,000 square metres of production space available to us here. That's why we've been able to respond to the increased demand, and 2021 was a very successful year for us, business-wise. Good planning is very important in this regard – and good financial planning is particularly important for a company that's growing so quickly.

To what extent has this affected Carl Hansen & Son's portfolio?

Knud Erik Hansen: We bought a number of smaller companies because they had the products of designers in their collection who were a good fit for us. In many of these companies there was no generational change, so the owners approached us and asked if we would like to take over their portfolios. This is also the reason why we now have so many design classics in our programme, for instance products that were designed by Danish masters such as Hans J. Wegner, Kaare Klint and Poul Kjærholm. We've taken great care to put together a coherent collection in which the individual pieces of furniture can be easily combined with one another.

One of your latest projects is the reissue of furniture designed by Vilhelm Lauritzen: the "Foyer Series" and the "VLA26 Vega Chair". What's the story behind the project?

Knud Erik Hansen: Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects approached us in order to talk about the furniture designs in their portfolio, and to ask if we could produce them. And of course we said yes! We will present the furniture next year at Vilhelm Lauritzen Architects' 100th anniversary celebration. The "Foyer Series" was originally conceived by Vilhelm Lauritzen for the Radiohuset (Radio House) he designed in the 1940s, a famous building in Copenhagen with an impressive interior design – a total work of art. The same goes for the Folkets Hus (Peoples' House) from the 1950s, for which Vilhelm Lauritzen designed the "VLA26 Vega Chair" and where the Vega venue is now based. Both buildings are important landmarks in Danish architectural history and we are very proud to be able to contribute to them. And the furniture fits our portfolio perfectly as well.

You also work with young designers. How do you combine tradition with innovation?

Knud Erik Hansen: This is indeed very fruitful because such designers take Carl Hansen & Son's heritage and add something new to it. This certainly isn't an easy process, but most of these products come from designers who also have training as carpenters. They know that we have very high standards for the manufacturing quality of our furniture, which has to last at least three to four generations! One example is our collaboration with the Danish designer Rikke Frost, who designed the "Sideways Sofa" and the "RF200 Table Lamp" for us. We also work with the Austrian design studio EOOS, who've developed the "Embrace series" for us, among other things.

RF200 Table Lamp from Rikke Frost
Sideways Sofa from Rikke Frost

How do you reconcile regional production and the high quality of your furniture with the profitability of the company?

Knud Erik Hansen: We have one of the most modern furniture production facilities in Europe, where many things are made with large CNC machines. At the same time, craftsmanship is very important to us. That's why detailed work on the furniture is still done like it was 100 years ago, i.e. by qualified cabinetmakers. It's really this mixture of high-tech and handwork that makes it all possible.

How do you ensure that production is sustainable?

Knud Erik Hansen: By building furniture that lasts. We also offer to buy back used furniture. We then restore it and sell it at a lower price. And the classic design of our furniture doesn't go out of fashion, so it's used for a long time. Society is currently rediscovering the idea that furniture can have a history, which can be passed on. We also source our wood from sustainably managed forests. We then use it very efficiently and any wood that's left over is used for community heating purposes.

The Wishbone Chair by Hans J. Wegner during assembly
High-tech and craftsmanship come together at Carl Hansen & Son

Young Danish furniture companies have attracted attention to Danish design by using the term "New Nordic". What do you think of this development?

Knud Erik Hansen: Danish design enjoys its excellent international reputation not only because of its outstanding design, but also because of the quality of its execution, which is comparable to Swiss watches or German cars. This is a heritage that must be preserved – and as long as these young companies get the quality right, I have no problem at all with it. But if production is exclusively done abroad and quality is mediocre, and making a quick profit is all that matters, then I would find that rather difficult.

Carl Hansen & Son has its own flagship stores and showrooms in New York, Tokyo, London and Milan, and has become a global brand. How do you reconcile the company's heritage with globalisation, without losing your own identity?

Knud Erik Hansen: That's a very good question! I don't actually come from the furniture sector, although of course I grew up with it due to my family. I originally worked for shipping companies, which is a very competitive profession. I was in Hong Kong and Singapore, for example, and I'm used to working in an environment with a lot of competition, where you have to react quickly to change. This has strongly influenced the way I run Carl Hansen & Son. For example, my wife and I spend a lot of time discussing how to make the company even more competitive. Our flagship stores, of which there are now 20, are a good example of this. Our individual pieces of furniture are presented together in these stores and are shown in an overall context, which then also represents Carl Hansen & Son's DNA to the outside world, thus strengthening the brand. This is also what makes us different from the competition, and it's very important that we go our own way!

Carl Hansen & Son at the Salone del Mobile 2022:

Carl Hansen & Son Showroom
Foro Bonaparte 18/a, Via Arco 4
20121 Milan

Carl Hansen & Son at the 3daysofdesign 2022:

Carl Hansen & Son Flagship Store
Bredgade 21–23
1260 Copenhagen

Showroom Carl Hansen & Son in Munich
Showroom Carl Hansen & Son in Hamburg