Wake-up call with eyes and fringes
by Uta Abendroth
Jun 2, 2015

They cast long shadows: Hans J. Wegner, Finn Juhl, Arne Jacobsen and Børge Mogensen, to name but a few who are still the undisputed champions of Danish design. The Old Masters set the style standards that still prevail among Nordic creative minds. Vintage models fetch record prices and re-editions or new editions of designs hitherto confined to a dusty drawer are pretty much daily business. That said, there’s movement. During the “3daysofdesign” – showroom time for design aficionados, consumers and business partners alike – the focus was often on the heritage, but also on the issue of how to take objects from yesterday and drag them into the present. Many of the companies displaying products in Copenhagen took as their ideal the collage as residential model, where nothing is cast from a single mold, but furniture from different epochs or styles complement one another.

Each item has its own history

The perfect mix of wood, handmade and retro was already on show at Carl Hansen & Søn’s booth in Milan. Their products always exude the company’s respect and passion for craftsmanship, and thus their slogan reads: “Every piece comes with a story.” In the showroom on Bredgade they also had “novelties” on display: Hans J. Wegner’s filigree classic “CH88” with its characteristic backrest made of steam-bent wood and colored frames; the re-edition of the Wegner’s 1970 tray table “CH417” with its folding frame; the tray set, which can be used on both sides; and Ole Wanscher’s “Colonial Series” consisting of a two-seat settee and a matching coffee table. The real new number has not been dug up out of the archive, but is the brainchild of Austrian trio EOOS. For the “Embrace Chair”, the re-interpretation of a classic dining table chair, the well-proportioned wooden frame wraps round a seat that functions like a perfectly folded soft blanket. It fits perfectly into the company’s DNA, but also shows how you can give the classic wood/natural tone look a modern twist.

Monica Förster moves in similar waters. The Swedish designer created “Savannah” for Erik Jørgensen. The armchair and sofa see thick saddle leather snuggling round a straight-lined wooden frame, thus forming the structure for the hand-sewn upholstery. Made in the company’s own factory in Svendborg on the isle of Fyn, the two fit sweetly into Erik Jørgensen’s tradition of craftsmanship, a lineage now extending over 60 years, and into the 21st century.

Classics in new clothes

Founded in 1911, the Fredericia company wants to do “everything new”. Which doesn’t mean jettisoning all the inheritance, of course, but entails a “wake-up call” for the classics. Henrik Vibskov kicked off the updates – he’s a graduate of London’s Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design. Fashion maker, musician and visual artist, he created new clothes for Børge Mogensen’s “No. 1”, the first settee the trained carpenter designed for Fredericia in 1955. For “The Fringy Edition”, which Fredericia is bringing out in a limited edition in 2015, Vibskov commissioned the Gabriel company to weave a fabric with a plain check, while the other textiles come from Kvadrat’s “Divina Melange” series. Vibskov and his team hand-sewed a one-off version with “eyes” in his Copenhagen studio. Fredericia CEO Thomas Graversen comments laconically that “I hope we’ll soon be shocking you in various other ways, too.”

Long-standing brands are also choosing sharp minds from abroad, and this has fostered a broader aesthetic bandwidth in Danish design. For example, Georg Jensen is for the first time presenting a complete tableware set, expanded to include Munich designer Constantin Wortmann’s “Cobra” collection. Beakers made of hand-blown glass and radiant, zestful white china are destined to give classic table settings a contemporary feel.

International infusion

Designers Sebastian Herkner (from Offenbach) and Niek Pulles (from Amsterdam) contributed to the “Reframing Danish Design” show in the silos at Nordhavn by scrutinizing design (and transforming) icons by ten companies. Herkner was also on the ground with a new luminaire called “Collar” for Gubi – it melds hand-blown glass with an aluminum collar that acts as the reflector.

Louis Poulsen also seeks to offer a well-balanced collection. Founded in 1874 as a wine importer, the brand has long since become the epitome of Danish lighting culture, with an output of some 250,000 luminaires a year. The ratio of unit sales for classics to new items is almost astonishing: the split’s “only” 60-40. Alongside Denmark, Germany, the USA and Japan are the key markets. So it’s only logical that Japan’s Oki Sato alias Nendo is the latest new designer signed up by Louis Poulsen. It took two years to develop the “NJP table lamp which deliberately exudes light not only downward but also upward (through a small slit in the shade), brightening the room a bit in the process.

Fritz Hansen has likewise long since known that just acting locally is not enough, and started collaborating with Jaime Hayon years ago. New in the collection since April are the “Fri” armchair and the “Sammen” chair. And the &tradition label has sensed the validity of the strategy and already applied it in products for the globalized design world. Alongside re-edition Verner Panton luminaires, this year’s line boasts the new “Cloud” collection by Luca Nichetto. The armchair, the two/three-seater settees, and the pouf combine plywood and metal with thick upholstery. Since all the elements are cast in the same color (blue, red, gray or natural white), nothing looks classic or fuddy-duddy.

Exciting showroom architecture

As regards yesteryear: The City of Copenhagen is a past master in using audacious architecture to refresh its classic look. And the Danish furniture industry’s showrooms are just as good, often skillfully combining the old and the new. Thus, &tradition has moved to new premises in an old wharf not far from the opera (it opened in 2005). Beneath the impressive beams there are now 12 chambers, each housing a part of the collection. Dornbracht and Alape (admittedly not Danes) have likewise relocated to a small wharf close to the Opera, while Fritz Hansen’s showroom at Pakhus 403 once was a warehouse for bananas.

At the Nyt i bo retailers on Frederiksgade there are countless different brands under the single roof of a pleasant building from the turn of the 20th century, including Getama, Onecollection, &shufl and Please Wait To Be Seated. Above its loft-like showroom on Østergade Muuto has what is probably the best roof terrace for its staff. The Anker & Co Neu showroom house is in Nordhavn, a part of town that is just arising with the subway tunnel being dug. Alongside Living Divani many luminaire makers have set up shop there, including Wästberg.

At the 3daysofdesign Dinesen was omnipresent, not just at its own brand-new showroom at Søtorvet, where the boards were not just on the floor but actually formed a little hut in the space. Inside the hut stood a long table made of Dinesen boards on which exquisite items by Georg Jensen were arranged on specially dyed sections of the boards. Dinesen boards were to be found in almost all the above-mentioned showrooms, and at Kvadrat they actually formed little chambers.

One thing still bear mentioning perhaps: The 49 colors of the Montana collection stand out from the plain Nordic color canon. Managing Director Joakim Lassen references Verner Panton here: “He really didn’t like that soup of beige tones.” The color visionary was ahead of his day in this regard. However, the happy means in-between is probably the path that will be trodden well when linking yesterday and tomorrow.