For years, if we’re honest, many of us have invoked the words “Danish Modern” without really knowing where it came from or what it looked like. Many times we see something that looks different – a sofa with splayed legs, for instance – and say that it’s “Danish Modern-inspired.” And it may very well have been. But who inspired Danish Modern itself?
Let’s just answer that question in brief this time – perhaps we’ll get into it a bit more in another post – by saying that Hans Wegner (1914-2007) had as much to do with Danish Modern as Rachmaninoff had to do with the Romantic period. He epitomized it.
Wegner’s introduction to the furniture industry sounds very similar to many of his contemporaries on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s almost like the greats of modern design “fell” into fame. They went to design schools like the Bauhaus, Cranbrook, and – as Wegner did – what is now known as the Danish Design School. They began to work with others who were experimenting with new forms and materials, got contracts to create high-profile installations, started their own studios. In Wegner’s case, he designed the furniture for the Arne Jacobsen-designed Aarhus Municipal Hall.
After completing that project and starting his own company, he ended up designing a broad range of furniture – mostly chairs – for a variety of Danish manufacturers. We’ll look at two of his designs, and this weekend we’ll profile a third in greater detail.
Though it was introduced in 2005, the Elbow Chair was actually designed by Wegner in 1956. It embodies his desire to create simple objects with form and function combined. Wonderfully suited for use as a dining chair, the Elbow Chair is beautiful enough to enhance any room as a side chair. Its combined backrest/armrest was a Wegner staple throughout most of his career. He kept returning to the concept of “chair” in an attempt to strip it down to its barest essence, emphasizing function while retaining beauty when viewed from all angles.
Introduced in 1963, the Shell Chair was skeptically met at first. After being shelved after a few limited editions were produced, the Shell Chair was relaunched in 1997 and finally got the attention it so obviously deserves. Then, as if to prove its popular acceptance and pedigree, one of the original Shell Chairs from the 1960’s sold for $20,000 at Christie’s in London in 1999.
The Shell Chair’s seat and back are made of form-pressed plywood shells. Its three legs are also made from laminated plywood – the two front legs are one continuous piece that wraps under the seat, and the rear leg is a separate piece. To enhance the chair’s comfort, Wegner added two upholstered cushions which are fastened to the shell with screws from the back and bottom.
Hans Wegner’s design prowess is as unmistakable as that of his contemporaries. But in terms of simplicity and clean, organic lines, he is unsurpassed. You can see more of his designs in the Carl Hansen collection at Smart Furniture.