A Brief Guide to Danish Design

Here are five of the biggest stars of the Danish design world.

Six 'The Chair' chairs by Hans J. Wegner were auctioned in May 2011 for $7,000 (about £5600) Photo © Wright
Six 'The Chair' chairs by Hans J. Wegner were auctioned in May 2011 for $7,000 (about £5600) Photo © Wright

Danish design furniture is an immortal classic that can be found in homes around the world. Learn more about some of the community’s most well-known and influential designers.

Arne Jacobsen 

Arne Jacobsen, armchair, 'Svanen', Fritz Hansen, Denmark, designed in 1958, manufactured in 2002. Photo © Stockholms Auktionsverk
Arne Jacobsen, armchair, 'Svanen', Fritz Hansen, Denmark, designed in 1958, manufactured in 2002. Photo © Stockholms Auktionsverk

The Danish architect and designer Arne Jacobsen (1902-1971) holds an almost iconic status in the furniture world. While Jacobsen considered himself primarily an architect, he also believed that an interplay between surroundings, exterior and interior should permeate the entire building.

See also: Arne Jacobsen: The Father of Danish Functionalism

At the end of the 1950s, Jacobsen was commissioned to design the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen and was responsible for the entire design, from the almost 70-meter high skyscraper to furniture, lamps, fabrics, cutlery, glass, ashtrays and door handles. It was here that the Swan and Egg chairs were first presented, which also became best sellers and furniture classics. The idea was that their organic shapes would serve as a pleasant contrast to the otherwise austere architecture of the building.

See also: 6 Giants of Mid-Century Modern Design

The Myran stackable chair, made of moulded plywood and stainless steel, was introduced in 1952 and became Jacobsen's major breakthrough as a furniture designer. Its successor, the Sjuan from 1955, was made using the same technique but with a slightly different backrest shape and four legs instead of three. Today, Arne Jacobsen's furniture are interior design classics and often fetch high prices at auction.

Poul Henningsen 

Poul Henningsen, table lamp, 'PH4/3', Louis Poulsen, 1927. Photo © Artcurial
Poul Henningsen, table lamp, 'PH4/3', Louis Poulsen, 1927. Photo © Artcurial

Poul Henningsen (1894-1967) is one of Denmark's most iconic designers of all time and is best known for his PH lamps. Henningsen spent most of his life learning about and exploring the possibilities of lighting, with the goal of producing a glare-free light source. In 1924, he launched his pioneering three-screen design, a system that allows light to be directed to where it is most needed while casting soft shadows on the rest of the room.

See also: The Art of Lighting: 8 Unique Lamps

His lifelong collaboration with Louis Poulsen began in 1925, and the following year the PH lamp was launched and became a quick success. To this day, Louis Poulsen’s designs draw on Henningsen's pioneering work on the relationship between light structures, shadows and colour rendering in relation to our need for light.

Hans J. Wegner 

Hans J. Wegner, armchair, 'Y-chair', Carl Hansen & Son, Denmark 1950s. Photo © Bukowskis
Hans J. Wegner, armchair, 'Y-chair', Carl Hansen & Son, Denmark 1950s. Photo © Bukowskis

One of the greatest designers of the 20th century is Hans J. Wegner (1914-2007). He designed more than 500 chairs during his lifetime, with the CH-25 and Y designs being two of the most famous. In addition to furniture, he also designed wallpaper, silverware and lamps. However, Wegner started his career as a carpenter, which led to him discovering his passion was actually in the noble art of design.

See also: 10 Reasons to Buy Vintage

At the age of 20, he moved to Copenhagen, where he began studying at the Copenhagen School of Arts and Crafts and then architecture. It was at this time that he began the Aarhus City Hall project with Arne Jacobsen and Erik Møller. Wegner designed the furniture while the other two worked on the building itself.

With the launch of the Y chair in 1950, Wegner entered into a collaboration with the cabinetmaker's shop Carl Hansen & Søn, which gave his career as a furniture designer a major boost. National and international interest in Wegner's designs continued to grow, and by the 1960s, aspiring presidential candidates Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy each sat in one of Wegner’s Round Chairs.

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Finn Juhl

Finn Juhl, sofa, 'The Poet', Berg & Nielsen, 1947. Photo © Phillips
Finn Juhl, sofa, 'The Poet', Berg & Nielsen, 1947. Photo © Phillips

Finn Juhl (1912-1989) trained at the age of 18 at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture and spent the next ten years working for Vilhelm Lauritzen's architectural office. In the mid-1940s, he opened his own office in Copenhagen, specializing in furniture design and interior architecture. During this time, Juhl had already become one of the leading figures in Danish design. It was mainly his teak furniture and organic design language that made him internationally known and Juhl received no less than six gold medals for his country at the Milan Triennial in 1954.

See also: The 10 Most Popular Furniture Designers

With his innovative furniture, Juhl took Danish design in a new direction where sculptural and abstract organic forms took center stage. Some of his most famous furniture pieces from this period are the Pelican (1940), the Poet (1941) and the Chief's Chair (1949). In the 1950s, he received several prestigious commissions, including furnishing a hall at the United Nations headquarters in New York and numerous airline terminals across Europe and Asia.

Poul Kjærholm

Poul Kjaerholm, armchair, 'PK22', Fritz Hansen, 1989. Photo © Uppsala Auktionskammare
Poul Kjaerholm, armchair, 'PK22', Fritz Hansen, 1989. Photo © Uppsala Auktionskammare

Poul Kjærholm (1929–1980) studied as a carpenter starting at the age of 20 before going on to study at the School of Arts and Crafts in Copenhagen. Despite his background, it was the metal of steel that became significant for Kjaerholm's design. He felt that steel was the most optimal material for his artistic purposes and often tried to use as few components as possible (usually leather, canvas or rattan).

See also: Barnebys' Guide to Vintage Scandinavian Design

In the mid-1950s, he designed the armchair that led to his international breakthrough. The PK22 chair was awarded at the Grand Prix in Milan, the world's premier design fair, and also became an instant commercial success when it was released in 1956. It was at this time that Kjærholm began a collaboration with the manufacturer Ejvind Kold Christensen, who went on to produce his often expensive furniture. In 1955, he began working as a teacher at the Academy of Fine Arts Copenhagen, where he later became a professor and deputy.

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