Thursday, February 26, 2009
From many aspects, Modernism can be seen as a movement that broke from the influences of the past. Many Modern designers worked with industrial materials and unapologetically avoided any historic or preceding models. The De Stijl architects imagined a space as a convergence of planes and produced very strictly guided designs by limiting themselves to straight lines and primary colors, as well as black and white. Internationalist designers like Le Corbusier felt that through rational design, they could find an architecture and interior living environment suitable for all people of all nations.
In a reaction against the International Style, Danish Modern designers, such as Hans Wegner, sought time-tested precedents that could be simplified into their basic functional form. Vernacular Furniture like Shaker pieces, Chinese designs, and Windsor chairs became strong influences. Wegner’s well-known Y Chair took influence from 16th and 17th century Chinese chairs. Being the fifth of a series of five, the Y Chair was furthest developed from its original influence, thus looking more Scandinavian Modern than historical as the earlier models had. It was in this model that the back splat was converted from the traditional solid piece to the more interesting split Y piece. Rather than sticking with the historically common set up front and rear stiles to support the U-shaped back and arm rests, Wegner eliminated the front stiles by bending the rear stiles forward in an organic curve. These changes gave the chair a lightness and fluidity that was lacking in the more squat and sturdy preceding designs. In this design, Wegner seamlessly melded the decorative with the constructively functional in a manner sensitive to the historical precedent, but decidedly Modern in the Scandinavian dialect.
During the mid-nineteenth century, England experienced exponential growth in industrial production methods influenced by a seemingly endless supply of new inventions, thus leading the period to be referred to as the Industrial Revolution. These new methods of production forever changed the lifestyles of people throughout England and much of Western Europe. Mass factory production was quickly replacing hand-crafted goods, which forced men to give up their family-run shops and move to the cities to earn a living. What had seemed a promising life away from peasantry soon proved to be a hard life of long hours and little pay. In time, a backlash began against this harsh new reality caused by the Industrial Revolution and was lead by architect and designer, William Morris. Morris championed the value of hand-crafted, one-of-a-kind goods and the fulfillment one receives during and after its creation.
Scandinavian countries had been importing English and Napoleonic furnishings up until the early 20th c. Hard economic times and WWI cut these ties and forced Danish designers to fall back on their own know-how and stylistic influences. Influenced by craftsmen like Morris and their own history, Danish designers constructed modern functional furnishings that hailed beauty in construction rather than frivolous ornamental details. They also began to look towards their Viking ancestry for stylistic influence rather that the daintiness of French furnishings. This was the beginning of the simple honest designs that would come to represent the Danish Mid-Century Modern Movement.
Scandinavian designers have long valued good craftsmanship. When this methodology was applied to the simplicity of the modern style in fusion with the folk arts, it created a modern style individual to the Scandinavian nations. Folk influence and warm woods lent a warm aspect to the striped down aesthetic, which appealed to consumers throughout Western Europe and America. ‘Good’ design did not take on the same connotation in each region however.
From the 1930’s onward, products from designers such as Borge Mogensen, Kaare Klint, Alvar Aalto, and Bruno Mathsson became widely popular and available throughout America. The condemnation of Modern architects and designers in Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy at that time played a large role in the exportation of Modern design aesthetics to the states. The notion of an all inclusive International design posed a threat to Adolf Hitler’s image of power and intimidation, but conversely, in America it expressed a notion of progress and empowerment for all walks of life.
During the post-WWII consumerism boom in America, it is not surprising that ‘Good’ design took on moral connotations after such a horrific war. At that time, Americans were told to value good sense and cleanliness. The modern housewife kept her sleek new open-plan house uncluttered and impeccably clean. She made wholesome meals with her streamlined new appliances in her ultra-modern kitchen. Morality was thus taught through the ‘good’ design of interiors and furnishings via magazine images and soon, via the television. After a time of great turmoil in which many men died, many families made great sacrifices, and the gender roles were reversed as women left the homes to work in the positions left vacant by the soldiers, American’s were anxious to develop a stable personal and economic life. This was done successfully through the advertising of the Modern interior as the setting for the idyllic American family. Americans could quite literally purchase good morals.
Sunday, February 8, 2009
Though Finland had a few prominent architects/designers and Sweden is well known for fabric design, Denmark created the bulk of noteworthy furniture. Danish designers experimented with a variety of materials, styles, and construction methods, both in high-end hand-craft and economical mass-production. The distribution obstacles and shortened supplies may have lead to greater discoveries in material manipulation and a deeper study in form and overall design.
1907 - 1988
Like many designs during the Scandinavian Mid-Century Modern movement, Bruno Mathsson’s chairs took an organic form. However, his forms developed from study and function rather than visual aesthetic. Mathsson believed that a chair should fit the person, and not the other way around, thus making the person more comfortable and productive. He was perhaps the first base his designs on the study of ergonomics. Between 1933 – 1936, Mathsson fine-tuned his design for the working chair, which had a bentwood frame and a seat woven with leather or fabric of jute or hemp, which adapted to the contours of the human body. Though originally rejected by Swedish furniture manufacturers because of its startlingly new look, the working chair was soon mimicked by other leading designers, such as Jens Risom and Marcel Breuer. In 1957, it was selected as one of the most noteworthy examples of Swedish furniture by the Swedish Society of Industrial Design and the Swedish Furniture Industry Federation.
Saturday, February 7, 2009
Described by a Danish critic in 1960 as a fine example of “the strong weaker sex,” Grete Jalk has left distinguished footprints on the Danish Mid-Century Modern period of design. As an Architect and furniture designer, she has the ability to design pieces to stand alone as individual artworks, as well as the ability to create entire accommodating environments. Trained under Kaare Klimt at the Royal Academy of Arts in Copenhagen, like many other Danish Modern designers, Jalk explored different materials and construction processes.
As in Grete Jalk’s case, timing is everything. Her interest in affordability and ease of production lead her to break a prolific collaboration with Poul Jeppson dating back to 1955. Her experimentation with bent plywood brought about the very elegant 1962 nest of tables set. Produced from just one piece of plywood per table, the design is clean yet original. This study progressed into the 1963 Side Chair, which is no less than the epitome of organic design in molded plywood. Whereas previous designers had failed to find a seamless transition between the organic nature of the seat and back rest to the structural frame, Jalk’s ribbon-like pieces fold elegantly into the base, making it possible to build the chair with just two separate pieces. This evolution came too late though, and her chair was overlooked by the masses as the interest in plywood furniture was waning en vogue. Though, in the design-trained eye, her Side Chair is regarded as a rare mid-century modern masterpiece.
Jens Risom studied under Kaare Klint at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen from 1935 – 1938. After emigrating to the United States in 1939, he became the textile designer for Dan Cooper, New York. Risom’s chair design, model no. 666, was the first to be manufactured by Knoll Associates, and was produced successively as the design evolved. Risom imported the Danish approach to Modernism to America through his high-quality craftsmanship and simple designs. He humbly described his work as “very basic, very simple, inexpensive, easy to make.” His inelaborate pieces were shown at the 1939 New York World’s Fair in collaboration with Hans Knoll in several interior spaces. Risom went on to further influence American Modernism as a trustee of the still-prominent Rhode Island School of Design.
1923 - 2005
While studying furniture design at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, she collaborated with and later married Jorgen Ditzel. Having been well received at the 1944 Cabinetmakers’ Annual Exhibition in Copenhagen, the pair went on to establish their own design studio in Hellerup. With a focus on interior design solutions for small spaces, Nanna pioneered the use of kitchen units as room dividers. She found inspiration in new materials and techniques, experimenting with fiberglass, foam rubber, and wickerwork in various construction methods throughout her career. Her works are noted for their sensuous textures and sense of lightness. Ditzel was said to have an appetite for change, which fueled her lifelong exploration in furniture design, cabinetry, textiles, jewelry design, tableware, and applied arts. Nanna Ditzel has held one-woman exhibitions in the greatest cities around the world and has been granted numerous international awards.
1912 – 1989
Under his father’s insistence, Finn Juhl attended the Architecture School at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, though he secretly intended to study art history while he was there. Juhl obediently went on to work for the prominent architect, Vilhelm Lauritzen, during which he also collaborated Niels Vodder on many furniture pieces. Despite his earlier interest in art history, his designs deviated from the historically influenced methods taught by Kaare Klint, and instead embodied a more avant-garde approach. Having broken the mold, his designs were both a breath of fresh air and a threat to what the Danish Modern style had come to represent.
In 1945, Juhl set up his own design studio and set out to create solid wood furniture with an organic sculptural quality. Superb craftsmanship was balanced with free flowing forms to create a sense of weightlessness, as represented in the Chieftain Chair (1949). Juhl was also one of the first to experiment with the usage of Teak for interior furnishings, thus developing many different construction techniques leading to its widespread use in Danish Modern design.
Having grown up as the son of a shoe repairman in southern Denmark, Hans Wegner developed an appreciation for craft and quality at a young age, stating later, “I have always wanted to make unexceptional things of an exceptionally high quality that ordinary people can afford.” He began a carpentry apprenticeship as a boy and later attended the School of Arts and Crafts in Copenhagen. In 1938, he began working with Erik Moller and Flemming Lassen in collaboration with architect Arne Jacobsen on the Arhus Town Hall. Wegner was directed to design furniture for the Hall; the experience became a solid foundation for his prolific career.
Minimalistic in nature, Wegner reworked historic models into practical and aesthetically pleasing modern pieces with an organic flair. Wegner’s designs gained international acclaim, the most well known piece being the Round Chair, which simply became known as The Chair, after its televised debut in the historic 1961 U.S. presidential debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy.
The geographic location of the Scandinavian Nations encouraged the refinement of their design principles rather than a constant reinvention that other stylistic movements have experienced. Such is the case with many Danish designers, including Borge Mogensen. From 1938-1941, Mogensen studied at the
Throughout his career, historic styles continued to inspire his designs, most notably, Shaker and Chinese designs. Mogensen is noted for his concern in creating furniture that met the practical needs of the average family, whilst being beautiful, sleek, and impeccably well crafted and organized. Mogensen continued to employ the investigative, hands-on techniques he learned from Klint, which he referred to as the “workshop method.” These interests lead to many different series of modular storage cabinets that could be adapted to the particular needs of the modern individual or family.
Friday, February 6, 2009
Danish Teak Classics. What makes a classic?
Who decides what has value? What pieces transcend time and become more valuable with age? We believe quality is the mark of value. This ethic is built into Danish and other Scandinavian designs. This quality is evident in the handcrafted pieces, as well as the pieces made for middle-class enjoyment. In response to the harsh climate, Danish Designers took it upon themselves to create a better indoor environment through quality craftsmanship and uplifting, organic design.
At Danish Teak Classics, we are lovers of fine craft, good design, and all things Danish. Located in the up-and-coming Arts District of NE MPLS, we specialize in the professional restoration of high quality designer pieces from the early to mid-century period. Biannually, Steven Swanson, Owner, travels to Denmark to aquire these much coveted pieces and lovingly revives them to the condition they once held.