The most striking aspect of the history of Danish furniture design is the constant recurrence of Classical forms, even in modern times.
Before the impact of the European renaissance was felt on the world of Danish crafts and arts Danish furniture was in the Viking tradition.
Danish furniture design as a distinct entity is not really recognised until the 18th century. Prior to the 18th century the only works of note are those from the hands of Hans Gudewerth and his son of the same name who produced highly detailed carved chests incorporating biblical motifs with three dimensional decoration of an architectural nature with plant motifs and grotesque ornamentation.
Later, influences from the main cultural and artistic centers of Europe become pronounced. In the area of Danish interior design and soft furnishings the French Rococo style is made some use of, although it is a softer, less dramatic form, and is made to blend in with a more Classical style, better suited to the Danish temperament. In furniture design proper German furniture of the 18th century has the most impact, in both its baroque and rococo stages.
In 1754 the Danish Royal Academy of Fine Arts was established and gave some structure and direction in the training of furniture artisans, mainly in the area of drawing, however in general it is architecture that proves to have the most profound effect on the course of the Danish design arts.
The first major architect to influence furniture was C.F. Harsdorff. Harsdorff designed mahogany furniture in strict, Doric classicism, with simple, clear construction and form containing features that were later to prove typical of much Danish furniture.
As early as the late 1700s English neoclassical influences, which in Denmark produced delicate, painted furniture decorated with classical motifs, made by J.C. Lillie among others, were beginning to have their impact. In the 1800s this was furthered with most Danish furniture being made in an English inspired simple Classicism from mahogany wood with inlaid citrus wood decorations of classical figures and borders. Typical pieces of this time were light horsehair upholstered arm-chairs and benches with lattice-work.
Inspiration was taken from Greek and Roman wall paintings, vases and reliefs, and attempts were made to make faithful copies of antique furniture much as occured in Regency furniture in England. This period in Denmark is known as the first "Golden Age" and was dominated by the works of Nicolai Abildgaard, Gottlieb Bindesbøll, and H.E. Freund who were designers of furniture and interiors in the Pompeiian style.
Later in the nineteenth century, and into the 20th, the Arts and Crafts movement, Art Nouveau naturalistic forms, as well as Japanese styles of design become important. Classical Roman motifs come to be replaced by native Nordic ones, particularly in flora and fauna ornamentation.
While, as we have seen, the history of furniture in Denmark is not simply restricted to Danish modern furniture much of our interest does centre on the contemporary designs which Danish style furniture is most famous for.
Form and Function
In contemporary Danish furniture the major driving force is an attempt to harmonise the aesthetic qualities of furniture with the obvious practical functions of sitting, eating at, etc.
The Royal Academy of Fine Arts established a school for furniture design in 1924, and in 1927 this was followed by the Guild of Cabinet Makers starting yearly exhibitions of Danish furniture designed by architects. Kaare Klint, an important designer, tutored in the Academy of Fine Arts and had a considerable influence over Danish furniture design well into the 1950s. Klint and his students paid much attention to detail, worked with traditional types of furniture, and held firm to the use of wood, such as teak, and the specific skills needed to work with it, all in contrast, and reply to, Bauhaus furniture designers in other parts of Europe who made mass produced steel furniture.
Hunting Chair, 1950, by Borge Mogenson.
Oak and leather.
This chair was designed by Borge Mogenson and made by Erhard Rasmussen in Denmark in 1950. The frame is made from oak and the seat and back support from leather. A series of buckles are used to fasten the leather but are only visible from the back and underside of the chair. This model was designed as part of the furnishings of a hunting lodge shown at the Copenhagen Cabinet Makers' Guild exhibition of 1950.
This period of functionalism from the nineteen thirties to fifties is the second so-called "Golden Age" and its famous designers were Mogens Lassen and Poul Henningsen, and later Børge Mogensen, Hans J. Wegner, Finn Juhl and Mogens Koch, and it is notable by being again largely grounded in Classical ideas of proportion, line, and form.
Following the end of the Second World War the Danish modern furniture tradition made varied attempts to come to terms with, and take adavantage of, the effects of industrialisation. The story here is a fairly complex one with different strains competing for attention. Some designers, like Arne Jacobsen, embraced modern materials and methods of production, and produced the ever-popular tubular steel chairs.
Danish Chair, 1957, by Arne Jacobsen.
Moulded teak veneered plywood, with satin chromium-plated tubular steel legs.
This is one of the most successful chair designs of the 1900s. Its simple and elegant form and suitability for mass production contributed to its success. It is still being made and comes in a range of finishes, including natural oak and bright colours. In 1957 Arne Jacobsen (1902-1971) won the Grand Prix for the chair at the Triennale Exhibition in Milan. Many companies have copied and produced their own versions of this design.
The Bauhaus style of design was taken up with enthusiasm and verve by Poul Kjærholm as seen in his minimalist furniture works. Finn Juhl reacted against the Bauhaus with his expressive, organic furniture.
From the 1960's the Danish style of furniture design became increasingly influential around the world. Often called industrial design, the main factors in its uniqueness are an emphasis on what might be called natural functionalism. Strictly geometrical shapes are avoided, there is much importance placed on simplicity, and on the interaction between the user of the furniture, his or her surroundings, and the tools and materials necessary for making.
Modern Manufacturers & Stores
Manufacturers and stores outlets with a strong design tradition today include Bang & Olufsen, the LEGO Group, Danfoss, Grundfos, VELUX, Kompan, Novo Nordisk, Coloplast, Fritz Hansen, Louis Poulsen among others.