You’ve probably heard the term Scandinavian simplicity and surely at some point in your life you’ve seen or even bought a typical Danish design product. But who are the people behind the Danish Modern movement and how did they manage to make minimalist decoration a worldwide trend? Read on for a short introduction to Danish design history through ten of its leading figures. We bet you’re already familiar with some of the creations.
Kaare Klint (1888-1954)
Kaare Klint was an architect and designer and is considered to be the father of Danish furniture design. During the 25 years of his career as a professor at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts Furniture School, he influenced numerous students who would later become some of the most significant and renowned designers of the Danish Modern movement. If Scandinavian design is known for its minimalistic shapes, it is because Kaare Klint was the one to first introduce pure, simple lines to furniture design. His most famous product is the Safari Chair, which was inspired by the Indian Roorkhee Chair that an American cinematographer and his wife had used on their African safari.
Finn Juhl (1912-1989)
When Finn Juhl started designing his first pieces of furniture in the late 1930s – before even graduating from the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts – he couldn’t have imagined that years later he would be considered one of the most influential designers of his time. In fact, he didn’t even want to become a designer to begin with. It was his father who persuaded him to study architecture and not history of art which had been Juhl’s dream. In 1939 he created the piece that would make him internationally famous: the Pelican Chair. Even though the comfortable, stylish chair got some negative reviews in Denmark, it gained critical acclaim overseas and shortly after was in almost every living room in countries all across the world.
Arne Jacobsen (1902-1971)
Being an innovative architect and designer, Arne Jacobsen definitely left his mark on the design – and interior design – industry. He became famous for his works for the Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, which included the minimal Egg Chair and Swan Chair, that are still considered representative examples of modernist Danish design. Besides furniture, Jacobsen also designed cutlery, lamps and textiles that embellished every corner of the Royal Hotel. When he was not working on interior design products, he was doing what he loved the most: designing buildings. Denmark’s National Bank and the Bellevue Theater are two of his most popular works.
Ole Wanscher (1903-1985)
When his travels and studies in Europe and Egypt came to end, Ole Wanscher returned to Copenhagen and started creating furniture that combined elements of designs he had seen in the countries he had visited. His pieces are characterized by elegance and comfort and are what we describe as modern classic. His most well-known product, the Colonial Chair, was designed in 1949 and is strongly connected to 1950s and ’60s fashion. Besides designing furniture, Wanscher was also a professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and published several books related to architecture and design.
Aksel Bender Madsen (1916-2000) and Ejner Larsen (1917-1987)
Aksel Bender Madsen and Ejner Larsen began designing together in 1947 and in approximately 25 years of collaboration created 300 designs. However, the leathered Metropolitan Chair, known for its seating comfort and elegant shape, was the one that brought them into the spotlight. Until today it is considered a masterpiece and decorates all kind of spaces, although Madsen and Larsen initially designed it for conference rooms. Madsen had worked with both Kaare Klint and Arne Jacobsen and therefore the duo’s designs were strongly influenced by the forefathers of the Danish Modern.
Verner Panton (1926-1998)
Verner Panton is considered one of the most influential and innovative interior designers of the 20th century. If the name looks familiar it’s because one of his most famous furniture designs is known as the Panton Chair. When the renowned designer created the first red plastic legless chair in 1960, he was breaking new ground in furniture design. His piece was highly acclaimed from the very first moment but, after being on the front page of Vogue with Kate Moss naked on it, it quickly became known worldwide. Panton’s seat furniture and lamp designs are characterized by bright colors and geometrical lines, and many of his creations look more like pieces of contemporary art than a simple piece of furniture.
Poul Henningsen (1894-1967)
Poul Henningsen was an author, journalist and architect but he became world-renowned for his lighting designs. He believed that light is very significant to our well-being and therefore aimed to create stylish and simultaneously functional lamps. The Artichoke Lamp is his most popular product, not only because of its unique design but also because Henningsen managed to create it in a way that, no matter which angle you look at it from, you can’t see the source of light. The lamp was initially created to decorate the Langelinie Pavilion in Copenhagen and approximately 60 years later it still hangs from the restaurant ceiling.
Approximately 20 years ago, Cecillie Manz opened her design studio in Copenhagen and ever since has striven to create innovative furniture and housewares. Loyal to the principles of the Danish Modern, Manz creates minimalist products characterized by the so-called Scandinavian simplicity. According to her, she draws her inspiration while working on a project or a task, and the relation between her products is function and aesthetics. In 2004 she received the Danish Design Award and in 2014 was awarded for her contribution to design with the Danish Crown Prince Couple’s Culture Award (Kronprinsparrets Kulturpris).
Louise Campbell is famous for her furniture and lighting designs. Her creations show that she’s unafraid to experiment with new shapes and materials, and the final result is elegant yet at the same time playful furniture. Detail is very significant in her designs – her most famous product, the Prince Chair, is exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in New York. For Campbell, there are two rules: ‘everything is possible until the opposite has been proven’ and ‘there must be a good reason for every single decision made.’
Ole Jensen adds color and style to kitchens with his ceramic and plastic kitchenware items. He has been in the design world for 30 years and, even though he already has a long list of awards and exhibitions on his resume, he never stops creating new, playful designs. Clay is his favorite material because, as he says, ‘it is inexpensive, can easily be formed as desired, and has an almost universal history to which it can be held up.’ For him, it’s not only style that matters but function as well, and he’s doing his best to combine both in every single one of his products.
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