Danish Modern

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THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO DANISH MODERN INTERIORS

Born out of the fleecy, whiteout winters that are Denmark’s hallmark, Danish Modernism is a collection of contradictions: sparse, yet cozy; aesthetic-minded, yet functional. If those unlikely couplets quicken your pulse, then figure this: this Scandinavia-based design may be your calling. From its humble origins in German Bauhaus (let’s just say Neoclassical floweriness could check itself at the door) to the scads of Danish Modern designers who cemented Danish Modern furniture’s reputation as monolithic, this guide to Danish Modernism will break down all of the basics for you.

THE ANATOMY OF DANISH MODERN

The origins of Danish Modern furniture is frequently traced to one designer: Kaare Klint. In the 1920s, Danish-born Kaare was exposed to the German Bauhaus movement, which in a nutshell, was a movement that celebrated simplified structure and the idea that “form must follow function.” Years later, in a collaboration with his students at the University of Copenhagen and several Danish cabinetmakers, Kaare created some of the first Danish Modern furniture pieces.

While Bauhaus furniture often made aesthetics a second or third priority (hence the phrase form follows function), Danish Modern furniture made form and function equal priorities. Taking their cues from the human form, the Danish Modernists created sculptural, double-take-worthy furniture that looks like it was designed for not only for your living room, but a public square.

The sculpted look was the result of using bended plywood, which became the material of choice in a post-WWII Europe. Among their many lofty ambitions, Danish Modern furniture makers aimed to create furniture that could be mass-manufactured, thereby bringing good design to everyone.

When it comes to setting the stage for Danish Modern furniture, the Danish Modernists opted for sparseness—hence highlighting their furniture’s just-won’t-quit curves—and monochrome palettes. To counterbalance the minimalistic design, textural elements were introduced in the form of shag rugs, macramé textiles, and mind-blowing op art pieces. From a modern-day perspective, the Mid-Century Danish Modern color palette was gutsy (to give you a sense, orange and royal blue made frequent cameos), but contemporary renditions have swapped out the saturated hues for a hushed palette of neutrals. Chalky whites and ashy grays work in time with the soloist nature of vintage Danish Modern furniture, while crush-worthy textiles like chunky knit throws and sheepskins encourage us to shed those extra sweaters and shoes and simply be.

DANISH MODERN FURNITURE DESIGNERS WE LOVE

When you consider how many Danish Modern furniture designers deserve not just honorable mentions, but full-fledged awards devoted to their genius, it begs the question—was there something in that Northern Sea water? Here are a few of our favorite Danish Modern furniture makers, but by no means should this be taken as a comprehensive list of all the talent the Danish Modern movement spawned.

Hans Wegner

The father, godfather, and all-out champion of the chair, Hans Wegner designed over 500 Danish Modern chairs during his lifetime. While it’s obviously difficult to choose a favorite from a roster like that, some standouts include the Wishbone Chair, the Three-legged Shell Chair, and the cheekily-named Papa Bear Chair. While all of these pieces differ vastly in style, their uniting features are sculpted, body conscious forms that feel distinctively hand-worked. Driven by the notion that a chair has no backside and should therefore impress from every angle, Hans Wenger’s vintage Danish Modern furniture is meant to be the centerpiece of a room.

Arne Jacobsen

When it comes to Arne Jacobsen’s iconic Egg Chair we take it as definitive proof: the egg came first. Featuring a design so cutting-edge that it literally hatched an egg chair craze in the 1960s, Jacobsen’s Egg Chair was designed for the SAS Royal Copenhagen hotel lobby. Offering not just a seat, but a womb-like space in which to remove yourself from the trials of daily life (if need be), the Egg Chair is an obvious adherent to body conscious deign. Similarly, so are Jacobsen’s Swan Chair and Drop Chair (inspired by water fowl and a teardrop, respectively), which were also part of the Royal Copenhagen commission. Among our favorite traits of Arne Jacobsen’s vintage Danish Modern furniture is its mischievous take on form. Quite simply, this is furniture that lifts not just the mood of your room, but yours as well.

Finn Juhl

A fantastical, subtly surrealist take propels the work of Finn Juhl to the top of our must-have list of Danish Modern furniture. Among the first of the Danish Modern designers to have his designs promoted outside of Denmark, Juhl’s work introduced Americans to Danish Modernism and—unsurprisingly—took off like wildfire. Part of the genius of Juhl’s work is that he designed pieces with the unflinching intent to use them in his own home. To discover the gems this mentality produced, one need only look as far as the Poet Sofa, a perky, settee-sized sofa with a sculpted, wave-like form and an enveloping seat which harkens back to Arne Jacobsen’s Egg Chair. It’s a piece you’ll want to use in your kids’ playroom just as much as your living room.

Jens Risom

If Finn Juhl introduced Americans to Danish Modern furniture, then it was Jens Risom who literally brought the party stateside. Born in Denmark, Risom relocated from Copenhagen to New York in 1939. Three years later, Risom crossed path with Hans Knoll, who was on the cusp of founding his game-changing Knoll Furniture empire. The encounter turned out to be Risom’s big break: The Knoll Furniture Company’s inaugural line featured no less than 15 of Risom’s original works. Among the most captivating of Risom’s pieces is the aptly-named Risom lounge chair. With a languid shape that beckons in the way, say, a wink might, this vintage Danish Modern furniture piece features a shapely wood frame latticed with heavy cotton straps. Fun Fact: as this piece was originally produced during WWII, the cotton straps were originally constructed of surplus parachute fabric.