THE ESSENTIAL GUIDE TO DANISH MODERN FURNITURE
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 Danish Modern design may be your calling. From Danish Modern sofas to Danish Modern dining tables, virtually every piece of Danish Modern furniture masterfully blends sculptural integrity with paramount function. Here, we walk you through the basics of Danish Modern style, from the designers who founded it to the covetable Danish Modern furniture pieces worth adding to your wishlist.
THE ANATOMY OF DANISH MODERN SYLE
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. In a nutshell, Bauhaus celebrated simplestructure 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.
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 the 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.
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 ultimate Danish Modern dining chair, 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 dining chairs and accent chairs are meant to be the centerpieces of a room. For those looking for Danish Modern teak furniture, such as a Danish Modern teak dresser or table, it’s also worth scouting out Wegner—he was a master of the medium.
If there were a poster child for vintage Danish Modern design it would be Arne Jacobsen’s Egg Chair. 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 (because, hey, sometimes an adult timeout is legitimately needed), the Egg Chair is an obvious adherent to body conscious deign. Similarly, body-friendly are Jacobsen’s other Danish Modern chair designs, the Swan Chair and Drop Chair. 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.
A fantastical, subtly surrealist approach 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 furniture designers to have his designs promoted outside of Denmark, Juhl’s work first introduced Americans to Danish Modernism. Part of the genius of Juhl’s work is that he designed pieces with the 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 Danish Modern sofa with a sculpted, wave-like form and an enveloping seat which harkens back to Arne Jacobsen’s Egg Chair. It’s a Danish Modern sofa you’ll want to use in your kids’ playroom just as much as your living room. Equally fun are the Danish Modern desks and Danish Modern dressers Finn Juhl designed utilizing colored steel for drawers.
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, including Danish Modern chairs and Danish Modern dining tables. Among the most captivating of Risom’s pieces is the aptly-named Risom lounge chair. Featuring a languid shape, 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.