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The 8 Most Influential Masters of Danish Modern Design

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Every month, we’re taking a look back at the iconic designers who have shaped the way we decorate today. This month, we’re celebrating a roster of Danish masters who redefined furniture design in the mid-20th century—and whose innovative philosophies continue to resonate.

From the 1940s to the 1960s, a group of Danish designers pioneered a forward-thinking approach to furniture design. With an ingrained knowledge of Denmark’s fine craft tradition and, in many cases, architectural training, these designers placed a new emphasis on streamlined forms and a marriage of beauty and functionality.

Below, we’re taking a look at eight of the era’s most influential designers, whose iconic creations helped shape the field of furniture design—and inspired a worldwide appreciation for Danish modern decor.

Inspired by the portable camp chairs used by English officers on safari, Kaare Klint’s Safari Chair (1933)—shown here at left in the home of stylist Jessica de Ruiter—can be taken apart and reassembled without the use of tools. Photo by Nicole LaMotte.

Inspired by the portable camp chairs used by English officers on safari, Kaare Klint’s Safari Chair (1933)—shown here at left in the home of stylist Jessica de Ruiter—can be taken apart and reassembled without the use of tools. Photo by Nicole LaMotte.

Kaare Klint: Design’s New Philosophy

An architect and designer by training, Klint (18881954) is considered by many the father of Danish furniture design. In in the 1920s he helped found the Furniture School at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, and his design philosophy—based in classical furniture craftsmanship but with a new focus on clean lines and thoughtful proportions tailored to the human body—helped shape a generation of Danish designers.

What Resonates Today

  • Materials matter. Incorporating leather, exotic woods, French caning, and other fine materials, Klint’s designs expressed a new unity between materials and structure.
  • Designs for living. By taking an analytical approach to design, he helped popularize the notion that furniture should suit the way people actually live—a key element behind modernism’s widespread appeal.
Finn Juhl and His House (Hatje Cantz, 2014) examines the designer’s legacy alongside images of the house he built for himself north of Copenhagen, now a museum open to the public. This space features Juhl’s Chieftains Chair (1949) and Poet Sofa (1941).
 

Finn Juhl and His House (Hatje Cantz, 2014) examines the designer’s legacy alongside images of the house he built for himself north of Copenhagen, now a museum open to the public. This space features Juhl’s Chieftains Chair (1949) and Poet Sofa (1941).

 

Finn Juhl: Modern Warmth

Juhl (191289) studied architecture at the Royal Danish Academy but was best known for his furniture designs. In a departure from the Klint school, Juhl placed emphasis on form as well as function—imbuing his modernist designs with warmth and dreaming up imaginative shapes.

What Resonates Today

  • Easy contours. We have Juhl to thank for modernism’s softer side: In his designs for chairs and other furnishings, Juhl fashioned graceful, rounded shapes from teak and other rich-toned woods.
  • Floating forms. In his Model 45 Chair (1945), Chieftains Chair (1949), and others, Juhl designed an upholstered seat and back that appear to hover above the wood frame—an innovative structure that became part of the modernist design vocabulary.

Shop vintage Finn Juhl furniture →

One cannot create happiness with beautiful objects, but one can spoil quite a lot of happiness with bad ones.

— Finn Juhl, "Interiors" magazine, 1951
Designed for the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, Arne Jacobsen’s Swan Chair (1958) is attuned to the curves of the human body—a feat accomplished through the pioneering use of fully upholstered plastic shells. Photo by Paul Raeside/OTTO.

Designed for the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, Arne Jacobsen’s Swan Chair (1958) is attuned to the curves of the human body—a feat accomplished through the pioneering use of fully upholstered plastic shells. Photo by Paul Raeside/OTTO.

Arne Jacobsen: On the Curve

Though best known today for his furniture designs, Jacobsen (190271) considered himself first and foremost an architect, and won accolades for his ultramodern homes and hotels. In fact, most of Jacobsen’s now-iconic designs, including the Swan and Egg Chairs (both 1958), were created specifically for his architectural projects. In his studio he kept a bent-plywood chair by the American designer Charles Eames that inspired his own stackable, three-leg Ant Chair (1952).

What Resonates Today

  • Bending the rules. In his bent-plywood and molded-plastic designs, Jacobsen pushed furniture construction beyond its former limits and paved the way for the sleekly curved, lightweight pieces in use today.

Shop vintage Arne Jacobsen furniture →

 

In the dining room of designer Patrick Mele, a set of Hans Wegner Wishbone Chairs (1949) surrounds a modern table. The original design was part of a series inspired by portraits of Danish merchants seated in Chinese Ming chairs.

In the dining room of designer Patrick Mele, a set of Hans Wegner Wishbone Chairs (1949) surrounds a modern table. The original design was part of a series inspired by portraits of Danish merchants seated in Chinese Ming chairs.

Hans Wegner: Beauty in Simplicity

A pioneer of “organic functionalism,” which emphasized comfort and ergonomics alongside form, Wegner (19142007) studied carpentry and architecture and worked for a time under Arne Jacobsen before founding his own furniture studio. He was the most prolific of the bunch when it came to chair design, turning out hundreds of distinct pieces throughout his career.

What Resonates Today

Shop vintage Hans Wegner furniture →

The Los Angeles living room of fashion designer Jenni Kayne features a pair of chairs in the style of Børge Mogensen’s Spanish Chair (1958). Crafted of leather and oak, the chair exemplifies Mogensen’s emphasis on strong, functional forms. Photo by David Tsay.

The Los Angeles living room of fashion designer Jenni Kayne features a pair of chairs in the style of Børge Mogensen’s Spanish Chair (1958). Crafted of leather and oak, the chair exemplifies Mogensen’s emphasis on strong, functional forms. Photo by David Tsay.

Børge Mogensen: Functionality First

A one-time teaching assistant of Kaare Klint, Mogensen (191472) began his career as a cabinetmaker before setting his sights on architecture and furniture. Like his mentor Klint, Mogensen favored simple lines and functionality above all. But though his work was rooted in the classics, he brought a new versatility to furniture design—using straps and ties, for example, to craft adjustable chairs and sofas.

What Resonates Today

  • Luxe leather. Taking a page from Klint’s Safari Chair, Mogensen’s Spanish Chair combines wood with leather panels to stunning effect fora bohemian-chic look that’s only grown in popularity.

Shop vintage Børge Mogensen furniture →

Wartime restrictions on materials meant designers had to get creative—hence Jens Risom’s simple wooden chairs and stools, such as this pair in the L.A. home of designer David Netto, featuring seats woven of surplus parachute webbing. Photo by Nicole LaMotte.
 

Wartime restrictions on materials meant designers had to get creative—hence Jens Risom’s simple wooden chairs and stools, such as this pair in the L.A. home of designer David Netto, featuring seats woven of surplus parachute webbing. Photo by Nicole LaMotte.

 

Jens Risom: Minimalist Master

Risom (19162016) played a key role in bringing Danish Modern design to the United States. After design school in Copenhagen, he joined up with German furniture maker Hans Knoll in New York City, and together the pair launched the Hans Knoll Furniture Company. Risom’s designs were among the first manufactured by Knoll.

What Resonates Today

  • Woven wonders. Risom’s minimalist armchairs, loungers, and stools featured woven nylon seats and backs—a new form that became a design classic, with contemporary interpretations in leather, all-weather materials, and more.
The stackable Panton Chair (1960) was the first to be made from a single piece of molded plastic. Photo by Benjamin Lassen; home of Julie Wittrup Pladsbjerg.

The stackable Panton Chair (1960) was the first to be made from a single piece of molded plastic. Photo by Benjamin Lassen; home of Julie Wittrup Pladsbjerg.

Verner Panton: New Plastics

Trained as an architect, Panton (1926–98) apprenticed with Arne Jacobsen before striking out on his own. Of the group, Panton diverged the most from traditional furniture craftsmanship; favoring geometric shapes and bold colors, he looked to the possibilities of plastics to reinvent forms.

What Resonates Today

  • Chairs as sculpture. Panton’s approach echoed Pop Art in its playfulness. In a major break with tradition, he devised chairs without conventional legs and backs, paving the way for future designers to free themselves from the norm.

Shop Panton-inspired finds →

I want to design furniture that grows up out of the floor. To turn the furniture into something organic. Which never has four legs.

— Verner Panton
With their minimalist steel frames and simple wicker seats, a pair of Poul Kjærholm’s PK22 Chairs (1956) add streamlined elegance to the living room of designer David Netto. Photo by Nicole LaMotte.

With their minimalist steel frames and simple wicker seats, a pair of Poul Kjærholm’s PK22 Chairs (1956) add streamlined elegance to the living room of designer David Netto. Photo by Nicole LaMotte.

Poul Kjærholm: Clarity and Craftsmanship

Following an apprenticeship with a cabinetmaker, Kjærholm (1929–80) went on to a highly successful career in both furniture design and academia. He honed the details of every piece, aiming for the most essential expression of form and materials.

What Resonates Today

  • Mixed materials. Unlike many of his contemporaries, who favored traditional wood constructions, Kjærholm worked primarily in steel. He paired his metal chair frames and bases with natural materials, including leather, wood, and rattan, creating an industrial-meets-organic look that’s currently having a major moment.

I am trying to express the very language of the materials themselves.

— Poul Kjærholm

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