What is the Danish Modern Movement?

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What is the Danish Modern Movement?

Furniture is considered more than just furnishings for the home. It is also a form of art that exemplifies a time, place and culture. For those who appreciate fine furniture, the emergence of Danish Modern represents one of the pinnacles in terms of design.

Around the world, many thousands of homes and businesses feature furniture of the Danish Modern movement which is still going strong nearly one hundred years after it was first developed. Today, you can find furniture of this design in stores around the world.

Essentially, this is a form of furnishings that are crafted in the vintage style of minimal wood furniture that was developed in Denmark, although the overall design was Danish in origin. This particular style was forged from the previous Bauhaus modernism that became popular in the early 20th century. This was a movement of designed clean, pure lines to classical furniture based on using certain materials and creating designs in proportion with the human body.

Although Kaare Klint was the father of Danish Modern, the influences that led to his discovery were shaped after the First World War with the unique combination of architects and cabinet makers. The Paris World Exhibition of 1925 was arguably the place where the collaboration of these different professions started coming together and fostered the growth of the Danish Modern movement. Although it would be another twenty years before their accomplishments would reach worldwide proportions, the seeds of the Danish Modern movement were founded during this time.

The Father of Danish Modern

Considered the father of Danish Modern was Kaare Klint who embraced the previous Bauhaus modernism, yet added his own touch which created this unique form of furniture. Like many pioneers, Kaare was actually designing furniture for many years before developing the Danish Modern style.

The turning point occurred in 1924 when Kaare founded a furniture school at the Royal Academy. The furniture school would go on to produce prominent designers in Danish Modern such as Borge Mogensen and Poul Kjaerholm. Kaare Klint’s work however is still quite revolutionary in taking many traditional materials and shaping them to the human body while remaining quite functional. Kaare’s creations such as the Propeller Stool in 1927, Safari Chair in 1933 and Church Chair in 1936 are highly prominent in the field of Danish Modern.

By 1927, the interest in Danish Modern grew to encompass Denmark and that region of Europe. The Danish Cabinetmakers Guild organized a furniture exhibition during that year which was held annually until 1967. This exhibition allowed partnerships to form and designers to work together in furthering the movement, including one between Kaare Klint and Rudolph Rasmussen for example. By 1933, the collaboration was strengthened thanks to having a competition which brought out the best in all designers.

World War 2 and the Post War Years

The Danish Modern movement became more popular thanks to the combination of new designers such as Hans Wegner and Arne Jacobsen. Their work helped propel the movement into the late 1940s through the 1960s when it was at its peak popularity around the world. Several factors played into the rising popularity of this movement including the use of mass-production techniques and the focus of form over function. Another designer, Finn Juhl also helped advance Danish Modern particularly in the US where it became highly popular thanks to the need for furniture with the post-war housing boom.

Kaare Klint’s influence was also quite profound during this time thanks to the furniture school and teaching his students the art of creating Danish Modern furniture which used an analytical approach and accounted for modern needs in the home. Form was the order of the day, although the inherent beauty of the materials and construction techniques, particularly in cabinet making were also highly attractive to customers looking for that personal touch to their home. 

The Celebrated Designers of Danish Modern Furniture

While Kaare Klint was certainly the father of the movement and many of his works celebrated over the years, he was certainly not the only one to make a big impact. Over the years there were several designers who made their mark on the scene, some in small ways while others took the Danish Modern movement into new directions. What follows is just a short list of designers who gave this movement their own personal touch.

While these represent only a fraction of the designers who create furniture using this style, it must be noted that all of them contributed immensely to the future of Danish Modern design in terms of style, form, function, materials and furniture as works of art as well. 

Arne Jacobsen

Arne Jacobsen

His mastery of furniture creation was well documented from the time he graduated the Royal Academy in 1924. His most famous creation, a series of chairs known as the Egg and the Swan are still highly popular and often used to represent the Danish Modern furniture design to others. In addition, his Ant Chair and 7 Chair became highly popular and have sold millions around the world.

Poul Henningsen

Poul Henningsen

Poul Henningsen: Certainly part of the “Functionalist” division of furniture, this self-taught designer was crucial in terms of furniture and lighting designs. Arguably his most recognized efforts was in creating a lamp design that prevented the annoying glare typical of lamps of that time. His three-shade lamp created in 1926 is considered revolutionary and his designs still survive in production to this day.

Finn Juhl

Finn Juhl

Finn Juhl: Self-taught and going against the teachings of Klint by placing form over function, Juhl helped pave the way for Danish designers after World War 2 thanks to his well received work at the UN. In particular, his 45 Chair and Chieftain Chair which feature a seat and backrest that are not part of the frame are very well known designs from this remarkable man.

Ole Wanscher

Ole Wanscher

Ole Wanscher: His interest in 18th century furniture designs had a profound impact on the Danish Modern movement. In particular his Egyptian Stool that he created in 1960 from fine materials and the Colonial Chair that was made from Brazilian rosewood helped him win great recognition and awards for his unique designs.

Mogens Lassen

Mogens Lassen

An architect and furniture designer, his unique approach to Functionalism resulted in the creation of steel furniture in the 1930s which added a new aspect to the Danish Modern movement. In addition, he designed a famous three legged stool and folding Egyptian coffee table as well, cementing his place in Danish Modern.

Borge Mogensen

Borge Mogensen

A student of Klint, Mogensen adapted Klint’s approach and style and combining a scientific approach resulted in the creation of furniture that was simple, straightforward and well suited for mass production. His famous Hunting Chair design that offered a very strong leather seat and back is arguably his most celebrated design along with the Spanish Chair that he created in 1959.

Hans Wegner

Hans Wegner

Hans Wegner: Certainly one of the biggest names in Danish Modern, Wegner combined functionality with aesthetic beauty in his remarkable designs. However, his greatest contribution might be just how many items he produced over his lifetime. With over 500 different designs, Wegner was certainly the most prolific of all the Danish Modern designers and his works can still be found in production today.

Grete Jalk

Grete Jalk

Grete Jalk: Certainly one of the most influential female designers in the Danish Modern movement, Jalk combined her experience as a cabinet maker with her studies at the Danish Design School to help create a remarkable series of chairs in the 1950s. Her use of curved lines, particularly the He Chair and She Chair are well noted accomplishments. Clean, clear and curved lines would represent the majority of her work in the industry as well as her authoritative work on Danish furniture in general.

Poul Kjaerholm

Poul Kjaerholm

Poul Kjaerholm: A studious man to say the least, this graduate of the School of Arts and Crafts as well as the Institute of Design at the Royal Academy, Poul has developed his talent over time to encompass furniture in terms of the space it utilizes. Going against the traditions of Danish Modern, Poul focused on form by creating clean lines, paid great attention to detail and his creations were quite artistic in nature. His work can be viewed in the New York Museum of Modern Art as well as the London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.

The Innovation of Materials

One of the greatest influences of Danish Modern was the incorporation of plywood into the designs. This was not so much by choice, but by necessity as the end of World War 2 actually encouraged the use of this relatively inexpensive type of wood. By the start of the 1950s, mass production techniques were developed that took full advantage of plywood designs. The works of Kaare Klint from the 1930s along with new designs were quickly crafted in plywood and sold around the world.

For example, the famous “Ant Chair” created by Arne Jacobsen in 1951 was crafted using a single piece plywood seat and back which was bent in both directions. The flexibility of the plywood allowed for this type of development to occur. In addition, Wegner and Morgensen developed chairs created with a teak plywood set and back that was set on a beech frame. Plywood became part of the inspiration for Danish Modern Design. 

The Push of Danish Modern into Popular Culture

By the start of the 1950s, the prevalent designers of Danish Modern furniture not only believed that their works were right for everyone. They believed that it could actually improve their lives as well. This belief helped foster their designs to be functional, elegant and affordable. With innovative designs that used plywood as their main material, the focus was on creating their furniture to be within the pocketbooks of Americans which represented a huge part of their potential market.

The result was a substantial increase in the interest of Danish Modern furniture in the US. The belief of the designers, the low cost of the furniture and the excellent marketing campaign all came together to make this form of furniture one of the most dominant of the post-war era. Edgar Kaufmann, Jr. who was part of the Museum of Modern Art helped propel the movement in the US thanks to purchasing some Danish Modern furniture from the a home designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. The notoriety this purchase gained helped spur the interest in this furniture even further and led to its mass production within the US.

With more designers coming to the forefront and the noteworthiness of many Danish Modern items in the public eye, such popularity was almost a given. One of the most notable examples was the famous first Presidential debate between Nixon and Kennedy in which one of Wegner’s chairs was featured. It subsequently became known as “The Chair” which only prompted further interest in the Danish Modern movement. 

By the 1970s, the Danish Modern furniture movement had subsided thanks to changing tastes and new materials and production methods used in the creation of furniture. However, Danish Modern is still quite popular and can be found in furniture stores around the world. The simple, elegant designs, inexpensive materials and form over function emphasis have kept this movement going strong well into the 21st century.

Danish Modern Today

While not as popular as it was during the 1950s and 1960s, Danish Modern furniture is still in demand around the world. In Denmark, over 15,000 people at over 400 companies produce this type of furniture for the world. As Denmark’s fifth most important export, Danish Modern furniture is still vitally important to their economy and still highly desired in homes and offices around the world.

There are a number of highly noted furniture makers in Denmark that create all types of variations of the classic Danish Modern style for offices in terms of functional chairs and homes as well. The clean lines, curved styles and emphasis on function over form have kept this type of furniture in demand. Plus, given the relatively inexpensive materials and the flexibility of this particular design, we will definitely see plenty of Danish Modern furniture in the years to come. 

January 31, 2014