Furniture Fridays: The Origins of Modern Danish Design

  • Posted: August 24, 2018

In recent years, we’ve seen an increased interest in Danish Design. Gone are the days when people associated Scandinavian furniture solely with the DIY plywood furniture of IKEA. Now, favourite Danish design brands are at the forefront of people’s desires – coveting the latest coloured glass vase range or striving to get their hands on a reissue of a legendary chair from Sibast.

Sibast Mobler. Transporting their designs around Denmark in their branded vehicle.

Upper-Class Embellishments

The origins of Danish Design are somewhat similar to that of the rest of Western Europe. Individually crafted furniture pieces, dinnerware and art, were reserved for the royalty and aristocracy of Denmark.

Ornate porcelain, intricately carved furniture pieces and traditional metalware were familiar pieces within these privileged households. Wood was often used in furniture design – both for its abundance in the Danish landscape and to demonstrate the delicate sculptural work of the highly skilled Danish carpenters.

The Industrial Revolution reached Denmark rather late in the second half of the 19th Century, nearly 100 years after the transition began in Britain. Agriculture and small local businesses were the economic norms until the late 19th Century when Denmark started to take advantage of industrial manufacturing processes, although on a much smaller scale than Britain.

The Danes still preferred to craft with their inherited techniques and traditional materials. However, the scale of production increased with new technologies introduced to replicate the established methods. This opened up the opportunity for creating good quality products that were affordable for everyday society. This, in turn, increased people’s desire to own more and encouraged designers and manufacturers to develop more and boost production.  

18th, 19th and 20th century Danish design examples.

The Golden Age

Enter the 20th Century, with a world becoming more interconnected. Artists and designers in Denmark began looking towards schools in the UK and Continental Europe.

Reacting to the changing world, the establishment of the Department of Furniture Design in 1924 at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts was a turning point in developing a unique identity for Danish Design. Heavily influenced by the principles of the Bauhaus in Germany, the school taught students to be analytical, adapting their designs to modern day needs while still retaining the high-quality craftsmanship of traditional furniture making.

The craftsmen at Andersen Furniture, 1916.

The founding father

Kaare Klint, a founding father of Danish Modernism, was instrumental in establishing this new school. Appointed as the director of the furniture school at the Royal Academy in its founding year, he encouraged his students to study furniture based on functionalist theories.

With his students he would take an analytical approach to designing furniture, taking anthropometric measurements and looking at how the functions of the body fit with the furniture. His influence led to a comprehensive rejuvenation of Danish furniture design demanding clean, pure lines, unornamented and honest and crafted with the best materials.   

From the 1930s to 1960s, designers Borge Mogensen, Arne Jacobsen, Verner Panton and Finn Juhl all attended the Royal Academy with Klint as their teacher. With his influence, they cemented these new theories of Danish furniture design and developed the unique Danish Modern identity we know now. Championing democratic, affordable and functional furniture, the designers brought good quality furniture into the modern household.

Kaare Klint. The founding father of Danish Modernism.

Power to the people

FDB Mobler, established in the 1940s, is a brand synonymous with Danish Modern and it’s theories. 

Børge Mogensen, the first director of FDB, employed to create functional but beautiful furniture that could be produced at affordable prices.  Mogensen believed that high-quality furniture should be available to everyone and was known fondly as ‘The People’s Designer’.

Børge Mogensen in his Spanish Chair, a design from 1958.

Even today, the principles of the Danish Modern school can be seen throughout contemporary designs. Neutral tones, natural materials coupled with clean, pure lines and a down-to-earth aesthetic are still prominent characteristics of the industry.