How top Danish Chair Designers Created Iconic Pieces of Furniture

ant chair danish chair designers

For the last 100 years Danish chair designers have been a world leader in interior design. But of all things it is perhaps the chair for which the small Nordic country is best known for – or rather chairs… Half a dozen chairs designed decades ago are international bestsellers to this day, including the piece J.F.Kennedy sat in for his TV debate with President Nixon during their election campaign, and many more.

Nanna Ditzel’s Trinidad chair is newer but well on its way to becoming an icon too. It’s absolutely everywhere in Denmark – airports, conference centres, and in private homes. It is a work of art, distinctive looking with an interesting story behind it. Not to mention Arne Jacobsen’s Ant Chair.

Danish Furniture and the Hans Wegner Chair

Danish chair designers - The Chair by Hand Wegner Kennedy Nixon

And then there is Hans Wegner’s chair simply called The Chair (left). It’s the one former USA Presidnet John F Kennedy sat in when he detated Richard Nixon to become the next president of the USA.

Hans Wegner was one of Denmark’s top architects and furniture designers. And he’s one of the drivers behind ‘Danish modern’.

Wegner, as much as anybody else, embodies Danish simplicity. And through his furniture he helped create the Scandinavian and the Danish style of “less is more”.

The Kennedy vs. Nixon TV Debate

Wegner was prolific and designed hundreds of chairs in the 20th century. But his most famous chair perhaps is a piece from 1949, which went on to become known simply as the chair. The Chair was so simple and comfortable to sit in that, in 1960, it was selected to be used in the first ever televised presidential debate in the United States.

The infamous confrontation between Richard Nixon and John F Kennedy – and the one won by Kennedy.  The chair is still in production to this day. The wishbone furniture is another of Wegner designs. He called it the wishbone chair because of the back looks like a wishbone or like a Y, which is why it is also sometimes called the Y Chair. It, too, is in production today.

But are Wishbone Chairs comfortable?

The wing-like lines and arching curves give the piece an art-like quality. With his architectural background, it was the perfect design piece by Wegner….  Today it is produced from form-pressed hardwood laminates and, despite having only three leges, it is stable.

Wagner, the designer of the wishbone chair (below) was a trained cabinet maker. He was also an architect after training at the School of arts and crafts in Copenhagen. It is safe to say that his designs were both pleasing to the eye and comfortable ot sit in, both key factors in Danish design. The Wishbone chair was created to last for a long time.

The fact that it is still in production is testament to the quality of the chair and the comfort. The chair sells for hundreds of pounds or dollars and is in fact protected copyright protected in the UK until the year 2077. But it is possible to buy a good vintage wishbone chairs that go right back to 1950. Sometimes the chair will have had just one or two owners and have been carefully maintained.

The Wishbone Stool – the Bar Stoll for the modern Kitchen Diner

These vintage wishbone chairs have now become collectors items – watch out for replicas. The wing-like lines and arching curves give the piece an art-like quality. With his architectural background, it was the perfect design piece by Wegner….  Today it is produced from form-pressed hardwood laminates and, despite having only three leges, it is stable.

wishbone chair

The wishbone stool has become hugely popular as more and more people go for open plan kitchen living room.

The kitchen diner calls for a high stool to go with the breakfast bar. For some collectors and connoisseurs of cult furniture the wishbone bar stool with its comfortable and minimalist backrest for support and ergonomic posture is a super trendy addition to the living space.

The seat is often made of hemp and a woven paper cord. Sometimes it’s made of leather. Either way it’s a mid-century modern twist to the kitchen diner.

Some already know the chair as the Carl Hansen wishbone chair. However, Carl Hansen is the dealer. He found huge success with the special model and has since worked closely with top Danish furniture designers. He specialised in the mid-modern period and contemporary furniture designers.

The Hans Wegner Shell Chair

This is a true beauty and another Wegner icon.  This three-legged, eye catching model is one of our favourites, although less famous than the Wishbone. And comfortable.  The Shell Chair is from 1963, but back then consumers found it too avant garde.

Today it is, if anything, one of the most of-the-moment pieces of furniture.  The wing-like lines and arching curves give the piece an art-like quality. With his architectural background, it was the perfect design piece by Wegner….  Today it is produced from form-pressed hardwood laminates and, despite having only three leges, it is stable.

Arne Jacobsen and the Ant Chair

Arne Jacobsen’s design obsession pushed him into creating many pieces which became iconic (as featured in the main post picture). He suffered from self-doubt but many of his pieces are in production to this day. The Ant Chair dates back to 1952 and its name is also self-evident. It comes with three or four skinny legs – and as a high stool too.

The stackable chair is a corporate idea. It was designed for the canteen of the Danish health care firm Novo Nordisk – it’s still a fabulously popular kitchen/dining chair at public institutions. Although there doesn’t seem much to the chair, it’s super comfortable and often described as a masterpiece. It’s not cheap – at around £300 or $300 a piece.

hans wegner shell chair
The Arne Jacobsen Egg Chair – the most iconic Danish Chair

This Danish chair may not have the Kennedy celebrity factor… But it is still, arguably, the most famous of all chairs. Of all Danish chair designers, the name Arne Jacobsen alone conjures up images of Danish modern and most of all the Egg Chair, so called because it actually looks egg shaped. Again the two key words in this design are ‘simplicity’ and ‘functionality’. Arne Jacobsen designed this piece in 1955 for a Danish hotel. 

The wings at the top were meant to give the sitter a certain amount of privacy, shielding him or her from other prying eyes in the lobby. It has since been copied mercilessly. It is hot favourite among the corporate design community. 

But it has been a hit with the younger generation too and producers of the British TV hit series ‘Big Brother’ used it in the programme’s ‘diary room’. To get your own egg chair look HERE for colours and prices – this piece will never go out of fashion.

Arne Jacobsen Quotes:
  • In a way, the sense of quality has improved, the status symbol of the small things is gone, and it is acceptable to use stainless steel, even if the neighbour uses silver
  • With a painter or a sculptor, one cannot begin to alter his works, but an architect has to put up with anything, because he makes utility objects – the building is there to be used, and times change
  • Proportions are what makes the old Greek temples classic in their beauty. They are like huge blocks, from which the air has been literally hewn out between the columns
  • On the other hand, I don’t understand the enthusiasm for everything in the antique shop that Grandma threw out. There, the sense of quality has declined; otherwise Grandma wouldn’t have thrown it out
  • Furniture manufacturing in plastics requires very costly machinery, which the Danish market is not big enough to justify. Or so they say. But show me a plastics manufacturer who dares to take on the experiment
  • I don’t see that any buildings should be excluded from the term architecture, as long as they are done properly
  • There is always a point when one senses one’s lack of skill, the doubt
  • I draw and paint sketches which is great fun. And as long as you are fully aware that it has nothing to do with actual art, I think that’s all right
The Arne Jacobsen Swan Chair
arne jacobsen swan chair black

A beautiful, graceful design which reminds us of the Egg Chair. It is the beautiful relation of his masterpiece. Designed in 1958, this piece with its elegant arm rests was also created for a Danish hotel.

But as ever with Arne Jacobsen’s products, it is a regular sight both at public institutions and in private homes. It sits perfectly within a modern, minimalist home, but some people love mixing this piece with antiques and other collectables to create a personal, stylish living room.

Nanna Ditzel – One of the Few iconic Female Furniture Designers

Relatively little is known of Nanna Ditzel outside the world of design and interiors. But her most famous chair is one of the most impressive pieces of furniture in Danish design. It is very much in use by hundreds of thousands of Danes every day.

The Trinidad Chair by Nanna Ditzel – 21st Century Design Icon

Nanna ditzel's Trinidad chair

Ditzel’s Trinidad chair is one of the first things to greet you as you land in Denmark. It’s the famous fan chair you’ll see in almost every airport. It’s jaw-droppingly beautiful on its own, but to see hundreds of them together at the departure lounge is a sight for sore eyes. The colonial buildings of Trinidad inspired Ditzel to create this complex chair. It took years before technology in Denmark was able to produce it – pressing the wood with its intricate, fan-like cuts that play with light and shadow. The Trinidad chair as shown in this intersting YouTube video – featuring also an interview with Ditzel (in Danish with English subtitles) is light and breezy and was an instant success when it hit the market in 1993.

The Nanna Ditzel High Chair

The basic design has changed little over the decades, but oak wood children’s furniture has a distinctive vintage feel and look to it.

Today’s high tech baby furniture make this original high chair seem almost antique. But that’s partly because it is.

Expecting twins in 1954, Ditzel created a high chair for her children and the result is this high chair with an adjustable foot rest.

The Nanna Ditzel Hanging Chair – think Arne Jacobsen

An excotic and glamorous design, but Ditzel was a master in ‘out-there’ pieces such as the hanging Egg. She created the piece with husband Jørgen Ditzel in 1959. It is meant for both indoor use and outdoors hanging from a thick tree branch. The chair takes skilful craftsmen and wicker makers to build. It is closely related to another Ditzel hit: the Rana chair. The 3-legged award-winning Rana rattan chair, which is amongst the first to go on the idea of integrating a shell on a frame in one piece.

Ditzel’s extravagant style set her slightly apart from other Danish furniture designers. They stuck to a strict, simple and monotone look. But she built her own brand identity and style. She was one of the most experimental and innovative of designers to come out of Denmark. And several of her pieces are now being rediscovered by the millennial generation looking for style, sustainability and functionality.

Niels Møller Chairs – last Name in Danish Design

Sticking to a well-known ethos – Moller furniture is not just owned, it is passed on to the next generation… Quality and simplicity guarantee timelessness and another award-winner, J.L. Moller’s Møbelfabrik in Denmark, founded in 1944 by Niels Otto Møller.

Each piece of furniture took the designer five years to create. He wasnted, at first, to look for material, rosewood or teak, before starting the creative process. Today rosewood is an endangered species and therefore no longer used. Moller, whose company produced his own designs – and is to this day a family run business – was at the forefront of the Danish look: the soft curves, the postwar idea of functional, well-made pieces.

The company stubbornly sticks to old-fashion production techniques. They focus on old craft traditions and shun assembly lines and modern technology. This means craftsmen and women, who specialise in different areas of the production, hand-produce each chair. Many pieces lack carvings or any sign of ornamentation and even look as if they are carved out of one piece. An almost obsessive attention to detail and tiny, subtle ‘movements’ in each design make the piece stand out and a recognisable Moller piece.

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