The other week I headed to Copenhagen to take part in #scandidesigntour2017 hosted by Fredericia furniture and Georg Jensen. Over the two fascinating, design-packed days my fellow bloggers and I learnt all about the design heritage of these two iconic Danish brands and why their pieces continue to have an enduring, timeless appeal.
For the pair share a similar design philosophy rooted in Danish design – an awareness of their own history and the craft techniques that have been finessed by specialist, highly-skilled makers over the years. Both create simple, understated products that are functional yet beautiful. Whether it’s a solid oak and saddle leather chair or a delicate silver bangle, Fredericia and Georg Jensen strive to create design that’s built to last, that has a permanence and honesty.
First stop on our tour was Fredericia’s light-filled showroom, which opened earlier this year in the centre of the city. I’d written about this stunning loft-style space before when I first visited in February (see it here) and it was brilliant to see it again in the flesh. Set across the top two floors of the old former Royal Mail House, the spacious 1,100 sq m showroom tells the story of the 106-year-old company, taking you through vast gallery spaces with classic design icons and the latest pieces to launch, past offices for the Fredericia team and up to a stunning rooftop space for views across the city.
Fredericia was founded in 1911 as Fredericia Stolefabrik (Fredericia Chair Factory) by entrepreneur N. P. Ravnsø. The company was named after the small Danish town of Fredericia, on the eastern edge of the Jutland peninsula, which played host to the Nordic International Furniture Exhibition from 1910 to the Eighties.
It’s real coming of age, though, took place after the war in the late Forties and Fifties, when mid-century Danish design was having its moment and the company was acquired by Andreas Graversen (Fredericia has since been kept in the family and Graversen’s son Thomas is the current owner). Graversen began to collaborate with young architect Børge Mogensen, whose functional designs he admired, describing them as ‘unpretentious, pure and honest’. The brand was revitalised with a range of simple, everyday furniture pieces, from Shaker-inspired tables to modernist sofas with removable cushions – still some of Fredericia’s most iconic pieces today.
Graversen describes Mogensen as a cabinet-makers architect. Mogensen wanted to make the the ideas of simple modernism popular among the people, creating high quality furniture with a reasonable price tag. This wasn’t furniture for the elite, rather something seen in the context of daily life.
One of Mogensen’s designs on show in the Fredericia showroom, and still in production, is the J39 chair, otherwise known as The People’s Chair – due to its versatility and simplicity. It was first designed in 1947. Inspired by Mediterranean folk furniture, it is made of solid wood and features a hand-woven paper cord seat. It’s a durable, sturdy design for everyday living.
Later, Mogensen presented the first prototype for the Søborg Chair (above) in 1950. He had been experimenting with plywood in the late Forties while working with his friend Hans J. Wegner for MoMA’s ‘low-cost furniture’ international design competition (where prizes went to the young Charles Eames and also Britain’s Robin Day).
The Søborg Chair has a rounded shaped seat and back in moulded plywood combined with a solid wood frame. A steel frame version with gently tapered legs was added to the series in 1952. Today, the chair still looks remarkably contemporary for something designed over 60 years ago.
Other designs on show include the Trinidad chair by Nanna Ditzel, with its fan-shaped seat and back. The chair was presented in 1993, the use of CNC technology somewhat revolutionary for the time. The cut-out fretwork was inspired by ‘Gingerbread Facades’ that Ditzel had seen while on a holiday in the Caribbean.
Below is Mogensen’s very own 2213 sofa, designed for himself in 1962. A true design icon. He found his inspiration for this one in British Hall Porter’s chairs as well as sofas designed by his master Kaare Klint in the 1920s. Today each sofa and chair in the collection is still hand-crafted in Denmark, using a solid hardwood frame construction and the highest quality bull hides that stand the test of time. I love how you can see that the leather shows the marks of wear and tear, proof that the sofa has been loved and used everyday.
Mogensen died aged 58 in 1972, leaving behind 2,000 different designs.
As well as reproducing old classics, Fredericia is also well aware of the future, pushing the company forward with new designs by up-and-coming young designers.
Contemporary pieces are designed to work together with the heritage pieces, as owner Thomas Graversen said when we visited, ‘All good things can be in the same room. If you neglect history you lose the ability to take it further, we’re not just sitting with a blank piece of paper. We don’t need four legs, seat and a back, we have more chairs that we need. But if we take a typology and transform it, we can make it relevant for the time now, it then has a purpose and it’s not just about form.’
In the afternoon we met architects and designers Signe Bindslev Henriksen and Peter Bundgaard Rützou, founders of Space Copenhagen. Space Copenhagen’s design philosophy is grounded in the Nordic tradition, but their sincere, emotive way of working takes into account atmosphere, feeling, texture and geometry. They’ve designed both the Spine collection and the Swoon chair for Fredericia (see that dreamy design in my own home here).
The Spine collection was designed in 2011 for a Michelin-starred restaurant. The series is inspired by Mogensen’s leather designs but with a more streamlined form. The chairs and sofas in the collection are paired back, with mid-century style tapered legs and no armrests. Designed in 2016, the Swoon chair, meanwhile, has a more organic, curvaceous shape. The armchair has a sculptural shape that makes you instantly sink back into it and relax.
You can read an interview I did with Space Copenhagen for Blueprint magazine when they were over for London Design Festival last year here.
Next up, we headed to Fredericia’s rooftop for drinks and dinner, what a perfect way to end the first day. This is the show-stopping space of the showroom, with a balcony looking over Copenhagen and some of their most famous designs on show. Such as The Spanish Chair below (more on that in another post), also designed by Mogensen.
Dinner was an elegant and smart affair in the rooftop’s dark, atmospheric setting. The table was dressed with olive branches and lemon trees, and each person sat at a different Fredericia chair. Georg Jensen silverware glinted in the candlelight.
We had a delicious four-course meal whipped up by a chef using the Electrolux Gourmet Range. A little mousse of lobster to start, then sous-vide salmon, and 10-hour cooked brisket, followed by berries and white chocolate sauce. It was so yummy I only got one photo of the food!
What a lovely evening and a beautiful insight into the world of Fredericia. It’s always nice getting a behind the scenes look into a company and finding out what makes them tick. I’ll be back soon with a more in-depth look at how Fredericia’s Spanish chair is made, and will also take a look inside Georg Jensen’s smithy in Copenhagen where they handcraft beautifully intricate silverware. See you soon!
All images: Cate St Hill. Thank you to Fredericia and Georg Jensen for hosting us in Copenhagen for the #scandidesigntour2017