The Spanish Chair is a design classic, conceived by Børge Mogensen in 1958 for Danish furniture company Fredericia. After my visit to the brand’s Copenhagen showroom at the end of August, here I’m going to tell you all about how this beautiful solid oak and saddle leather design is made. Each chair is still handcrafted in Denmark, using the highest quality vegetable-tanned leathers produced by 140-year-old tannery Tärnsjö Garveri in nearby Sweden. During #scandidesigntour2017, we got to witness one master craftsman in action, as he made the careful finishing touches to the product.
Furniture designer Børge Mogensen had been working with exposed solid wood frames, using saddle leather to form the seat and back, since 1950. He had presented the Hunting Chair at the Copenhagen Cabinetmakers’ Guild’s exhibition that year. Inspired by medieval Spanish furniture, the Hunting Chair is a low, reclining, modern design, with a leather seat that can be adjusted with solid brass buckles. The front seat edge height sits just 30 cm above the floor.
He evolved these design principles to create The Spanish Chair a few years later in 1958. While travelling through Spain, Mogensen had come across a traditional type of chair with wide armrests, common in places shaped by ancient Islamic culture. Combining these influences with his ideas on simple modernism and functionalism, Mogensen created a low, sturdy armchair with a highly durable saddle leather seat and back. He presented the Spanish Chair at another version of the Copenhagen Cabinetmakers’ Guild’s Exhibition as part of an innovative living space exhibition.
The Spanish Chair is formed of pieces of quarter-sawn solid oak. Broad armrests provide a place to rest a glass or book without the need for a side table nearby, creating an informal chair for relaxing and entertaining. The leather is secured by a series of brass buckles, much like a belt or strap of a designer bag, as seen above. Now let’s look at the leather in a bit more detail…
All Fredericia hides come from bulls reared in Scandinavia. The leather is produced by tannery Tärnsjö Garveri in Sweden, who have finessed the art of traditional vegetable tanning and saddlery over the past 140 years. Hides are sourced from the local area around the tannery; the leather they use is the byproduct of the local meat industry. Every batch of hides is marked with a unique number so they can track the origin of each hide as it passes through the tanning process.
The making of the seat and back for The Spanish Chair is not dissimilar to that of a horse’s saddle.
The leathers used for The Spanish Chair are tanned using time-tested techniques and natural materials, such as bark, to give a light patina that gets better with age and wear and tear. No harsh chemicals or allergenic substances are used in the process, giving a pure, natural colour.
The vegetable tanning process also creates a leather that is strong and firm with little elasticity, ideal for creating the taut leather panels of the chair that support the back of the sitter.
After the pieces of the chair have been stitched neatly, excess leather is trimmed off with specialist tools and finished with a felt-tip-like pen of dye along the edges. Eyelets are punched in and buckles fastened in place.
And below you can see the finished product, beautifully handcrafted and lovingly made. The materials have a wonderful tactility to them, that makes you just want to recline in the chair and stroke your hands along the armrests. But the process doesn’t just stop there, the story continues when the chair is in use and the leather takes on a patina, like a horse’s saddle that has been used everyday and fits perfectly onto its wearer.
The Spanish Chair has a distinctive rustic appeal that ties in with warm minimalism and its notions of material honesty and refinement. It’s timeless because the quality of craftsmanship is so visible, you can’t help but see it in the chair’s details – it’s not hidden behind upholstery. The structure and leatherwork is there to be admired, year after year.
All images: Cate St Hill. Thank you to Fredericia and Georg Jensen for hosting us in Copenhagen for the #scandidesigntour201