Why Copenhagen is at the epicentre of a design quake

Katrina Burroughs looks inside a historic building in Copenhagen that has become a powerful design hub bringing together private clients and the cream of the country’s creative talent

Copenhagen’s Frederiksgade 1 is home to first-floor creatives such as File Under Pop’s Josephine Akvama Hoffmeyer and Thomas Ibsen
Copenhagen’s Frederiksgade 1 is home to first-floor creatives such as File Under Pop’s Josephine Akvama Hoffmeyer and Thomas Ibsen

The world’s first design hotel, the colourful canal houses along Nyhavn, and the best chairs of the 20th century – this is what Copenhagen has long meant to interiors aficionados. But the city’s design scene has recently had an update. This year, there’s a new addition to the traditional pilgrimage to Room 606 at the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel (to see Arne Jacobsen’s original furnishings for the SAS Royal Hotel), followed by an open sandwich at the Design Museum (noting the café’s Arne Jacobsen chairs) and a stroll to Carl Hansen & Søn, in Bredgade, to put an order in for a Colonial chair (designed by Ole Wanscher in 1949). Now a 19th-century building in the historic heart of the city has become a venue where decophiles can discover innovative 21st-century Danish design

File Under Pop’s Josephine Akvama Hoffmeyer (inset), and her 3D terracotta tiles, from £260 per sq m
File Under Pop’s Josephine Akvama Hoffmeyer (inset), and her 3D terracotta tiles, from £260 per sq m | Image: Naomi Akvama (inset)

Frederiksgade 1 was built by the Danish financier famous for introducing the cheque to Denmark, CF Tietgen. The six-storey edifice, next to the copper-domed Marble Church (whose completion Tietgen also financed), is now owned by the Holger Kvist Fund, named after the retailer who opened his cult store, Nyt i Bo, in 1969, to sell furniture by Wegner, Finn Juhl, Borge Mogensen and Nanna Ditzel. The Fund’s mission is to nurture Danish art and design, and to that end, since 2009, when Holger Kvist passed away, it has been refurbishing the building, floor by floor and filling it with both stalwarts of Danish design (such as the House of Finn Juhl and Getama) and a select group of contemporary designers pushing beyond the traditional Danish aesthetic, who are setting up studios and showrooms. It is these latter creatives, currently clustered on floors one and four, who are putting the building on the design map. A trip to Frederiksgade 1 now affords an opportunity to meet them and commission a range of decorative work, from hand-knotted wool and silk rugs to dazzling Perspex chandeliers.

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“F1 seemed a very good place to work – it’s a house full of creation, with a lot of inspiration to be found,” says creative director of File Under Pop, Josephine Akvama Hoffmeyer, whose studio is on the first floor. The former musician now mixes her handcrafted terracotta tiles (from £260 per sq m), lava-stone tiles (from £275 per sq m) and handpainted paper panels (from £540) in elaborate wallscapes. “Creating these spaces is like composing music. You need to find a harmony: in this case, a balance between colours and texture,” she says. Since moving into the building in March 2015, File Under Pop has gained a following among professional interior designers, who love its bold, colourist style. Last year, Hoffmeyer’s projects included a chevron-tile wall covering for the Great Northern Food Hall in Grand Central Terminal, New York – the Nordic food hub that’s the creation of Danish chef and New Nordic restaurateur Claus Meyer. 

Thomas Ibsen (inset), whose label Please Wait to be Seated specialises in furniture based on architectural shapes, like the Keystone chair, about £2,745
Thomas Ibsen (inset), whose label Please Wait to be Seated specialises in furniture based on architectural shapes, like the Keystone chair, about £2,745

File Under Pop’s fellow first floorites include kitchen company &Shufl, which has designed two kitchens (prices from £2,000) on the first floor: Hoffmeyer’s kitchen, with doors covered in burgundy linoleum, and one for its own showroom, in dark grey; and Please Wait to be Seated, a quirky label that specialises in furniture based on architectural shapes. The founder of Please Wait to be Seated, Thomas Ibsen, was previously a photographer for Wallpaper* magazine, and his eye for an arresting graphic shows itself in pieces such as the Keystone chair (from DKr22,480, about £2,745), a surprisingly comfortable chunk of art furniture inspired by a Roman bridge, and composed of three upholstered geometric shapes whose contrasting colours can be mixed and matched. The world of difference between these linear designs and Hoffmeyer’s painterly fields of colour is a clear marker that there’s no “house style” in Frederiksgade 1. 

Vibeke Fonnesberg Schmidt (inset), a chandelier maker of such eye-catching designs as the Perspex Diciotto x 2, price on request
Vibeke Fonnesberg Schmidt (inset), a chandelier maker of such eye-catching designs as the Perspex Diciotto x 2, price on request

Visits are by appointment, except during open events such as Copenhagen’s annual spring 3daysofdesign, but most callers who make an arrangement to meet one designer find themselves chatting to other studios about their projects as well. The creatives are keen to draw in their neighbours, swap ideas and devise original designs for each client. So it is highly unlikely you will be allowed to visit File Under Pop or Please Wait to be Seated without being escorted up the building’s stone staircase to check out the group Hoffmeyer describes as “the cool cats of the fourth floor”. She is referring to the 2016 intake, chosen for their original and adventurous approach.

Bettina Gedda (inset) of Knothouse, which creates labour-intensive artisanal Tibetan wool rugs, like Atelier Light, from £450 per sq m
Bettina Gedda (inset) of Knothouse, which creates labour-intensive artisanal Tibetan wool rugs, like Atelier Light, from £450 per sq m | Image: Steffen Stamp (main picture)

The most eye-catching creations on four are by chandelier maker Vibeke Fonnesberg Schmidt. Her sculptural work (Diciotto x 2, price on request), constructed from geometric shapes in coloured Perspex, is shown in Nilufar Gallery and DimoreStudio, in Milan. She builds each of her lights by hand, and designs not only the shapes but the colours and opacity of the Perspex elements. “I just love the material for working with light. Every time I make a chandelier it is different. There is a moment, a slightly scary moment, that’s always a bit of a surprise, when the piece is complete and you see how the colours interact.” Recent commissions have included a chandelier for the London home of Paul Price, Topshop’s newly appointed CEO. “He asked for something special, with unusual colours, and it ended up being super beautiful. It was a very happy cooperation.”

Mia Lagerman (inset) created the lava-stone washbasin on top of ash table, price on request, for her house in Mallorca
Mia Lagerman (inset) created the lava-stone washbasin on top of ash table, price on request, for her house in Mallorca

Fonnesberg Schmidt credits Signe Byrdal Terenziani, managing director of 3daysofdesign, with bringing her to her new home at Frederiksgade 1: “The Holger Kvist Fund asked Signe to help select a group of designers for the fourth floor. She wanted to put together people with the same sort of customers, who had an international approach and high-end products.” By the summer of 2016, Terenziani’s plan had come together and Fonnesberg Schmidt had arrived along with Bettina Gedda, designer of remarkable rugs under the name Knothouse, and Overgaard & Dyrman, whose speciality is furniture crafted in leather and metal. “The mix has turned out really well,” says Fonnesberg Schmidt. “Not only did we like each other, but if you are a young company it is great to be able to both share frustrations and brainstorm together. It works well for clients too. When we all exhibited for 3daysofdesign [in May 2017], we realised our things looked good together – everybody was like, ‘Oh I want that chandelier AND that rug… AND that chair.’” 

The chrome-plated steel and leather Wire dining chairs, from £3,540, are bestsellers of the Overgaard & Dyrman label, founded by Jesper Overgaard and Chris Dyrman (inset, from left)
The chrome-plated steel and leather Wire dining chairs, from £3,540, are bestsellers of the Overgaard & Dyrman label, founded by Jesper Overgaard and Chris Dyrman (inset, from left) | Image: Overgaard & Dyrman (main picture)

Gedda says that the unique cocktail of like-minded creatives and their broad-thinking clients has helped her label thrive. “Being part of a design business community like F1 is a huge advantage for a young design studio like Knothouse.” She is especially delighted to be in company with others who pride themselves on taking time to produce outstanding work, rather than rushing out fast furnishings. Gedda says of her customers: “They don’t have the consumerist mentality of buying and throwing away. They are looking for items that can be passed on through generations, with interesting stories to tell.” It is fortunate that her fans tend to take the long view, because her Tibetan wool (Atelier Light, from £450 per sq m) and Chinese silk rugs are labour-intensive affairs – a visit to Knothouse can be the start of a months-long project. Aside from Gedda’s own design time, there are delays in the design process while she waits for samples with new colour combinations to reach her workshop from Nepal. Then it takes three artisans three to four months to dye, weave and carve a 200cm x 300cm rug (the starting price for her most popular, Borderline, is about £463 per sq m). 

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A fourth-floor neighbour of Knothouse accustomed to seeing her work produced in somewhat larger quantities, rather more swiftly, has recently become equally enthusiastic about making one-off designs. Mia Lagerman is a highly successful furniture designer who has created products for Ikea, Skagerak and Fritz Hansen. But last year, she made unique washbasins for her house in Mallorca: a grey marble sink for the kitchen, and basins for the bathrooms in pink marble and grey lava stone (price on request). “I’ve been designing washbasins in porcelain for mass production for many, many years [for Svedbergs] so I thought I could take all that experience and use a new material. It was like a playground for me. I only had myself to please.” She is now developing a series of limited edition cabinets. Each will have exactly the same measurements and structure but different materials on the upper part. “So far I’ve made two, one in glass and one with doors made from artists’ canvases.” Lagerman’s Canvas Cabinet (made to order, price on request) is an enchanting piece. At the edges of the translucent fabric, the shadows of the wooden stretchers of the painter’s canvas are just visible; it’s a functional cupboard, perched on slim cherrywood legs, that’s also an art object.

While Lagerman relishes the freedom to create whatever takes her fancy, she also enjoys her work for the big brands. She is particularly pleased with her new design for Fritz Hansen, a clock with a dial in thick white handmade paper, which was launched last month at design festival Maison et Objet. Others at Frederiksgade 1, such as Jasper Overgaard, co-founder of Overgaard & Dyrman, are more uncompromising about their independence. “Both Chris [Dyrman] and I were previously working as designers for other brands,” he says. “The problem there is you have a deadline and a price you have to work to; you have to fit within their universe. We want to have a free space and a clean sheet, and to take our design as far as we need to – to make it exactly what we want it to be. That’s why we started our own label.” Inspired by traditional saddlemaking and metalworking, the duo design in leather, steel and wood, and their furniture, especially the Wire Collection (the Wire dining chair, £3,540, is their bestseller), has a masculine, industrial luxe vibe. Structural elements such as studs, stitching and straps are elevated to decorative features. “We call it clever ornamentation,” says Overgaard.

Frederiksgade 1 is a work in progress. There are plans for a café on the ground floor, Terenziani is seeking three more designers to add to the mix on four, and the fund is hoping – subject to City Hall permission – to reconstruct the roof, so that the fifth floor can be a live-work scholarship space for up-and-coming designers. Once the creative hub becomes widely known, clients will doubtless be queueing up to commission its young design companies, but for now the building is a calm sanctuary from the bustle of the city, an interiors trade secret that welcomes private clients. Design aficionados who admire the 20th-century classics – the Arne Jacobsen seats and the Poul Henningsen lights – and want to know what happened next in Danish design, should add Frederiksgade 1 to their Copenhagen itinerary, and find out.

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