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The joy of Danish design

Copenhagen’s KADK is noted for its international influence on furniture design, and such is the popularity of all things Danish that companies are now resurrecting designs that first appeared in the 1950s and 60s

The #142 Sideboard, originally designed in the 1960s, recently resurrected by the same company that originally created it
The #142 Sideboard, originally designed in the 1960s, recently resurrected by the same company that originally created it

The best designs are truly timeless  a fact that explains the continuing popularity of Danish furniture design from the 1950s and 60s. Heavily influenced by the minimalism of the Bauhaus movement, Danish furniture perfectly marries form and function, and its clean lines and simplicity have ultimately contributed to its longevity.

A combination of postwar demand and new and improving industrial technologies meant that not only Danish furniture but the country’s architecture as well as textile, ceramic, glass and silver design would be considered among the best in the world. For a geographically modest nation, Denmark soon found itself punching far above its weight.

A craftsman working in the Bernhard Pedersen & Son factory in the mid-20th century
A craftsman working in the Bernhard Pedersen & Son factory in the mid-20th century

The Royal Danish Academy of Art (KADK) had launched a furniture school and is now widely credited as being behind some of the country’s most notable successes, but Denmark was also being influenced by what was happening in America, most specifically the output of Charles and Ray Eames, who were creating pieces that were both functional and stylish.

The Danish revolution changed millions of interiors, as homeowners switched their focus from strictly utilitarian furniture to pieces that represented the finest points of contemporary design. Not only was Danish furniture beautiful to look at, it was comfortable and built to last.

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Its popularity has continued, so much so that some of the most memorable items of Danish furniture, first conceived of and constructed in the 1950s and 60s, are being relaunched by the same manufacturers who made the original items. This means that a new generation will have the opportunity to fill their homes with some design classics.

Wharfside’s Jonathan Stewart is confident that this new venture will give lovers of top quality furniture a chance to experience the best of Danish design. “We are able to offer customers completely authentic design classics thanks to companies like Bernhard Pedersen & Son,” he says. “Most people will recognise their classic sideboard, for instance, which was launched in 1965 and was a feature in all fashionable homes. Now customers can buy it in a choice of two lengths and fashioned from oak, teak, walnut or rosewood. Not only this, but the sideboard can also be made with a variety of interior configurations, which means that clients can buy a bespoke piece from one of the foremost manufacturers of Danish furniture.”

Classic Danish furniture from Bernhard Pedersen & Son in 1958-59
Classic Danish furniture from Bernhard Pedersen & Son in 1958-59

Shoreditch-based Wharfside has an enormous warehouse where clients can gather ideas and decide what would best suit their home, although these days most business is international and many sales take place via the internet. “These Danish design classics are the perfect product,” says Stewart. “Not only are they familiar, the fact that they are being made by the original companies means that clients have confidence that the delivered item will be exactly what was anticipated when the order was placed.”

It seems that midcentury modern design is enjoying something of a moment, with some cultural commentators proposing that the American drama series Mad Men has had an effect on contemporary interiors. If you are, for instance, in possession of an Eames moulded plywood screen you could be sitting in front of a veritable goldmine, as original, limited edition pieces from the era of Elvis and The Beatles are now selling more strongly than ever.

The Wharfside Danish furniture showroom in Buttesland Street, Shoreditch, in 1962
The Wharfside Danish furniture showroom in Buttesland Street, Shoreditch, in 1962

Of course, there is a new generation who can now afford to furnish their homes with high-end items, who are casting new pairs of eyes over these well-loved designs. “It’s certainly true that, for some of our customers, these are an entirely new discovery,” says Stewart. “Anything seen for the first time is always new, whatever its history.”

If you don’t happen to have a house full of original items, the resurgence of Danish design means that buying a bespoke, 21st century classic is the next best thing. “The whole point about this kind of modernist furniture is that it is ageless,” says Stewart. “I often describe myself as a curator of the furniture in the Wharfside warehouse, but in the case of these pieces the whole team really feels a part of the history of 20th century design.”

The Wharfside European furniture showroom in Shoreditch, London, in 2017
The Wharfside European furniture showroom in Shoreditch, London, in 2017

It has also been posited that the resurgence in midcentury furniture is linked to a taste for contemporary art; in other words, a modernist chair is likely to look more appropriate in a room decorated with abstract pieces than a Louis XIV reproduction complete with decorative curves and gilding.

Whatever the reason, it looks as though mid-20th-century Danish design has made a very welcome comeback, and these elegant pieces look well placed to be the high-end collectables of the future.

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