"Imagine if you could design just one good chair in your lifetime – but that simply cannot be done," Hans J. Wegner said in 1952. The statement seems strikingly paradoxical coming from the man regarded as one of the world's most skilled furniture designers. Yet it is the key to understanding Wegner's conviction that designing the perfect chair is a task that is never complete.
Over the course of his lifetime, Wegner created an abundance of exceptional furniture pieces, including innovative tables. Yet his place in design history rests, above all, on his wide range of chairs, each of them highly original and completely natural in appearance. Wegner had a great passion for furniture design and was extremely productive. Houndreds of his designs have been produced over the years and many are still in production today.
Wegner’s sense of the potential of wood was unparalleled. He was a very skilled cabinetmaker, but it was his creativity and extraordinary sense of sculptural expression that made him a pioneer of Danish Modernism, the movement that drove Danish design’s international breakthrough in the years after World War II.
Wegner became an exponent of organic modernism, which contained elements functionalism lacked: a genuine interest in the interaction between product and user, as well as an organic sense of form.
For Wegner, the design experience was not limited to the visual: a chair should speak to all senses, and he was particularly uncompromising in his pursuit of comfort.
Reflecting on his role as a pioneer, Wegner once said in an interview: “Many foreigners have asked me how we created the Danish style. And I’ve answered that it was a continuous process of purification and of simplification – to cut down to the simplest possible design of four legs, a seat, and a combined back- and armrest.”
Hans J. Wegner's uncommon flair for design was evident from childhood. But his opportunities to develop his abilities and his attainment of worldwide fame are also owed to the people he met on his journey who recognized his potential.
His relationships with some of these people endured throughout his life. They became his partners, and their companies produced and marketed his furniture. One of these companies was Carl Hansen & Søn.
Wegner was born in 1914 in the Danish town of Tønder in Southern Jutland. He became a cabinetmaker’s apprentice at a young age, having discovered his love of, and ability to work with, wood early on. He later studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen.
At 24, he started designing his own furniture, attracting increasing attention from the industry in the years that followed – not least from Carl Hansen & Søn, who offered to partner with Wegner in 1949, which would prove to be a defining moment for the company.
Carl Hansen & Søn was founded in 1908 by cabinetmaker Carl Hansen, grandfather of the company’s current owner and CEO, Knud Erik Hansen. Carl Hansen opened a small one-man carpentry workshop in Odense, Denmark, where he produced heavy Victorian furniture for wealthy citizens. He also began manufacturing simpler furniture with a lighter, more modern aesthetic to meet the needs of working-class people living in small apartments.
Carl Hansen continued to develop the company throughout his life, and the strategy he established when he founded the company 110 years ago continues to guide Carl Hansen & Søn to this day: to work with the best contemporary designers to produce quality furniture based on traditional craftsmanship.
In 1934, Carl Hansen passed the baton to his second eldest son, Holger Hansen, who, 15 years later suggested that Wegner create a collection of chairs to be produced at the factory and sold directly by Carl Hansen & Søn – a bold initiative that represented a new form of furniture marketing.
In 1949, Wegner was known among connoisseurs in the industry, but not yet by ordinary consumers. Trusting Holger Hansen and his employees’ production abilities, Wegner agreed to the task. Once Wegner had completed his drawings, he moved in with the Hansen family and began producing prototypes.
Discussing the relationship between Holger Hansen and Wegner, Knud Erik Hansen explains: "They had a mutual need for each other. The commercial side was driven by a love of wood and the desire to produce quality wooden furniture. Both were excellent cabinetmakers, but my father was also a businessman. So they complemented each other, and also had a very strong friendship."
Hans J. Wegner's unique talent manifested itself in earnest during his fruitful collaboration with Carl Hansen & Søn. In 1950, the CH22, CH23, CH24, and CH25 chairs were launched and presented to design enthusiasts, who received them with great interest.
Today, many of the chairs enjoy iconic status. One of these is the 1950 Wishbone Chair, CH24, often referred to as 'the world's best wooden chair' and Wegner's best-selling chair.
Alongside the Wishbone Chair, the CH25 lounge chair has been in continuous production since 1950. With the recent reissues of the CH22 lounge chair in 2016 and CH23 dining chair in 2017, both of which reflect his immense talent for craftsmanship and comfort, Wegner’s first collection for Carl Hansen & Søn has been reunited.
In 1963, Wegner developed a shell chair using form-pressed veneer for cabinetmaker Johannes Hansen, building on preliminary studies he had done in 1948 for a competition held by the Museum of Modern Art in New York. In this area, he was a contemporary of fellow pioneer Charles Eames. Wegner later commented that these form-pressed structures offered so many opportunities that he had to make a choice between working with them or with solid wood – and he chose the latter. But one of the results of his short diversion into form-pressed veneer was the world-famous, three-legged Shell Chair, which was relaunched by Carl Hansen & Søn as model number CH07 in 1998, and which, became one of the company's best-sellers within just a few years.
Representing the third generation of the family business, Knud Erik Hansen took over with energy and enthusiasm in 2002. His vision of efficient production, based on quality craftsmanship and a modern sales and distribution network, quickly transformed Carl Hansen & Søn into a global brand. Carl Hansen & Søn produces iconic works by mid-century Danish masters, including Hans J. Wegner, Arne Jacobsen, Børge Mogensen, Ole Wanscher, Bodil Kjær, Frits Henningsen, Kaare Klint, Mogens Koch and Poul Kjærholm, and by the contemporary visionaries Tadao Ando, EOOS, Thomas Bo Kastholm, Brad Ascalon, Anker Bak, and Naja Utzon Popov.
Carl Hansen & Søn’s collaboration with the Hans J. Wegner Design Studio continues to this day. When he died, Wegner left behind a substantial number of designs for furniture that had never been produced or had only been made in small numbers. The Wegner family has given Carl Hansen & Søn permission to put some of these into production.
Knud Erik Hansen says: "I grew up with Wegner's furniture, having run around the workshop all my life. His understanding of the possibilities inherent in shaping wood is unsurpassed. All the furniture he created emanates something solid, simple and organic. And the more you understand what lies behind it, the more you respect his work. Each piece of furniture passes through numerous expert hands, and there is full focus on making them perfect throughout – just like there was in 1908, when it all began."
The remarkable legacy of four chair designs by Hans J. Wegner has shaped the Carl Hansen & Søn philosophy for over 65 years and is a celebration of collaboration and craftsmanship.
Considered one of the most famous symbols of Danish furniture design, the CH24 is, of course, also known as the Wishbone Chair. Globally admired, its elegant, curved frame is often spotted in the world’s best restaurants and hotels as well as homes all over the world.
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Brad Ascalon is the American designer behind Carl Hansen & Søn’s new Preludia Series. He talks to us here about his approach to design and his respect for the Danish Modern philosophy
Naja Utzon Popov has designed two exclusive rug collections to match her first WOODLINES Collection. Inspired by nature and fine materials, the new BOTANICA and OCEANIA designs complement the textures and organic colours of our most iconic pieces of furniture
When you choose a Carl Hansen & Søn product, you gain more than just a piece of furniture. You become part of a proud tradition of distinctive and beautiful craftsmanship, where nothing has been left to chance. The world’s largest manufacturer of furniture designed by Hans J. Wegner, we also produce works by renowned design masters such as Arne Jacobsen, Børge Mogensen, Ole Wanscher, Kaare Klint, Poul Kjærholm, Mogens Koch, Bodil Kjær and Tadao Ando. Carl Hansen & Søn represents over 100 years of Danish design history and our furniture is sold all over the world.