To commemorate the Stockholm Design Week, Danish furniture manufacturer Carl Hansen & Søn takes us on a journey through the Scandinavian design movement.
Founded in 1908 as a woodworking shop, Carl Hansen & Søn has long symbolized quality and craftsmanship in Scandinavian design. A breath-taking list of Danish masters have designed for the Danish furniture manufacturer—Hans J. Wegner, Ole Wanscher, Poul Kjærholm.
“We probably have the largest collection of dead architects in the world,” admits CEO Knud Erik Hansen.
We probably have the largest collection of dead architects in the world.
However, today Carl Hansen & Søn is venturing increasingly out of Denmark, and opening its doors to the future with expansion and new collaborations. Last week at the Stockholm Furniture Fair, the firm launched its first collaboration with an American designer. Designed by Brad Ascalon, the Preludia collection is a series of chairs, tables, bar stools and bar tables geared for the contract market. Carl Hansen & Søn has been busy—along with this new collection, it has already released four additional new designs for 2018, including a sofa by Kaare Klint and a table by Arne Jacobsen.
ArchiExpo e-Magazine reached out to Knud Erik Hansen to hear his thoughts on how Danish design has impacted the Scandinavian design movement, the lagom trend, design’s role on psychological well-being and how a new factory in Vietnam is helping Carl Hansen & Søn venture into new territory.
ArchiExpo e-Magazine: How do you feel Carl Hansen & Søn has influenced the movement of Scandinavian design over time?
Knud Erik Hansen: The straight answer to your question is that we have maintained our style throughout time. Although we have changed products, our style remains classical, lasting and high-quality—which are points precisely reflected in Scandinavian, or rather Danish, manufacturing and design. With all the Mid-Century architects connected firmly to Carl Hansen & Søn, we feel no one has influenced the movement of Scandinavian design throughout time as we have.
ArchiExpo e-Magazine: What are your thoughts on the coziness of hygge?
Hansen: Hygge is part of the Danish culture. We live inside our buildings for more than half the time—as Denmark’s weather is often rainy, blowing, and cold. Therefore, I think only the Danes spend as much time and money on their homes. We wish to feel relaxed, surrounded by soft lighting often mixed with candlelight or a fireplace.
Every day we are working in environments containing noise, plastic, aluminum, steel, glass, computers, machines, traffic and hectic or stressed people—which necessitates that you relax and feel free and open-minded when you close the door behind you at home, or even in a hotel room.
Read our article The New Minimalism in Home Living.
ArchiExpo e-Magazine: Do you feel in general that the industry is moving more towards comfort?
Hansen: If they aren’t, then they are making a mistake! Comfort is what we all need. If you are selling something, a chair for example, that you can’t sit in…then you have a big problem. Comfort is one of the qualities that characterizes Denmark’s old masters. Despite them looking very good, most of the pieces are quite comfortable and you can actually sit in them.
Also, if you are dealing with children or school-age young people, they need to sit well. Their bodies are forming and they must have a comfortable way of sitting, to avoid aching young bones. Elderly people, they need that too. I can’t see that you can actually avoid making something which is comfortable.
ArchiExpo e-Magazine: What do you feel is the importance of design in all sectors?
Hansen: Functionality, simplicity, quality, uniqueness and good style; we all love that whether we admit it or not. I believe that the most complete design is the human body. It is beautiful to look at and to communicate with. Superior in thinking and acting, it is formed without any unnecessary parts, doesn’t break easily, lasts for a long time and can turn from anger to laughter within seconds! Fantastic.
ArchiExpo e-Magazine: Could you mention a few particularly significant Carl Hansen & Søn products, indicating how they meet the current market demand?
Hansen: The Wishbone Chair (CH24) has already met all of the various requirements for a well-designed product and it is already more than 68 years old. However, a product’s history is just as important as its design, and the combination of both of these factors are reflected in the Rocking Nest chair, designed by young Danish architect and carpenter Anker Bak in 2017. He designed it for his sister, who wanted to breastfeed her little daughter in a rocking chair, but had very little space for such a chair, which in most cases takes up lots of space. So he made it collapsible and very comfortable for everyone to enjoy. Practical, comfortable, and simple!
ArchiExpo e-Magazine: What are the current challenges designers face?
Hansen: To continue to develop a lifestyle that is already well-established. That’s not easy, and only the best will manage to survive!
When it comes to the way we spend our working life and our spare time, most people are very conservative. Our acceptance of exercise and smoking has changed somewhat, which is very positive and prolongs life expectancy and helps all of us stay active longer.
ArchiExpo e-Magazine: Do you have any potential (or sure) solutions to these challenges?
Hansen: We have to realize that, although we nearly all have our own ideas of what is required in the future—think of our lives now with iPads and mobile phones constantly in our hands—the design and layout of our cars, our communication and our acceptance of each other—think nationality, race and religion—require tremendous concentration.
Introducing the phenomenon of comfort, of Hygge, to all nationalities—adjusted a little bit to the local lifestyle—seems a worthy alternative to all the unrest that seems to be more and more part of everyday life.
ArchiExpo e-Magazine: Where do you see the future of Danish design and your company moving?
Hansen: Danish design will continue to stay close to the heart of many design-loving people. It is the quality, the workmanship, the simplicity, the charming look and the uniqueness.
We are developing the corporate social responsibility subject to the utmost.
As for our company, we are developing in two different directions. First, we’re producing in Denmark, where we have all these skills and all these people with generations of knowledge. This is the tradition, the quality right through from the Middle Ages—even the Vikings, for that matter, they were fantastic craftsmen. All of these things are coming together in a modern industry which is absolutely fantastic. I love that, and we will bring it as far as we can in Denmark.
Denmark is not the cheapest, because we have high salaries, but we treat each other well, and Danes work very hard. We are developing the corporate social responsibility subject to the utmost, so that people are treated with proper salaries, with pensions and safe factories.
On the other hand, there’s a reason for me being in Vietnam right now. On September 1st of last year, we bought a factory out here, and we are trying to develop the same kind of atmosphere we have in Denmark. It is a long goal, it is not something that happens tomorrow, but it is fantastic to mix the energy that you have out here, the energy of young people—the median age is 30 years old and there are over 90 million people in Vietnam. You have young people dying to learn, who really want to make a future for themselves. It’s not that we are going to make the same kind of furniture in Vietnam that we do in Denmark, but there is ample space for new energy, new people and new ideas on the market, especially for the U.S. or Asia. We make a lot of outdoor furniture in Vietnam, and the trend in outdoor furnishings is going towards better quality and sustainability. We are not using artificial material—it’s primarily wood and steel. It is time to make something that is clean.
As Hansen was in Vietnam during the event, the interview occurred through an email/phone exchange with the journalist.
ArchiExpo e-Magazine: How do you think Brad Ascalon’s new collection, the Preludia collection, is adding to Carl Hansen & Søn?
Hansen: This collection is something quite new for us, a bold development. It’s made out of materials like steel and compressed veneer, which is a relatively new technique. The pieces, which blend in quite well with the rest of the collection, are earmarked for the younger public, for institutions and people with a very modern way of furnishing in a very high quality…because you can get lots of this kind of furniture. Just about every furniture factory makes this, but Preludia is just a little different, a little step more comfortable and you can actually sit in the chair for a long time without feeling tired or sliding out onto the floor.
ArchiExpo e-Magazine: You obviously had your choice of many American designers, what was it that made Ascalon stand out to you?
His persistence, and he’s always in good spirits with a good mood. He has an optimistic way of looking at developments and that’s a breath of fresh air, if you compare him to what we have worked with in the past. Here you have somebody who is very much alive!