Hans J. Wegner sadly passed away in January 2007, aged 92. His humble character belied the fact that he has about 80 works currently in production, with more reissues around the corner.

Born in 1914 in Tønder, Denmark, Hans J. Wegner was the son of a master cobbler. He fell in love with wood from an early age and became an apprentice carpenter, and it was this craft background that would eventually set him apart from many of his design peers.

 

After serving in the military he went to technical college and then to the School of Arts and Crafts in Copenhagen.

Much of his early work consisted of “stripping old chairs of their outer style and letting them appear in their pure construction”.

He worked as an assistant to Arne Jacobsen and Erik Møller on the Århus Town Hall, where he designed some of the furniture.

In 1943, he opened his own office and released the Chinese chair which, along with his 1949 Round chair, would provide the basis for many later designs.

Earlier that decade, Wegner had met Johannes Hansen, furniture maker and head of the Cabinetmakers Guild, and he went on to exhibit a project at the Cabinetmakers’ show every year from 1941-1966.

Wegner’s designs were manufactured primarily by PP Møbler and Carl Hansen & Søn, but he also worked for AP-Stolen, Andreas Tuck, Erik Jørgensen and Fredericia Furniture.

He made occasional forays outside the timber medium, with 1950’s Flag Halyard chair in steel, flag halyard (rope) and sheepskin and 1960’s Ox chair in leather and chromed steel being notable examples.

CH_24 chair

Wegner had a fascination with the traditional Chinese court chair and designed many interpretations of it.

The ‘CH_24′ chair (pictured), designed for Carl Hansen & Søn in 1950, is the most organic, and also the most commercially successful.

The use of Scandinavian simplicity and rounded forms with what is basically a boxy design is a triumph. Beautiful craftsmanship combines with exacting details like the one-piece bent back rail.

Also called the ‘Wishbone’ or ‘Y’ chair because of its beautifully sculptured back piece Y-shape back.

Fast facts

Wegner’s love of timber formed the basis of his work which, although modern, lacked the cold functionalism of the International style.

He thought that functionalism on its own was not enough – each piece needed to speak visually and ergonomically.

Wegner’s chairs display a pared-down purity that comes from the use of beautiful materials and simple joinery.

For him, the Danish style was “a continual process of purification … to cut down to the simplest possible elements of four legs, a seat and combined top rail and armrest”. His designs were as fine as possible, without compromising their structural strength.

Pictured here is the ‘CH_25′ easy chair from Corporate Culture.

Best known for

The PP501 ‘Round’ chair was put on the cover of US magazine Interiors and called “the world’s most beautiful chair”.

A version with an upholstered seat, the PP503, was used at the televised American presidential debate between candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960. As a result, it became a sensation and created a profitable market for Wegner’s work.

Pictured here is the Carl Hansen & Søn ‘CH_07′ shell chair.