Born in Copenhagen, Nanna Ditzel (1923-2005) first trained as a cabinetmaker, a respected profession in Denmark but very much a male domain.
She later studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts and the School of Arts and Crafts in Copenhagen, graduating in furniture design in 1946 and establishing her own design studio with husband Jørgen Ditzel the same year.
Ditzel’s career encompassed jewellery, interior, furniture and fabric design. Despite her cabinetmaking background, she had a keen interest in all materials and her furniture included pieces utilising rattan, fibreglass, foam rubber and textiles.
She was also very interested in children’s furniture and designed several pieces through the ’50s and ’60s that were enormously popular – in particular, the Toadstool tables/stools (1962).
From 1955 to 1962, Ditzel designed many jewellery pieces, including her famous ovoid bangle and hinged bracelet. In 1957, she also designed a corkscrew for Danish brand Georg Jensen that is still in production today.
Jørgen, her husband and design partner, died suddenly in 1961 aged 40. In 1968 Ditzel married Kurt Heide and moved to London, where she set up a design emporium, Interspace.
Returning to Denmark nearly 20 years later in 1986, she re-established her studio and began designing for Fredericia Furniture, producing the critically acclaimed Bench for Two in 1989 and the highly successful Trinidad chair in 1993. She also began work on new jewellery for Georg Jensen, which included a wristwatch in 1997.
While her award-winning Hallingdal fabric (1964) is probably her best known for Kvadrat (the material has been used in airports, hospitals and residences across the world), she also created new fabrics for the Danish textile firm from 1997 to 2000.
Her last furniture designs were for Getama and some of her early pieces have been reintroduced by Japanese manufacturer Kitani.
Ditzel was awarded the Good Design award in 1953, the Lunning Prize in 1956 and silver medals at the Milan Triennale in 1951, 1954 and 1957, as well as a gold medal in 1960.
She also won the ID prize in 1995 for the Trinidad chair and was elected Honourable Royal Designer by London’s Royal Society of Arts in 1996. Ditzel continued to work in design until shortly before her death in June 2005.
In her product design, Ditzel was interested in arresting shapes, particularly curves, and continued to study combinations of tubes and circles throughout her career. Her expertise in interior colour was much sought after: her command of tone and hue can be seen in the work she did for the Danish IC3 inter-city trains in 1987 and her designs for Danish fabric house Kvadrat, which are still in production today.
Best known for
In her own country, Ditzel is famous for her Toadstool table and chairs of 1962, which are turned timber pieces for children. Her Hallingdal fabric (1964) for Kvadrat and 1957’s egg-shaped Hanging chair (pictured) are probably her best known designs worldwide. The Hanging chair has spawned dozens of similar designs, none of which can match the beautiful simplicity and perfection of shape of the original.
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