February 27, 2007
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Wegner with a model of the wing chair. Courtesy Carl Hansen & Son.
Hans J. Wegner. Courtesy PP Mobler.
Wegner in a wishbone chair. Courtesy Carl Hansen & Son.
The china chair. Courtesy Fritz Hansen.
Hans J. Wegner, an icon for both furniture designers and architects, died last month at the age of 92. While Americans Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson and Eero Saarinen defined mid-century design with fresh, forward-looking furniture made of composite materials such as plastics and molded plywood, Wegner and fellow Danes including Arne Jacobsen, Poul Kjærholm, and Finn Juhl brought Scandinavian design to the forefront with simple, handcrafted wood furniture.
Wegner learned woodworking early on while training as a cabinetmaker. He subsequently studied furniture design, working with Jacobsen and architect Erik Møller, before opening his own studio in 1943. Just one year later, in a design produced for Danish furniture maker Fritz Hansen, he created a classic: the China Chair, the first of many Wegner chairs to exhibit a strong Asian influence.
In 1947, Holger Hansen, then head of another local furniture house called Carl Hansen & Son, spotted Wegner’s designs and hired the young talent to design for his family-owned company. In short order they introduced three new chairs—one of which, the Wishbone Chair, has been in production ever since and has become Wegner’s best-known design. His Round Chair from 1949 was later famously used in the televised presidential debate between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960. Wegner described his work during this period as “stripping the old chairs of their outer style and letting them appear in their pure construction.”
Holger Hansen’s son and current president of Carl Hansen & Son, Knud Erik, decided in 2002 that the firm would produce Wegner’s furniture exclusively. “Wegner’s designs are beautiful to look at without overpowering a space,” he observes. “Architects and designers appreciate his pieces because they fit beautifully in any environment. His furniture makes for perfect background because it is modest and discreet, much like Wegner himself was.”
Wegner continued designing into the 1990s, producing hundreds of chair designs in addition to tables, office furniture, lamps, and accessories. In his later years he worked together with his daughter Marianne—most notably for PP Møbler, the same company that resumed production of his classic Round Chair in 1993.