Scandi-Style Chairs: Hans J Wegner

Hans hero

At Zanui, we don’t like to play favourites…but we think Hans J Wegner is pretty spesh. Some have gone as far as to say he’s THE most important Danish designer – ever. He was an early hero of Scandinavian style. And seeing as this year marks 100 years since his birth, we thought we’d sing a ditty to his exquisite chair designs.

Designing 1500+ chairs and furniture pieces in his lifetime, our man Hans is the definition of over-achiever. His work is celebrated internationally for its balance and charm. But it’s almost an honour to feel inferior to such a purist. (take.a.look.at.him.you.can.totally.see.it)

Hans J with his chairs and the Wishbone Chair. Image source from left: denstoredanskedotdk and dezeendotcom.

Hans J prized organic lines and simplicity in form. He believed in the integrity of the material, and the pursuit of perfection was a personal goal: “If only you could design just one good chair in your life…” he once said. “But you simply cannot.” (Bless!)

Born in Southern Denmark, Hans J discovered early he had an affinity for wood. The son of a cobbler, he grew up understanding the value of handcraftsmanship. He made his first chair at the age of fifteen (!), working as a child apprentice to a master cabinetmaker.

The Replica Hans Wegner Wishbone Chair is available online at Zanui.

With stints at the Danish School of Arts and Crafts under Kaare Klint (the father of modern Danish furniture design), the Architectural Academy in Copenhagen, and what is now the Danish Design School, Hans J was no stranger to hitting the books. But as a young student, it was the Carpenters’ Guild Furniture Exhibits that inspired his decision to make furniture.

The exhibits were known for innovation in architecture and design. Hans, in turn, developed a radical philosophy and a unique aestheticism. His chairs have a poetic lyricism, fusing idiosyncratic forms with function. “A chair is to have no backside,” he said. “It should be beautiful from all sides and angles.”

In addition to the Chair and the Wishbone Chair, Hans J designed a host of others including the Valet Chair (pictured) and the Elbow Chair, available online at Zanui. Image source from left: scandinaviandesigndotcom and kissthedesigndotch

1949 was a good year for our Hans. The Round Chair shot him to design superstardom. The Chair, as it came to be known, has been associated with the likes of JFK, Nixon and Obama. With its distinctive back support, the Wishbone Chair cemented Hans’s reputation, designed later the same year. Of all of Hans’s 500+ chairs, the Wishbone is often thought the fairest…

Before he stepped out on his own, Hans worked with architect and designer Arne Jacobsen. The Wishbone Chair appeared a good nine years before Arne’s radical Egg Chair (1958), proving that in this case the chicken definitely preceded the egg. (Chicken!)

Hans J collaborated with Arne Jacobsen who designed the Egg Chair, available in replica online at Zanui. Image source: scandinaviandesigndotcom

When asked about the development of the Danish style, Hans J said, “it… was rather a continuous process of purification, and for me of simplification, to cut down to the simplest possible elements of four legs, a seat and combined top rail and arm rest.” Design became a process of “stripping the old chairs of their outer style and letting them appear in their pure construction.”

The result is a refined collection of sculptural forms that has stood the test of time. We approve, Hans. We approve.

Kay is a feature, blog and copywriter. She collects empty jam jars, academic degrees and tawdry dreams in the hopes of turning them into something useful someday. Her work has been published in ACP magazines, ABC fiction, Overland, Brittle Star, Seizure, trade publications and online forums. Her creative writing has won several awards.