Uncovering the Secrets of Danish Design

With a design museum as pride of place its capital city, Denmark’s position as a leader of furniture has long since been confirmed. Two of Denmark’s biggest brands attempt to uncover the secrets behind their nation’s success…

Xander Brett

“We embrace slowness,” says architect Jonas Herman Pedersen. Jonas is one half of Herman Studio, and he and his wife see function and aesthetic as two sides of the same coin. That coin lays the foundation for the durable furniture they’ve built a name on since 2012. They’ve churned out to a number of brands, but most recently to Form & Refine, a design brand where, helpfully, Jonas and Helle are part-owners. Form & Refine choose materials from neighbouring workshops… maple, ash and oak come from the forests of Funen, and Portugal is their source of clay. They also support a cooperative of alpaca farmers in the highlands of Bolivia. ‘Blueprint’, Form & Refine’s latest chair, is both sculptural and discreet. It’s stackable, the seat is comfortable, and the backrest is strong.

“‘Blueprint’ is a chair that very precisely incarnates the mission of Form & Refine,” Jonas explains. “It’s made of top-quality European FSC-certified wood. In addition to a sculptural expression, it has several special details. For example, there are no visible screws to break up the aesthetic or scratch the chairs when stacked.” Jonas says the backrest had to be at an angle that works for people of all sizes. It took them many attempts and countless tests. That’s why, he explains, he particularly enjoys working with product development at their in-house studio. “As soon as our products are finished in the workshop,” Jonas explains, “we have a close dialogue with our partners and manufacturers.”

Form & Refine is a network of signed-up designers. But, as co-owners, Herman leads the way. Their ‘Blueprint’ chair is a celebration of simple design: practical and pleasing in a material that only gets more beautiful with time. Helle Herman Mortensen confirms Jonas’ point that slow living is the premise of everything they make. “Slowness lets us cover every angle a product,” she explains. “That’s our privilege and our responsibility. It’s not like there aren’t enough tables and chairs in the world. So, the furniture we create at Form & Refine has to have durability as its basic DNA.” In a market still obsessed with simplistic Danish design, it takes time to stand out. But time is something Jonas and Helle have in abundance.

Møbel Copenhagen’s founder, Sara Agersborg, and Creative Brand Manager, Marta Pavan, tell me over video link how cooperation is intrinsic to their company’s success. Their recent collaboration, with designer David Thulstrup, saw them make three variations on a pair of side tables. The lower is crafted in glazed ceramic, while the higher is made of coated steel, placed either beside the higher table, or create storage space in between. Agersborg tells me about Møbel Copenhagen’s expansion in 2016, when she decided who would work best to expand their vision. “David Thulstrup,” she explains, “was a first choice. He, like us, is striving for something unique yet clearly Danish.” ‘The Pair’, unveiled in February 2020 at the Stockholm Design Week, has been in the works since 2017. Becoming so complicated, Agersborg says she was often told to give up, but she and Thulstrup persevered by embracing compromise. One of their major compromises, Agersborg explains, was with colour. Originally intended for multiple variations, cost made that impractical, and they were forced to narrow it down to five shades. “That made David impatient, but I think all creative people are like that.”

Describing his style as ‘modern simplicity’, David Thulstrup has completed an international portfolio of residences, restaurants and hotels, including the newly relocated Noma restaurant, but admits this collaboration was challenging. Agersborg says Møbel Copenhagen couldn’t manage without cooperation, but she insists it’s up to companies to find a balance. “If you keep getting designers in,” she explains, “your identity will change. That might be a good or a bad thing, but it’s something you have to bear in mind.” Joining the conversation, Marta Pavan tells me how Scandinavia’s coolness has never had such a strong identity, something particularly visible at the Stockholm Design Week, where Scandinavian brands stood out with their minimalistic approach. She insists simplicity is not a Danish thing. Rather, she says, it’s a Northern European hallmark. Møbel Copenhagen sell across the world, but particularly in the UK. That, she says, shows no signs of slowing.

Extracts of this article have also been published in Nordic Style Magazine.

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