Is Danish Modern the furniture style of our time?
When the two lions of our craft, Maloof and Krenov, died in such quick succession, it felt like the end of an era for many of us. Check out this insightful letter by Peter Korn of the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship (Fall 2009 newsletter). This feeling he expresses so eloquently –““For woodworkers of my generation, it is an uneasy transition.
We find ourselves stationed on the front lines of life, with no one marching ahead”–brought me back to a few questions I’ve pondered in the past:
While Maloof and Krenov certainly created the template for the modern studio furnituremaker, did they usher in an identifiable furniture style? As Korn points out, Maloof and Krenov were a study in contrasts, both in personality and how they designed and built furniture.
Recently, however, while the art director and I were looking for a modern credenza to go under a flat-screen TV, we may have stumbled onto the answer.
To some of you, this will be no surprise. Scandinavian furniture, specifically Danish Modern, binds together a lot of 20th century furnituremaking.
Once you discover the work of Finn Juhl, Hans Wegner, Ole Wanscher, et al, it is hard to see Maloof, Krenov, Nakashima and others as American originals. As most of you know, Krenov trained for 30 years in Sweden, and while Maloof never really admitted it, his work, especially his early stuff, is very similar to Wegner’s and others’. By the way, Tage Frid, one of the founding contributors of Fine Woodworking magazine, was born and shaped in Denmark, and his furniture showed it. Check out the mid-century Danish stuff available in online galleries. Here are two good ones: Dansk Møbelkunst and Danish-Furniture.com. The designs are surprisingly fresh.
Our most recent Readers Gallery (FWW #210) is dedicated to recent work by Krenov’s students, many now masters in their own right. And there I can see many hewing even closer to the Danish Modern line, maybe even some without knowing it. Does that mean this influential style has legs, so to speak? Is it strong enough to survive into the 21st century? I think it is. It has a clean modern look, yet it is emininently functional and undeniably handmade. And wood is the star, though the style accepts metal and other media nicely. I’m interested to see where modern makers will take it.
It is easy to look back on furniture history, and see how 18th-century styles, followed by Shaker and Arts & Crafts, each arose from a specific culture and commercial context. Is it even possible for a cohesive style to coalesce out of today’s fractured culture, with mass-production of disposable goods dominating commerce? And does Danish Modern hold the key?
Lots to chew on here. What do you think?
It is obvious that Sam Maloof was influenced by mid-century Danish Modern furniture. These are all Maloof pieces.
Krenov's furniture shows his Scandinavian roots. The cabinet-on-stand is a popular Danish Modern form, and the feet on this Krenov piece are typical of the style.
The feet on this cabinet by Borge Mogensen are similar to Krenov's. Many Danish Modern cabinets are put on some kind of stand, to make the drawers more accessible.
Hans Vegner made this chair in 1949. Maloof clearly borrowed the arms for some of his own designs (not that there's anything wrong with that).
Finn Juhl designed this chair in the 1940s. Maloof's chairs echo this one, too.
Low consoles that overhang a narrow base are also very typical of the Danish Modern style. Note how this compares to the Maloof cabinet shown above, and the Nakashima one below.
George Nakashima's "Conoid Room Divider" comes out of the same bag, though Nakashima makes the piece his own with a characteristic thick timber base.
Ian Vincent Godfrey, who studied woodworking at Inside Passage School in British Columbia, shows what a contemporary maker can do with the Danish Modern style.
As Krenov proved, Danish Modern mixes very well with Asian influences. This storage bench was made recently by former Krenov student J-P Vilkman.
Ross Day, another accomplished Krenov pupil, used clean, spare Danish lines in this cherry chair.