Danish furniture came to international attention in 1949 when American design journalists showed interest, for the first time, in the annual exhibition of work by Copenhagen’s leading cabinet makers. The exhibition had been held since the 20s, but this time design experts were attracted to the clean lines and functionality of the pieces, which stood out when compared to the decorative flourishes used by furniture makers in other European countries. Danish Modern had taken its place on the world stage.
More than 50 years later, Danish Modern is enjoying its biggest revival since its heyday, and now is an ideal time to look out for originals as well as new editions. ‘I think the current interest in Danish design is because of its relative simplicity. It fits well with any other style, without offending the eye,’ explains antiques dealer Jørgen Dalgaard, owner and founder of JL Dalgaard Gallery. ‘You have Italian, French and Spanish design, which is very wild and very decorative and can be difficult to match with existing pieces in the home. In contrast, Scandinavian design fits in anywhere.’
At the vanguard of Danish Modern was Finn Juhl. In the 50s the self-taught architect and designer took his work to the US, which he presented in solo and group exhibitions. This led to a production deal with American furniture maker, Baker, which continues to produce Juhl’s early designs. His appeal endures, more than 20 years after his death. One of Denmark’s major architectural attractions is Juhl’s former home, which he designed, decorated and furnished in 1942. It is now part of the Ordrupgaard Museum.
Klassik Moderne Møbelkunst, Denmark’s leading gallery dedicated to buying and selling Modern Scandinavian art and design from 1920-1975, opened in Copenhagen in 1991. After a brief dip during the recent financial crisis the vintage furniture market seems to have made a full recovery, according to sales manager Stine Stjernholm.
In March 2011, the city’s main auction house, Bruun Rasmussen, will hold an auction of almost 100 items of Modern furniture, mainly of Danish origin. According to Stjernholm and Dalgaard, the names that international customers will be looking out for are Arne Jacobsen, Poul Kjærholm, NO Møller and Juhl, who has become a particular favourite among Japanese collectors. ‘You just can’t believe how much status Finn Juhl has in Japan. They know much more about him than we Danes do,’ says Henrik Sørensen, co-founder of Onecollection which holds exclusive production rights to many of Juhl’s most celebrated designs. Local customers tend to seek out originals from the equally talented but internationally lesser-known names such as Mogens Lassen, Arne Vodder and Børge Mogensen.
Thanks to the continuation of production by specialist companies, classic Danish design is available to suit a range of budgets. While an original Egg chair by Arne Jacobsen produced in the 1950s can command up to 307,000 DKK at auction, a brand new edition, made by the original manufacturer, Fritz Hansen, costs a comparatively modest 44,000 DKK. Other producers to seek out include Fredericia Furniture, which faithfully recreates the designs of Børge Mogensen, and PP Møbler, a family-owned joinery manufacturing classics by Hans J Wegner.
One significant benefit of buying a re-edition is that the tax will be refunded. According to European Union regulations, value-added tax cannot be claimed on second-hand goods, so be sure to consider this before investing in an original. New or old, Denmark’s timeless design classics make perfect souvenirs – as well as worthwhile investments.