Mid Century Makers: Bruno Mathsson

Two questions arose from the research we conducted for this article:

  1. Does Bruno Mathsson furniture even qualify as mid-century furniture?
  2. Was Bruno Mathsson unhinged?

To further compound matters, attempts to separate our answers into distinct entities proved anything but straightforward.

The confusion that surrounds the first question comes from the fact that many of Mathsson’s best known designs date from the 1930’s.

They were not, it would appear, put into any kind of mass production until the 60’s.

This is where things start to get complicated.

Look into why it took so long to get there and you start to get the impression that Mathsson was a mercurial talent.

Some commentators have claimed that the reason Mathsson rebuffed all attempts to license his designs was because he would not cede any control of any kind to anybody.

For example, the marketing brains behind the early Mathsson product was, well, Mathsson.

Others have gone even further to claim that the constant badgering by eager furniture manufacturers drove the man to architecture.

This was not a career change as such. Mathsson simply taught himself architecture and attempted to practise it in the mid century years.

This is the kind of anecdotal evidence that led us to wonder about what sort of man he was.

We turned, rightly or wrongly, to his designs for answers.

There can be no argument that they are striking and that they engender an opinion (his first chair, nicknamed the Grasshopper, was so loathed by the staff of the hospital for which it was designed that they hid it in a cupboard for years).

Was this the work of a man desperate to demonstrate his own brilliance? He certainly made no attempts to hide his hand in the mould of Vodder and Mogensen.

We must admit that we were swaying until we came across the story of Mathsson plonking himself down into a snow-drift to study the shape his body left.

This caused us to look a little closer and we began to realise that functionality and ergonomics, and not a massive ego, were at the heart of each of his designs.

And when you sit in one of his chairs, it becomes very clear that the playful design elements are just that: they enhance but do not define the furniture.

Mathsson’s chairs cradle you in a way that few, if any, can replicate and it really is a reassuring experience.

So, we decided that the answer to both of the questions that plagued us was yes and no.

Or to put it another way, he was simply way ahead of his time and certainly worthy of a profile on this site.

And with that let’s attempt to answer some questions that should, we hope, have far more concrete answers:

Bruno Mathsson Karin chair

Where to Buy Bruno Mathsson Furniture?

As ever, the first place we are going to recommend you try is right here.

In fact, why not take yourself to our vintage Bruno Mathsson furniture range right now to see what’s currently on offer.

Failing that, the usual suspects like Pamono, 1st Dibs and Vinterior usually have stock.

Some of our neighbouring MCM vendors may also be able to help you.

We would, however, exercise caution when taking your search to eBay and Gumtree. There is a lot reproduction furniture out there that looks convincing but will not replicate that aforementioned cradling sensation.

Bruno Mathsson furniture can also be purchased new from Bruno Mathsson International, Dux and Tendo in Japan.

We have never heard or seen anything to suggest that the quality of a new piece is any different from that of a well-maintained, vintage equivalent.

When and Where was Bruno Mathsson born?

Mathsson was born in Värnamo, Sweden in 1907. He was the son of a fourth-generation cabinetmaker, so it is perhaps unsurprising that his career developed as it did.

He passed away in his hometown in 1988, aged 81.

Where was Bruno Mathsson Furniture Made?

Primarily in his native Sweden but as we have mentioned it was also made under licence in Japan.

His early designs were manufactured by his father’s company (Karl Mathsson of Värnamo) before he entered into a highly lucrative partnership with Dux in the 1960’s.

What is Bruno Mathsson Furniture Made From?

More blonde wood than dark. Expect birch, beech and also ply.

He worked extensively with laminated wood (which he favoured because it could be bent easily) and in his later years he turned to tubular steel.

Bruno Mathsson for DUX

How to identify Bruno Mathsson Furniture?

Almost all the Bruno Mathsson items we have sourced have been marked by both the maker and the manufacturer.

Dux items are, by and large, quite good for this.

If you are lucky enough to find a Mathsson for Mathsson piece, then you may, all things going well, find a sticker detailing the name of the designer, manufacturer, the date and the model number.

Find one of these as a seller and you could be on to a winner.

Otherwise look for plaid weaved upholstery, striking m-shaped seat frames or a metallic base that looks a bit like a Trivial Pursuit playing piece.

These are some, if not all, of the tell-tale signs of a Mathsson design.

Bruno Mathsson armchair

What was Bruno Mathsson’s Most Famous Design?

It’s not our favourite but this title goes to the Super-Elliptical dining table he designed in conjunction with Danish mathematician Piet Hein and another mid century furniture legend Arne Jacobsen.

Look, it’s a lovely table but the piece we love the most is the Pernilla chair (which was so named after Mathsson was interviewed by Swedish lifestyle writer Pernilla Tunberger. We’ll let you fill in the blanks on this story).

Great news about the Pernilla chairs is that they are relatively easy to come by and it is possible to get one in good condition for well under £1,000.

Is Bruno Mathsson Furniture Valuable?

Mathsson furniture is not always as valuable as you might expect. For example, £750 can go a long way towards a Mathsson chair.

However, some of the older Mathsson pieces (those made by his father’s company) and some of the more intricate designs (ones where the upholstery folds down over the armrests) can command a very high price indeed.

It’s a mixed bag on this one, we’re afraid. Both buyers and sellers can win.

How to Care for Bruno Mathsson Furniture?

A coat of Danish oil or our very own beeswax every six months will go a long way to ensuring that the wood retains its natural lustre.

If you choose to go a different way just make sure that whatever you use is natural and contains no solvents.

Wipe down mess and stains with a damp (not wet) cloth.

Upholstery work should always be carried out by a professional. 

Sand solid wood pieces with caution and always sand the whole piece to ensure a consistent finish.

Don’t sand veneer furniture. If there is a blemish that is driving you to distraction, seek the help of a professional.

For tubular steel pieces, signs of rust can often be reduced by scrubbing the area with lime juice and wire wool.

Give these items a general clean with a damp cloth (you may also want to use a little dishwashing detergent).

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