What is Danish Modern?

We like to go back over the work we have completed on a semi-regular basis.

This helps us see where we have been successful and where we can improve.

As we made our way through the articles on our mid century furniture and interiors blog we realised we had spoken about Danish Modern furniture on several occasions.

However, we also noticed that we have never actually taken the time to explain what that term means.

This is our attempt to make good on that.

What is Danish Modern Furniture? 

We’ve seen it described as a movement, a trend and a style that ran from around the 1920’s to the 1960’s.

The truth is that it probably lies somewhere in the middle of the three and is perhaps better thought of in relation to furniture from the 1940’s to the end of the 60’s.

What most commentators can agree on is that Danish Modern has its roots in the teachings of Kaare Klint, which were in turn heavily influenced by the philosophy of the legendary (and eternally popular with hipsters) Bauhaus school.

Now, we don’t want to get dragged into a discussion on art history.

But, as we understand it, the idea that 'form follows function' and a belief that complementary practices could inform and enhance one another were at the very core of what this school stood for.

These two approaches are central to the idea of Danish Modern, where architect-designers were rife and cabinetmakers in architectural practices were commonplace.

If you need examples, look to Hans Wegner, Arne Jacobsen, Børge Mogensen and Johannes Andersen. 

(If you don’t know already, a piece by any of these designers is likely to be of value.)

Bauhaus Beats

The idea of form following function is a great way to think about Danish Modern design.

Virtually everything ornamental seemed to be viewed with suspicion. 

Furthermore, the dimensions of any piece of furniture were drawn almost exclusively from the proportions of the human body. 

Regular readers of this blog might reasonably interject and ask: “how does that fit with something like Wegner’s Peacock Chair?” and we can see why.

But when you appreciate that the flat sections on the spindles align with the user’s shoulder blades and that the height of the chair is really for support you’ll see the same principles at work.

There is also, we should add, nothing that says functional shouldn't be beautiful.

After all, it’s form follows function not function over form.

Hans Wegner probably said it best himself when he claimed: "A chair is to have no backside. It should be beautiful from all sides and angles."

Either way, the culmination of this way of thinking is clean lines, open shapes that don’t block the passage of light, and support in all the right places.

These characteristics are what people are often referring to when they talk about Danish furniture.

Material World

What you also get when you ask a highly-skilled cabinetmaker-cum-architect to design a chair is a focus on material.

Before we expand on that, however, we need to take a quick step backwards.

There is a misconception that all Danish Modern furniture is made with solid teak, oak or rosewood.

This isn’t the case.

In fact, a high percentage of it is veneer; Danish Modern designers were even among the first to start working with plywood.

However, what is true is that, regardless of what the furniture was made of, it was made of a high-grade version of that material. 

When you hear the word veneer, for example, don’t think cheap laminate. Think sheets of real wood so thick that they can be sanded back when required.

(For what it’s worth, we recommend this work be completed by an professional.)

When these craftsmen did get the chance to design with solid wood, you get something really special.

You can always tell it was designed by someone with an affinity for wood’s unique characteristics and idiosyncrasies, even when it was mass-produced.

While we’re on the subject we should also add that a lot of this furniture was made in large quantities.

Again, don’t be fooled into thinking that this somehow impacts upon the quality of the item because this is not necessarily true either.

That only really becomes an issue after the period associated with the term.

That’s when the manufacturer’s and the licensed manufacturer’s focus on materials began to drift.

So again, when you hear the term Danish Modern, it’s safe to assume that it is synonymous with quality.

Why Does It Have a Name? 

It is not unreasonable to wonder why Danish Modern furniture is not simply referred to as mid century Danish furniture.

The reality is that we don’t have a concrete answer for why it has its own title.

It would be easy to conclude that it had something to do with the success Danish furniture design enjoyed in the USA in the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.

It would be easy to conclude that it was the work of an advertiser desperate to find a catchy moniker that would stick.

However, that would be oversimplifying.

After all, the phrase “mid-century modern” wasn’t coined until Cara Greenberg chose it as the title for her 1984 book on furniture from the period.

It’s hard to know when or why Danish Modern was first used.

What’s interesting to note, however, is that it is searched a great deal more than “Scandinavian Modern” or “Swedish Modern”.

For that reason alone, you can be certain that it exists, it is not just sales-talk and that you can speak to likeminded people about it without sounding mad.

If you'd like to know more about some of the names associated with the period, check out our quick-fire guide to three Danish Modern designers you should know about.

Keep checking the blog, too, as we'll be adding more bios over the coming months.

If all this talk of Danish furniture has whet your appetite, check our Danish Modern collection. 

Should you decide that it doesn't have to be Danish to be great, check our mid century furniture collection.  

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