If you work in the office furniture industry and are asked to cite a famous or notable designer there is a strong chance that the name Arne Jacobsen will be put forward. As a designer , if you are credited with a design that becomes ‘iconic’ you can be justifiably proud. Some would say that FOUR iconic designs is simply greedy!! When you find out that Jacobsen never called himself a ‘designer’ and that furniture design was very much secondary to his main career as an architect, this becomes all the more remarkable.
Born in Copenhagen in 1902, Arne Emil Jacobsen grew up wanting to be a painter. His Father, considering this a most insecure profession, persuaded the young Arne that architecture was a more sensible career choice. Jacobsen attended the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts from 1924-27 and in 1925, while a student there, won a Silver Medal at the Exposition Internationale des Arts Decoralifs et Industriels Modernes for a chair design.
His career as an architect flourished from 1932 until his unexpected death in 1971. Notable commissions during a career in which he was described as a main protagonist of the International Modern Style, were the buildings and grounds for St Catherine’s College, Oxford and the SAS Royal Hotel described at the worlds’ first ‘designer hotel’. It was this hotel commission that that allowed Jacobsen to put into practice his theory of ‘total design’. Jacobsen not only designed the hotel building, he also designed the grounds, all the internal spaces and internal fitments, the furniture and decorations: even the ashtrays for sale in the souvenir shops and the livery of the buses bringing guests from the airport!!
In 1934, Jacobsen teamed up with the well-known, high quality Danish furniture manufacturer Fritz Hansen. This collaboration would continue throughout Jacobsen’s career and would be key to his success as a furniture designer.
The Ant – 1952
This chair was originally designed for the canteen of Danish Healthcare company Novo Nordic and was the breakthrough product from the Jacobsen / Fritz Hansen collaboration. The chair almost failed at the prototype stage, however, as Fritz Hansen was not convinced of the chairs’ commercial potential. Jacobsen was and agreed to personally buy any chairs produced that remained unsold. His faith in the design was justified and The Ant, with its three legs and ultra-modern look became the first Arne Jacobsen ‘icon’.
Series 7 – 1955
How do you follow the fact that your first chair gains iconic status? By ensuring that your second one does too!! The Series 7 chair is considered to represent the ultimate use of the laminator’s art: the process of bonding different layers of wood in different directions and then steam bending them into shape. This technique was perfected in the Fritz Hansen factory and Jacobsen pushed the boundaries of their skill to create this iconic shape. If you create icons, be prepared for them to be copied!! The Series 7 is considered to be the worlds’ most copied chair with millions sold every year based on the original design. The most famous example of a copy in popular culture? Look no further than the classic Lewis Moody shot of Christine Keeler.
Is this an Arne Jacobsen Series 7 chair?
No it isn’t!! Jacobsen never built a hand-hold aperture into his chairs but the use of a chair so similar for a photo that took the world by storm simply reinforced Jacobsen’s status.
The Egg and The Swan – 1958
Egg Easy Chair
Swan Easy Chair
The Radisson SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen was the commission that allowed Jacobsen to pursue his idea of ‘total design’. It also resulted in the creation of these two extraordinary chairs that were used in the Lobby and Reception areas of the hotel. Jacobsen’s inherent understanding of what looked and felt right allowed him to create these furniture pieces that were ‘all curves, no solid lines’ to be placed in a building that was resolutely linear.
Radisson SAS Hotel Lobby Copenhagen
Original Reception from 1960
In the late 1950’s the production processes used to create these chairs were technologically extremely innovative. A moulded synthetic shell was covered in a layer of cold cured foam which was then upholstered in either fabric or leather. The original prototypes of these chairs were made in Jacobsen’s garage, perfected by Fritz Harris and have been in continuous production ever since.
Four iconic designs, one great designer.