Hans J. Wegner is an icon on the Danish design scene. Wegner’s simple and quality conscious style has retained its unwavering popularity through generations, resulting in a number of immortal classics.
Wegner belonged to a generation of designers, whose careers started with a skilled craft. He was relentlessly meticulous with his use of materials and was very consumed by the production process itself. Quality craftsmanship was the driving force behind Wegner’s motivation and he refused to comprise his standards.
1. Wegner was untraditional and experimental
When Hans J. Wegner embarked on his career, Danish furniture design was very influenced by Kaare Klint’s functionalist ideas, which advocated clean, straight lines and balanced proportions.
However, Wegner soon developed a personal style that was by influenced by creativity. He had an openness to organic forms and enjoyed using untraditional materials like steel and veneer. Wegner wanted to create the sublime in both form and function, and was very focused on finding the optimal solution for specific challenges.
Hans J. Wegner (1914-2007)
In 1941, Wegner merged forces with the master cabinetmaker Johs. Hansen, giving Wegner the opportunity to experiment with diverse complicated constructions. It was during his time at Johs. Hansen that Wegner created some his most beautiful and extravagant furniture.
2. The Chair became Wegner’s major breakthrough
Hans J. Wegner made his major artistic breakthrough in 1949. Together with the master cabinetmaker Johs. Hansen, Wegner exhibited three different chairs: The large Shell Chair, the Folding Chair and the chair that marked his transition from experimental Danish furniture architect to international design star: The Round Chair or The Chair, as it is simply known today.
The Chair by Hans J. Wegner
The Chair received overwhelming acclaim in the American furniture magazine Interiors Magazine, arousing the interest of international furniture dealers in Danish furniture design in general.
1949 did not merely represent Wegner’s breakthrough in terms of his artistic recognition, but on a commercial level too. Wegner started collaborations with several furniture factories, and the association developed during the 1950s into SALESCO, which became one of Denmark’s largest furniture companies.
3. He could draw before he could walk
Wegner’s cabinetmaker career began in 1932, when he passed his apprenticeship. He was very ambitions from the outset and wanted to start as a master cabinetmaker after his apprenticeship.
However, his ambitions had to be put on standby for a while, as after a visit to the annual Copenhagen Cabinetmakers Guild’s Furniture Exhibition, he was forced to admit to himself that some of his cabinetmaking skills still lacked a certain finesse.
Wegner subsequently decided to take a course at the Technological Institute and was afterwards accepted at The Danish School of Arts and Crafts. This is where Wegner’s career as a furniture architect really took off, and he started working as a designer at the studio of the architect duo, Arne Jacobsen and Erik Møller.
Wegner’s talent was apparent from a very young age. By all accounts, he could draw and cut before he could walk, and was already very interested in carving pictures in his early teens.
4. The Peacock Chair was an (almost) impossible task
The Peacock Chair from 1947 is one of Wegner’s masterpieces, and perhaps the finest example of his work from his time with master cabinetmaker Johs. Hansen.
The chair was an almost impossible construction, but Wegner had time to experiment, with impressive results. The chair is produced today by PP Møbler.
The Peacock Chair by Hans J. Wegner
5. Wegner went against the commercial grain
Throughout the 1950s and ‘60s, Wegner produced a wealth of furniture, with a large proportion of them going on to become classics. Wegner left SALESCO in 1969, as the high quality and craftsmanship skills that were so important to him were no longer in demand.
The furniture industry was becoming increasingly commercial, but Wegner refused to compromise his principles. He insisted that the quality and execution of his work remain at a consistently high level.
Wegner stayed true to himself throughout his entire career. Despite enjoying enormous commercial success, he never compromised the quality of his work. Wegner retained a timeless and fastidious approach to design, which is one of the reasons why his designs are relaunched over and over again.
Wegner’s design studio since 1965. This is where new models were designed, and old models that had been placed at numerous small large manufacturers, were maintained. The large streetlamp in the middle was designed together with his daughter Marianne i 1976.
Hans Jørgen Wegner - Timeline
1914 Born 2nd April in Tønder, Denmark. The father is a master cobbler and esteemed councillor.
1931 Apprenticed as a carpenter. After his compulsive military service, he moves to Copenhagen. Courses at Technological Institute and The Danish School of Arts and Crafts.
1938 Makes his debut at Copenhagen Cabinetmakers Guild’s Furniture Exhibition.
1939-40 Works for Erik Møller and Arne Jacobsen on Aarhus town hall and Nyborg library projects, where he designs the furniture.
1940 Marries Inga Helbo, and together they have two daughters, Marianne and Eva.
1947 Great recognition for the Peacock Chair
1949 Exhibits The Round Chair at Copenhagen Cabinetmakers Guild’s Furniture Exhibition. It arouses particular interest in USA – the start of his international breakthrough.
1951 SALESCO collaboration is established.
1969 Collaboration with SALESCO ceases. Later that year he starts a new partnership with PP Møbler.
1986 Participated in the SE exhibition with the Circle Chair, one of his last great chairs.
1993 Wegner withdraws from his cabinetmaker work and stops completely at the design studio.
2007 Dies on 26th January.