Danish Modern or “American” Danish Modern?
By Bradley Downs
Scandinavian design, also referred to as Danish Modern, is quite hot right now. So hot that a certain design by famed Danish designer, Finn Juhl, has fetched upwards of $40,000.00 for just ONE chair! (That would be the Chieftain Chair, pictured). Other noted designers from Denmark include, but are definitely not limited to, Hans Wegner, Niels O. Moller, Arne Jacobsen, Borge Mogensen, IB Kofod Larsen, Peter Hvidt, Grete Jalk and the list literally goes on and on.
True Danish furniture and objects of design mainly consist of either solid Brazilian rosewood or solid teak and some oak. The choice for rosewood was obvious as the grain and figure of the wood made a statement of its own, not to mention the strength of the wood itself. But, even in the early years of its use, furniture manufactures knew it would soon be discontinued due to the fact that it was not an easily renewable resource. Teak, on the other hand, was a great choice for many Danes as it is an extremely durable, hard wood resistant to moisture and certain insects such as termites. It is also quite strong, assuring the designer that his/her work would endure for many years and that is exactly what we are seeing at this time, 50-plus-year old teak furniture hitting the market with another 50-plus-years of use left in it.
I like to refer to Danish Modern as the first true “green furniture” to come to market. It was mass-produced but on a scale where it was still handmade and often designed as “knock-down” furniture. Produced in Denmark, disassembled, shipped to Canada or the U.S., and then easily reassembled by the store owner or purchaser.
In contrast, many American furniture manufactures of the 1950s and 1960s attempted to emulate the Danes quality and craftsmanship with no such luck. The American manufacturers used cheaper fruit woods, pine and sometimes solid walnut. Some got it almost right, and their popularity has grown to this day. One of which is Adrian Pearsall’s company, Craft Associates, of Burkesville Indiana. Adrian was head designer for this company which was headed up by him and his brother during the 1950s and 1960s and they were eventually bought by Lane, another U.S. company attempting “Danish Modern” and using high quality materials and craftsmanship, but failing in the vicinity of true “design.” Some out there would call the work of Vladimir Kagan “Danish,” but in fact, his designs were very far left of Scandinavian and too avant-garde to fit in with the convention of Danish design.
Other American companies, many of which were old, established names in the furniture industry, jumped on the bandwagon using heavy, mottled stains, Formica, visible screws and other poor techniques calling it Danish Modern. Not to say that American furniture is bad, quite the contrary. But, when it comes to true Danish style and quality, nothing compares to the manufacturers of Denmark, Sweden and a small few in England.
How do you compare these pieces when found? First off, if it is a vintage item and it is teak, then it is most likely from Denmark or Sweden and will be marked as such. If the piece carries serial or model numbers and does not appear to be teak, then it is most likely American. Teak wood carries a tight, very straight grain and the color carries a reddish, almost cherry tint. Older teak furniture can be very dark in color but will still carry the tight grain. Walnut or ash is a dead give away to being a piece made in the U.S.. Always look the item over with a fine toothed comb as labels, burned signatures and metal tags often reside on pieces made in Denmark. I have found signatures in drawers, under drawers and on the back or bottom of the piece itself.
Danish Modern furniture is warm, inviting and very well designed. It is also very functional and pieces can be found for every room of the house. If you are planning on decorating a room in your home “ala mid century,” then pieces from Denmark are an excellent choice!
Worthologist Bradley Downs is owner of www.odd2mod.com in Atlanta, Ga.
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