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from christine keeler’s infamous nude photo to the kennedy-nixon live tv debate, danish-design chairs have featured in some of the key moments in modern history.


scandi-style: hans wegner’s shell seat

a copy of arne jacobsen’s Series 7 chair was the prop used to hide christine keeler’s nakedness in that 1963 photo by lewis morley.

and when jfk and nixon slugged it out in a live televised debate that reputedly sealed the fate of the 1960 us election, they were sitting on hans wegner’s round chairs.

that same year, verner panton brought out his s-shaped plastic chair, which 35 years later would grace the cover of vogue – beneath the naked form of kate moss.

what unites these (bared) celebrity bottoms was that they were all seated on icons of danish design.

the rage for all things scandinavian burns bright in the 21st century – this month (october 12-13) at the tobacco dock in wapping, the scandinavia show highlights the best of “nordicool”, across design, fashion, culture and food.

but it was back in the fifties that designers like jacobsen and borge mogensen rose to prominence with a pioneering down-to-earth aesthetic that blended style with function, and simplicity with sophistication.

often using natural materials, these nordic designers reflected their native country’s social awareness and democracy, crafting beautiful items that improved life and were affordable to more than just a wealthy elite.

barnebys co-founder pontus silfverstolpe says it all started in denmark in the fifties.


sitting pretty: arne jacobsen’s Series 7 chair

“a lot of good design came from norway and finland too, but the principles were based on innovative, organic forms, simple design and good craftsmanship.

“it is about more than just a chair: it’s a whole aesthetic.

jacobsen was a trained architect who designed a famous hotel in copenhagen – not just the building but the forks, lamps, everything.”

if many people associate scandinavian design with wood like teak and jacaranda, there was an equal drive towards plastic and steel.

“from the fifties onwards, finland made a lot of fantastic plastic items and aluminium lamps. there’s a real sense of the material; the shapes are fantastic and the quality of the design and production is incredible. after the seventies, when a lot of things were produced in factories, the quality really suffered by comparison.”

of course, the modern inheritor of these shapes and materials – of the democratisation of design if not of the production methods – is swedish homeware and furniture behemoth ikea.

mr silfverstolpe sighs: “as a swede, i am proud of ikea. what it has in common with scandinavian design is the desire to be democratic and to reach everyone.

“but we cannot just go on as we are, buying everything new. our generation is really thinking about sustainability.

“i guarantee you can design your own home – chairs, beds, everything with furniture over 25 years old – from lots you have found on barnebys for the same money as you can at ikea – only the quality is much better.”


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