Hans J. Wegner
August 5th, 2009 · 4 Comments
If you’re a fan of Danish design, Wegner needs no introduction. On the other hand, let me tell you about this master craftsman whose work you’ve probably already seen without knowing it.
Hans Jørgen Wegner (pronounced “VAY-ner”) was a Danish legend, a prolific artisan producing wood and upholstered furniture for over 60 years. His chairs added comfort and durability to the trendy Danish modern furniture aesthetic and in doing so became design icons. Most Americans were unwittingly exposed to his work during the Nixon-Kennedy debate, where they appeared on television sitting in Wegner’s “The Chair”.
Wegner started designing furniture in the late 1930′s in the Århus office of another Danish design legend, Arne Jacobson. After finishing work in Århus, he moved on to open his own studio in Copenhagen, designing furniture for production by Carl Hansen and Søn, PP Møbler and other prominent Danish firms. His chairs always took inspiration from beautiful antique furniture, such as his Chinese chair. At the same time, they are modern, simple and utilitarian without being stark or forced. Wegner seemed to understand how to make each chair with both a soul and a purpose.
The most distinctive feature of Wegner’s wood furniture is its craftsmanship. Honesty in both materials and manufacture are omnipresent, as are beautifully rounded lines and precise joinery. My favorite Wegner chairs are those constructed using soaped white oak, a beautiful wood with strong marbling and a soft feel. The wood is treated with natural oil-based soap and water, both protecting it and giving it a wonderfully golden hue. Luckily, we were recently able to pick up some of Wegner’s iconic Y Chairs (a.k.a. The “Wishbone” chair) for our dining set, complete with handwoven black papercord. They are gorgeous, and if treated with love they should last the rest of our lifetime.
In short, I’m a Wegner fanatic. As far as I’m concerned the man could do no wrong. When he died in 2007, the world lost one of its most influential designers. Fortunately, his work will stick around for a very long time. Here are some of my other favorite examples of Wegner’s genius.
It is with sadness that I dedicate this post to my uncle, James Shelton, who passed away today. He was a master craftsman and he inspired my love of woodworking from a very young age. He taught me that a beautiful piece of wood is like a piece of art and should be treated with respect. Jim, you will be missed.