The eye-catching work of the Danish architect and designer Arne Jacobsen often introduces new collectors to mid-20th century furniture. With their fluid lines and sculptural presence, Jacobsen’s signature pieces — the elegant “Swan chair” and the cozy-yet-cutting edge “Egg chair,” both first presented in 1958 — are iconic representations of both the striking aesthetic of the designers of the era and their concomitant attention to practicality and comfort. Jacobsen designed furniture that had both gravitas and groove.
Though Jacobsen is a paragon of Danish modernism, his approach to design was the least “Danish” of those who are counted as his peers. The designs of Hans Wegner, Finn Juhl, Børge Mogensen and others grew out of their studies as cabinetmakers. They prized skilled craftsmanship and their primary material was carved, turned and joined wood. Jacobsen was first and foremost an architect, and while he shared his colleagues’ devotion to quality of construction, he was far more open to other materials such as metal and fiberglass.
Many of Jacobsen’s best-known pieces had their origin in architectural commissions. His molded-plywood, three-legged “Ant chair” (1952) was first designed for the cafeteria of a pharmaceutical company headquarters. The tall-backed “Oxford chair” was made for the use of dons at St. Catherine’s College, Oxford, whose Jacobsen-designed campus opened in 1963. The “Swan,” “Egg” and “Drop” chairs and the “AJ” desk lamp were all created as part of Jacobsen’s plan for the SAS Royal Copenhagen Hotel, which opened in 1960. (The hotel has since been redecorated, but one guest room has been preserved with all-Jacobsen accoutrements.) To Jacobsen’s mind, the chief merit of any design was practicality. He designed the first stainless-steel cutlery set made by the Danish silver company Georg Jensen; Jacobsen’s best-selling chair — the plywood “Series 7” — was created to provide lightweight, stackable seating for modern eat-in kitchens. But as you will see from the objects on these pages, style never took a backseat to function in Arne Jacobsen’s work. His work merits a place in any modern design collection.