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When Danish became modern

Danish modern design had its golden age from the early 1950’s and up until the 1970’s. However, the roots were already founded in the 1930’s by Kaare Klint.

Klint careful researched furniture designs based on functionality, proportions adapted to the human body, craftsmanship, and the use of high-quality materials. This became the dogma for a later blooming Danish furniture production.

Even though the tone was set before WWII, it wasn’t until after the war we saw what is known as Danish Modern.

On Tuesday April 9th 1940, Nazi Germany crossed the Danish boarder and occupied the country for the next 5 years. This paused developments and production, due to shortage of materials and a collapsing economy. The Nazi war machine needed the coal, oil and food so rations were introduced on food and energy. During the 5 years of occupancy, northern Europe was facing some of the hardest winters. People could not heat up their homes and prepare food so they were forced to use whatever they could spare. A lot of furniture was chopped up and used as firewood especially in the bigger cities.

In the evening of May 4th, it was announced, that the Nazi troops had surrendered and Denmark was again a free county but it would take years before the economy would start to pick up. By the early 1950’s the wealth among people had grown (partly because of the Marshall aid from the US) and people started moving outside of the cities and suburbs started to develop. Some people could now afford to build their own house and now needed to furnish them. But because a lot was lost during the war, they had to make new ones. The famous schools of design in Denmark had educated a new big generation of architects and designers. Most of them targeted the middle class, but the buyers were skeptical towards the minimalism, functionality and design. They wanted what the rich people once had - old bulky and ornamental pieces made of mahogany and walnut. It was not until the upper class started buying and showing the new Danish Modern design that the middle class too adapted the style.

By the second part of the 1950’s, every city, town and village had cabinet makers hand building Danish Modern design, all with Kaare Klint’s dogma in mind. Functionality, proportions adapted to the human body, craftsmanship, and the use of high-quality materials. Some became very successful and as they rose to fame had hundreds employed.

Europe was still in Post WWII and trade between the countries was slowly beginning to develop and grow. Germany was in ruins and worked as a barrier for Denmark to rest of Europe, so barely any furniture was imported. They were all Made in Denmark.

While the Danes had been in love with the new style for years, it wasn’t until the 1960 televised debate between Richard Nixon and John F. Kennedy, that America got their eyes on Danish Modern. The two candidates were sitting in the Hans Jørgens Wegners JH 501 chair. They become design icons and today it is just called, The Chair.

That sparked an enormous export success and every week containers with Danish design were shipped to the U.S. market and it quickly became a huge brand created by an association called, Danish Furniture Makers and now is considered a style itself - Danish Modern.

All the way up until the mid-1970’s the style was sought after. But a lot of furniture makers in Denmark had forgotten Kaare Klints dogma, looking to make big money and started mass production sacrificing quality. That became the death of the golden age of Danish Modern.

Through the 80’s and 90’s most of the businesses was closed or merged together. Today 20-30 companies still exist and have seen a rapid growth in recent years. Companies like Fritz Hansen and Carl Hansen are still modern day furniture leaders.

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