Northern Exposure

By Ruth Kennelly

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Forma Interiors Magazine, Volume 3 Issue 5.

Danish Design

In 1961 a group of Danish lecturers and designers examined Ireland’s design industry, which led to the establishment of the Kilkenny Design Centre in 1965. Once again the minimalist eye of Danish design has been cast over the Irish furniture scene. September saw the launch of the Great Danes exhibition in Habitat on St Stephen’s Green; a homage to design, from a country once described as a ‘playground of architectural pleasure’.

When questioned about the unique qualities of Danish design in a European context Karen Kjærgaard designer of the ‘I chair’ considers the tradition in Denmark to have been both inspired and dictated by the Shakers and Bauhaus, with an emphasis on “function, usability and natural materials”.

Louise Campbell’s response to a request for innovative waiting room seating provided one of the main features of the exhibition; an upholstered seesaw coupled with a table complete with knives to allow individuals to carve a record of their visit. A graduate of Denmark’s Design School in 1995, Campbell also holds a bachelors’ degree from the London College of Furniture.

“Co-operation between RKDO and the family behind Randers has grown into a daily dialogue that covers new products, new details, new technologies and the fitting out of two showrooms”

Not all of the exhibits were new to Ireland, Holger Strom’s ‘IQ’ light which is composed of thirty parts was developed whilst working in the Kilkenny design centre in 1972. He was originally asked to create a modular construction for a cylindrical and a spherical lamp to appear in the Christmas window. Holger’s design proved so popular though that through the seventies Kilkenny Illuminations Ltd, manufactured and sold around 20,000 lights worldwide. In 1999 the light was re-launched by Bald & Bang, Copenhagen.

Another great exhibit was Nanna Ditzel’s ‘Bench for Two’, created as a prototype in 1989 and manufactured since 1990, it is a bench / love-seat hybrid. The sitter is positioned upright, facing a sitter on the opposite side of a small coffee table integrated into the structure. The material for the design is millimetre-thin plywood with a striped silk surface-print, which gives the piece a strong sense of movement. The matching table was originally four sided, but became rounded so as to relate to the rounded back.

In the midst of this conceptual exhibition it is easy to forget that Danish design has already had a positive influence on many Irish interiors on a far more subtle level in the form of retailers such as Inreda and ID Design. To get a further insight into the current influence of Danish design on the Irish scene Forma Interiors spoke to Frank Peterson of ID Design. Simple, clean, flexible and small is how Frank describes the basis for Danish design and considering the size of the new apartments mushrooming around the capital it is hardly surprising that its small multi-purpose furniture is becoming increasingly popular. The Evo chair, designed by Norwegian architect Anders Norgaard, is sculptural and being constructed from moulded fibreglass, is lightweight, and available in more than 40 finishes. Unsurprisingly ID Design considers this one of their main attractions.

On one level it is easy to over look Irish furniture in favour of the Danish genre however, in a comparisons between the two traditions drawn up by, Stuart Rosenfeld of Columbia University, New York states, “In Ireland, the students strength is their knowledge of design and the modern management techniques, but few firms are ready for their talents. This leaves the student with three choices 1, leave Ireland to work, 2, convince a company to accept their help in modernizing or 3, start their own company.” Danish students however “are valued because of the experience and abilities they acquire during their 20-week workplace education terms. Demand for furniture designers in Denmark out places supply”. Interestingly in comparison to the homeland of Mr Rosenfeld where 80% choose furniture design for its employment opportunity, 88 % of Irish and 67 % of Danish students choose furniture design as it ‘matches their interest’.

A legacy of design has been in left to Denmark and its Nordic neighbours in the work of Arne Jacobsen, Verner Panton and Nanna Ditzel amongst others. This heritage is constantly being reviewed and reassessed by contemporary Danish designers and the manner in which Danish design manufacturers such as Eric Joergensen (Louise Campbell’s see-saw bench) and Randers (Karen Kjaergaard’s ‘I’ chair) harness the talents of their native design students highlights what is lacking in our own industry. “Co-operation between RKDO and the family behind Randers has grown into a daily dialogue that covers new products, new details, new technologies and the fitting out of two showrooms”, says Kjærgaard. However as pointed out by Danish Furniture Designer Tomas Pedersen “for Danish design to be leading in the world is it important that one also dares to think in new ways as they did in the 1950’s and 1960’s”.


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