A new Wegner chair with an expression all its own

To mark the 100th anniversary of Hans J. Wegner's birth in 2014, Carl Hansen & Søn has launched the CH88 - a wood and steel chair Wegner designed in 1955 that until now existed only as a prototype.

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"The new CH88 Chair by Wegner, designed in 1955."

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"A chair is a very difficult object. Anyone who has tried to make one knows this. There are endless possibilities and problems - the chair must be lightweight, it must be strong, it must be comfortable. It is almost easier to build a skyscraper than a good chair."

This quote from Mies van der Rohe, one of the greatest pioneers of modern architecture, echoes Hans J. Wegner's sentiments. Wegner also considered creating the perfect chair to be a tremendous challenge - one that became the focal point of his work.

Abounding with ideas, Wegner designed approximately 500 chairs in his lifetime, each one of them showcasing his unique understanding of the materials, construction and applications.

While he created most of his chairs entirely of wood, he also explored and was skilled in working with other materials.

Wegner's chairs vary widely in their stylistic expressions and range from expensive works of furniture art to simpler pieces with fewer handcrafted details. Wegner was comfortable working with the entire spectrum, and strived to accommodate customers for whom price was an important parameter. "I have always wanted to make furniture that ordinary people could afford to buy, but of unusually high quality," Wegner said.

"Wegner always followed one philosophy: if his furniture pieces were as true and natural as possible, they would automatically be beautiful."

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In the mid-50s, Wegner developed a lightweight, steel and wood chair that could be produced at a reasonable price. Exhibiting alongside other top designers such as Alvar Aalto, Wegner presented three different prototypes of the chair at the international H55 Exhibition in Helsingborg, Sweden, organized by the Swedish Design Association, Föreningen Svensk Form. Carl Hansen & Søn has now put one of these prototypes into production - and has high expectations for the revived design.

"Catalog from the H55 Exhibition in Helsingborg, Sweden."

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"In 1955 Wegner presented three different prototypes of the chair at the international H55 Exhibition in Helsingborg, Sweden."

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"The CH88 is a classic Wegner design with a great presence," says Knud Erik Hansen, CEO of Carl Hansen & Søn. "The chair demonstrates Wegner's design talent, his craftsmanship, and his ability to combine different materials. It's exciting to launch a chair that offers so many different options. The most upscale version features stainless steel legs and a leather-upholstered seat. But if you choose the version with a black painted frame and beech seat, it costs EUR 315 - giving even young people the opportunity to own their first Wegner." 

"The endless possibilities of mixing materials and finishes allows for a versatile use of the chair."

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Although the CH88 existed as a prototype, there were no complete drawings of the chair, so Carl Hansen & Søn had to scan the prototype to determine its dimensions and proportions before production could begin. As with his other chairs, Wegner was intently focused on seating comfort when he developed the CH88, and ensured that the distance between the seat and backrest provided optimal back support, with the design facilitating movement while seated. The steam-bent backrest (available in oak or beech) curves slightly at the ends, providing a natural resting place for the arms. The chair also clearly distinguishes between the supporting and supported elements - a fundamental principle in Wegner's work.

"There were no complete drawings of the chair, so Carl Hansen & Søn had to scan the prototype to determine its dimensions and proportions."

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Wegner himself offered this description of the importance of the backrest design: "Many of my backrests are twisted like a propeller because you first need the surface to face one way for the back, and then the other way for the arms. You simply cannot draw such curves. You have to make them by hand and see them."

Carl Hansen & Søn is always careful to stay true to Wegner's original details and design. A chair designed almost 60 years ago, however, had to be updated: the seat, armrests and backrest have been raised slightly to offer today's taller consumers the ergonomic experience Wegner intended.

"The steam-bent backrest curves slightly at the ends, providing a natural resting place for the arms."

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"You simply cannot draw such curves. You have to make them by hand and see them."

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Its light, precise and organic expression makes the versatile CH88 equally at home in private residences, restaurants, cafés and hotels. To add to the design's flexibility, Carl Hansen & Søn slightly modified the seat shape to allow the chairs to be stacked in sets of four, making the CH88 ideal for conference rooms as well.

"I have always wanted to make furniture that ordinary people could afford to buy, but of unusually high quality," Wegner.

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"The design of the seat allows the chairs to be stacked in sets of four, making the CH88 ideal for conference rooms as well."

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The CH88 embodies the essence of what Wegner wanted all his furniture to express. For him, good design was not a style, but rather a method for solving functional problemswithstyle. He always followed one philosophy: if his furniture pieces were as true and natural as possible, they would automatically be beautiful.

The CH88 is right on target.

Experience the craftsmanship that goes into making the CH88 in the video below:

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Sources/quotes:

Hans J. Wegner: on Design, by Jens Bernsen, Dansk Design Center, 1994.

Wegner: bare een god stol, by Christian Holmsted Olesen, 2014.