Her desire to explore spaces and experiment with techniques on the edge of what is possible led Nanna Ditzel – one of Danish design’s most distinctive personalities – to become acquainted with the entire design universe. This unconventional approach to the design process, together with an extensive knowledge of the craft, spawned a range of innovative designs from jewellery to textiles and furniture. Throughout her 60-year career, Nanna Ditzel established herself as one of the most distinctive figures in Danish design. She rethought the functionalist design tradition with her imaginative expressions and left her mark on thousands of private homes and public forums.
From the outset, Nanna Ditzel’s work was characterised by organic and dynamic forms inspired by nature’s diversity. She experimented constantly and managed to create a very personal and expressive idiom, characterised by a profound desire for freedom and an unrelenting urge to improve on well-known objects of use. Nanna Ditzel could not and did not want to feel confined in her work, and she and her husband, furniture designer Jørgen Ditzel, became a natural and important part of the avantgarde designers of the time, who dared to embrace change and innovation and who fit into an
Like several of her contemporaries, Nanna Ditzel first qualified as a cabinetmaker before continuing her studies at the Danish Design School and the School of Architecture. Here she was taught by, among others, Kaare Klint, who is regarded today as the reformer who, with his particular approach to architecture and design, radically abandoned the traditional and style-focused teaching of the time to instead focus on practical studies of architecture and furniture design. At a later time, however, Nanna Ditzel herself broke away from the Klintian school of thought. She followed her imagination and created designs in generous forms inspired by the organic modernism that had flourished on the international design stage during the 1940s.
Nanna Ditzel graduated as a furniture designer in 1946 and married her fellow student Jørgen Ditzel that same year. The two of them founded a design studio in 1946, which they ran together until Jørgen Ditzel’s death in 1961. During the 15 years they worked together, they managed to influence several aspects of Danish design, and their unique furniture pieces designed in materials such as rattan and wood were awarded both silver and gold medals at the world famous Milan Triennial exhibition. The couple also received the Lunning Prize, a Nordic design prize, in 1956.
The collaboration between Nanna and Jørgen Ditzel was enormously successful, and together they developed a range of furniture that broke with traditional design conventions. Combined with a spatial approach, they based their designs on the body and didn’t shy away from challenging familiar materials and craft methods. In many ways, their designs and their endeavour to discover new shapes and functions represented a kind of free play. The couple wanted to develop furniture that supported a freer and richer life. Many of their furniture pieces were created to fit their own needs. One such piece was the legendary high chair, designed by Nanna and Jørgen Ditzel in 1954, which is now part of the Danish Culture Canon.
Nanna Ditzel was still quite young in 1961 when she was suddenly left alone with three little girls and a design studio with a lot of challenging work to do. Nevertheless, during that time she managed to further refine her own expression and create a wide range of designs that are considered classics today. Towards the end of the 1960s, Nanna Ditzel met London-based furniture dealer Kurt Heide. They married in 1968, and Nanna Ditzel moved to London, where the couple created the international showroom Interspace, while Nanna Ditzel continued to nurture her own career on the side.
After Kurt Heide’s death in 1985, Nanna Ditzel moved back to Copenhagen, where she re-established a design studio in her own name. Numerous productive years followed this move, represented particularly by expressive designs that truly came to emphasise her reputation as one of Danish design’s great female contributors and which resulted in her receiving a string of design awards and praises. Throughout the 1990s, Nanna Ditzel worked with the same enthusiasm and curiosity that had characterised her younger years. She ran her design studio with the assistance of fellow design professionals as well as her eldest daughter, Dennie Ditzel, until her death in 2005.
Nanna Ditzel received several distinctions during her life. Among other things, she was appointed Honorary Designer by the Royal Society of Art in London, received the Order of the Dannebrog and was awarded the Danish Arts Foundation’s lifetime achievement grant in 1998. Her awards include the Danish Crafts Council’s Annual Prize and the Thorvald Bindesbøl Medal.
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