THE POLITICS OF DESIGN: KAARE KLINT AND PRIME MINISTER STAUNING’S OFFICE
Introducing the story of Kaare Klint’s work for former Prime Minister Thorvald Stauning, when the designer was asked to design a very famous office
Kaare Klint was renowned for designing furniture that first and foremost served its primary, functional intention. His insistence on clean lines, the finest craftsmanship and logical design was famously apparent in his approach to the office of Danish Prime Minister Thorvald Stauning on his re-election in 1929.
Stauning is considered one of the most admired Danish statesmen of the twentieth century. As the first - and much renowned - Social Democratic Prime Minister in Denmark, he developed the country’s social welfare state and steered the country through a period of economic depression and high unemployment. He cultivated an attitude and approach to politics that crossed the social class divides and won him mass support.
Some have argued that it was a peculiar choice for a Social Democrat to commission such extravagant furniture for his second-term office, but Stauning was a man with a progressive outlook. Although we have no official confirmation that it was Stauning himself who commissioned Klint, there is on reflection, a certain sensibility in choosing the designer for this particular project.
Klint, much like Stauning, was regarded as a reformer, whose approach to architecture and design broke radically with the traditions of the time and shifted the onus of design from style to function. He believed that furniture should suit the use and carefully studied the human body to understand how it could be best supported. He soon became well respected and admired for his awareness of proportion and function in design.
Prime Minister Thorvald Stauning
Thorvald Stauning in his office decorated with furniture designed by Kaare Klint. Photo credits: Royal Danish Library
We can certainly infer that Klint would have approached the design of Prime Minister Stauning’s furniture with the same exacting sense of purpose. The chairs were based on the Red Chair made for the then Danish Museum of Art & Design (today Designmuseum Danmark) but the design was adapted to introduce armrests. The original Red Chair was based on an English Chippendale chair which had, Klint declared, an exemplary frame. However, he deemed the decorative style of the traditional Chippendale chair’s backrest too uncomfortable, and so for his design borrowed from another English chair with decorative rococo legs but a simple backrest. The Red Chair Series is still in production today and has long been considered an excellent example of Klint’s contemporary yet timeless reinterpretation of classic chair archetypes.
Of course, in Stauning’s office the workspace was the focal point. Klint designed a large desk, inspired by classical English models, next to a circular table that could be interfaced to form a combined work and conference table.
A practical solution from the designer combined with the grand finish of polished Cuban mahogany wood.
The sofa Klint designed for Stauning was also deliberate and functional in its design. As a traditional opulent, relaxing sofa would have been out of place in an office of power, Klint designed a high-sided sofa where those sitting would be supported but upright, rather than slouched into soft, cosy cushions. Klint divided the eight-legged sofa into three sections, each with its own crossbars that serves both an aesthetic and functional purpose. This approach ensured more room for people’s legs, and also made it easier to get up from the sofa. This, combined with the high sides, make it comfortable and easy to use. The sofa is still in production today, a testament to how Klint’s ‘politics of design’ – his functionalism – stood the test of time long after Stauning left office.
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