To celebrate the foundations and legacy of Danish Modern, Carl Hansen & Søn brings to life the story of its founding father, Kaare Klint. Knud Erik Hansen, CEO and third generation owner of Carl Hansen & Søn, and Anne-Louise Sommer, Director of Designmuseum Danmark, discuss Klint’s distinctive approach to design, his legacy as the founding father of Danish Modern and Carl Hansen & Søn’s mission to preserve the unique history and craftsmanship of his iconic designs.
This piece was edited from the live ‘In Conversation’ moderated by Johanna Agermann Ross from London’s Victoria & Albert Museum and recorded at Carl Hansen & Søn’s London showroom during the corresponding exhibition: The Story of Danish Modern Starts Here.
Johanna Agermann Ross: I’ve had discussions a few times about how Kaare Klint is often overshadowed in Danish design history by the later designers, Arne Jacobsen, Finn Juhl, Hans J. Wegner…But of course, all designers owe a great deal to Klint – both his pioneering work and educational legacy.
Anne-Louise Sommer: I completely agree – he should be considered a founding father of Danish Modern. It’s interesting that he is quite unknown; he may have paved the way but you don’t hear much about him.
His furniture is very much respected in design circles and often used in museums and exhibitions, but not in homes or public spaces in the same way as Wegner and so on.
There are many reasons why he is so influential. He was part of the first generation of evolution, or even revolution, in Danish design but also had a great respect for tradition and the roots of his craft. His life and work can be seen as a balance between tradition and innovation.
He once said that ‘a good chair should be from a good old family’ – a philosophy that represents his approach to design and education. He didn’t just throw traditions out of the window, instead he modernised in a more organic, evolutionary way. He believed that modern design should rest profoundly on the traditions set by previous ages, but could be refined and reworked to be of the utmost relevance to those using the furniture today.
Johanna Agermann Ross: Knud Erik, although Kaare Klint came before Wegner, his work has only come into the Carl Hansen & Søn fold recently…
Knud Erik Hansen: Kaare Klint worked for many years for the small Danish furniture craftsmanship workshop called Rud. Rasmussen. They started in 1869 in a workshop in central Copenhagen. Kaare Klint worked there, as did some of the most famous Danish architects and craftsmen. Historically it has a very strong place in Denmark’s design legacy. The company approached me about selling, as it often happens; the new generation wasn’t going to take over the family business and it hadn’t been developing over the years.
It was very nostalgic – it felt like Carl Hansen & Søn when my grandfather started it. But over the years we have developed a modern factory and the best techniques to produce today. I found Rud. Rasmussen fascinating; a glimpse of how things were made ‘in the olden days’. So I bought the company.
Completely with my heart, not my head! Today we produce the stable of Rud. Rasmussen designs in the heart and home of Carl Hansen & Søn, including Kaare Klint’s iconic designs like the Faaborg Chair.
Anne-Louise Sommer: The Faaborg Chair is probably better known than Klint himself. He was very young when he designed it, just in his twenties. It was specifically designed for the Faaborg Museum, a unique place in Denmark, a kind of total art installation where art, architecture and interiors have a wonderful unity. The chair is inspired by different historical archetypes, the Greek Klismos chair is one, and when you stand in front of it and look at the shape you are struck by a refined, elegant language.
The legs look almost too delicate to keep it up but are also the perfect choreographed expression of the chair’s curved form. As well as a methodical approach, Klint also had a strong artistic bent in his designs. The Faaborg Chair reflects light and shadows so well, especially with the weaving – it brings life to the chair.
Anne-Louise Sommer: Klint’s designs span from the most traditional to the most innovative – he had a great understanding of the history of his craft as well as grounding in the twentieth century world that he was living in. He did a lot of measuring and studies into the proportions of the human body – using it as the starting point for design much in the same way as the Da Vinci principles.
Inspiration-wise, he had an almost eclectic approach to which designs he studied and crossed cultures and periods to find the most iconic archetypes: the Chinese chairs of the Ming dynasty, the Chippendale tradition in British furniture, Swedish peasant chairs, Shaker furniture… he pursued getting to the core of the furniture: looking at the physical and metaphorical backbone of a chair.
Johanna Agermann Ross: In his pursuit of getting to the core of a chair, Klint introduced some distinctly new methods in his teaching and the educational syllabus of his furniture design programme at the Academy of Fine Arts. What was his educational legacy?
Anne-Louise Sommer: He was highly influential – you can’t overestimate his role as a teacher. He influenced generations to come and set new principles for teaching in this field. Furniture design was a new programme, previously interiors were considered a minor concern against traditional architectural practice and studies.
Klint professionalised it in a scientific way: looking at considered measurements and rules, setting a new bar for teaching in design. He had many disciples, and his principles can be seen in examples of all of their work: Mogens Koch, Ole Wanscher, Poul Kjærholm and Jørgen Gammelgaard…
Knud Erik Hansen: The only one who steps out is Wegner. He is not so strictly associated with the Klint teachings – he is our golden age rebel…
Anne-Louise Sommer: …I agree that Wegner is something different but I think he was still influenced by Klint’s teaching principles. When Wegner went to design school in late 1930s there were chairs from the Ming dynasty and according to the principles set by Klint the students went to draw and to study and to measure the chairs and really get into the core of the designs. Wegner did this too…and the rest is history! Think about his early chairs, the influence on his later work: he started with the traditions of the Ming dynasty chair and ended with the iconic CH24 Wishbone Chair – taking the archetype of Ming dynasty chair and reinventing it for a new age. So apparently some influence from Klint got through!
Johanna Agermann Ross: We’ve been talking about building legacies and celebrating Danish Modern. How does Carl Hansen & Søn look at legacy building and protection? The design industry faces the challenges of the mass-produced – leading to ambivalence or anonymity for designers and producers. But Carl Hansen & Søn still has a factory in Denmark and protects the traditional craftsmanship and materials of its work, yet it still exists in a very modern context across international markets.
Knud Erik Hansen: I took over the company from my brother – I have only been in the business for 15 years. At many points it has been a struggle, especially to keep it a family business and to protect that legacy.
Many producers have been affected or closed down…especially in recent decades. Carl Hansen & Søn is built with lots of emotion and love involved. And that can be challenging too. We are still a family – it is our choices, our decisions that influence the direction and future of our designers, both new and from our heritage.
The designers we produce and the stories we tell – there are humans at the heart. Real people who are part of our wider family and an authentic Danish design network. We have a very strong sense of belonging: I want to bring the next generation, my sons, into Carl Hansen & Søn - it is the most important thing. We are a Danish company, but we are sustained by our exports, and capturing the minds and hearts of a global audience. We have to develop fast and consider what is happening elsewhere and in new markets. It has always been the way, ever since my grandfather.
Everything since has been a natural, genuine evolution. So retaining and protecting the legacy of Kaare Klint is so important. It goes beyond him: it is not just about the furniture, it is about the stories. A family story. Our legacy is not the objects but the people behind them. That is what makes it worth it.
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When you choose a Carl Hansen & Søn product, you gain more than just a piece of furniture. You become part of a proud tradition of distinctive and beautiful craftsmanship, where nothing has been left to chance. The world’s largest manufacturer of furniture designed by Hans J. Wegner, we also produce works by renowned design masters such as Arne Jacobsen, Børge Mogensen, Ole Wanscher, Kaare Klint, Poul Kjærholm, Mogens Koch, Bodil Kjær and Tadao Ando. Carl Hansen & Søn represents over 100 years of Danish design history and our furniture is sold all over the world.