The Master of Masters: Hans Wegner

The Master of Masters: Hans Wegner

DENMARK (1914–2007) “A chair,” according to Danish designer Hans Wegner, “is to have no backside. It should be beautiful from all angles.” This principle guided Wegner in the design of every one of the 500 chairs he developed during his lifetime—100 of which were ultimately put into production. But of all these, just one, his 1949 Round Chair, went on to earn the internationally recognized nickname of “The Chair,” an honor shared by no other design before or since” - Anna Carnick 

Hans Wenger, along with Finn Juhl, is considered to be the most important danish designers of the 20th century modernism movement. His iconic designs paired with quality materials, thoughtful shapes, and exacting execution catapulted him to the forefront of Danish modernism. His design aesthetic, dubbed organic functionalism, emphasized functionality paired with beautiful organic form. Today, Wegner’s designs are some of the most sought after pieces of the Mid century modern era.

“His early training included both carpentry and architecture, and in the early 1940s he worked for Erik Møller and Arne Jacobsen designing furniture for the Aarhus City Hall, in Aarhus, Denmark, before establishing his own furniture studio. Until the 1960s, Wegner collaborated with cabinetmaker Johannes Hansen to realize his designs” (Source DWR 2020), most notably the gracefully tapered and curved solid-wood chair known as “The Round Chair” which has been called the most beautiful chair in the world. The story goes that Wegner was working with an apprentice and ask him to grab the chair. The apprentice asked which chair? Wegner replied “The Round One over there”  

“The debut of the Peacock Chair (1947) at the Cabinetmakers’ Guild of Copenhagen was a turning point in Wegner’s career, and from then on his work was in demand. For years he was compelled to produce a new chair for the show each spring, designing such well-known pieces as the Folding Chair (1949), the Round Chair (1950) and the Flag Halyard Chair (1950), completing over 200 chairs in all. He frequently turned to traditional furniture for inspiration for his modern designs. The Chinese Chair (1944) draws on 17th-century Chinese seating, while the Peacock Chair, with its fanlike back, recalls the hoop form of the Windsor chair.  Wegner occasionally experimented with laminates, as in the Three-Legged Shell Chair (1963), or steel and oxhide, as in the Ox Chair (1960) for Erik Jørgensen. While he is best known for his chairs, Wegner has also created memorable cabinetry, desks, tables, beds and lighting.” (Source DWR 2020)  

Over the years, Wegner perfected the design and production of his work, although the entire process remained lengthy. Wegner’s preferred method of working was to start with a sketch from which he would make a 1:5-scale model and then a full-scale model. Before beginning production, each piece of furniture was drawn at full scale on a single sheet, with the drawings – two elevations and a top-down view – superimposed on one another.  (Source DWR 2020)  

“Asked to articulate Wegner’s impact on global design, Høstbo asserts, “He had considerable skills as a craftsman and was able to make his own furniture; in that sense he was quite unique. It was part of Wegner’s mind-set that a piece of furniture was never put into production before it had been fully developed. Whenever he had created a new piece of furniture, he took it home and tried it out over a period of time in order to discover possible weaknesses or ways to improve its design and functionality. His innate talent for the craft added to the superb quality of his furniture and thereby raised the standard of furniture design on the global furniture arena.” (Source Pamono 2020)

Wegner's furniture is present in multiple international collections including the Museum of Modern Art in N.Y. and Die Neue Sammlung in Munich. Prior to his death in 2007 Wegner said, “‘The Chair’ (meaning the perfect chair) does not exist, the good chair is a task one is never completely done with”