i’ve been wanting to craft a series of posts on my favourite design classics for some time now, but my recent visit to copenhagen with danish heritage brands fredericia and georg jensen has finally given me the perfect place to start! i’m always fascinated by the origins of truly iconic pieces of design – be it furniture, home accessories, architecture or fashion – and getting a behind-the-scenes look at the evolution of such classic pieces can be a truly eye-opening experience.
so, following our wonderful induction into the wonderful world of fredericia last month, i’m kicking off this new occasional series with one of the danish heritage brand’s best known and beloved pieces: the spanish chair, designed by børge mogensen in 1958.
considered one of the most influential designers in shaping danish modern design, børge mogensen was fredericia’s founding designer from 1955 until his death in 1972. as a designer he found inspiration all over the world in his quest to create everyday objects with a restrained aesthetic that would endure for generations, preferring to work using refined yet rustic natural materials such as solid oak, natural leather, wool fabrics, and brass mountings.
my goal is to create things that will serve man and give him the lead role, instead of, by the force of the devil, adapt man to the things. ~ børge mogensen
in 1950 mogensen had, for the first time, designed furniture using a solid wood framework with saddle leather forming the seat and back for the copenhagen cabinetmakers’ guild’s exhibition presented furniture under the theme “a hunting lodge”. the designs were inspired by medieval spanish furniture construction, with one of the stand-out pieces from mogensen’s presentation being the hunting chair, with the front seat edge height just 30 cm above the floor.
a few year later in 1958, mogensen evolved this design concept to create the now iconic spanish chair for fredericia. inspired by his journeys in spain, where he observed a traditional type of chair with wide armrests common in areas influenced by ancient islamic culture, mogensen’s take is a low, sturdy armchair made from from the quarter-sawn solid oak, with a highly durable vegetable tanned leather seat and back, secured by a series of brass buckles, much like a belt or as indeed, a saddle. the broad armrests offer a practical place to rest a coffee cup or book, making for a relaxed, comfortable chair to leisurely spend time, in both solo and social settings.
the spanish chair is still handcrafted in denmark today, using the highest quality vegetable-tanned leathers produced by 140-year-old swedish tannery tärnsjö garveri, and we were incredibly privileged to see one of the tannery’s master craftsmen in action during our scandinavian blog tour last month.
it really was fascinating to see just how highly skilled and precise the craftsmanship that goes in to producing one of these design classic chairs, in particular the attention to detail in the finishing touches; from the precise stripping away of excess leather from the back of the chair, to the felt-tip like pen used to seal and dye the edges. after all, this is a chair that has its structure and leatherwork laid bare for all to see, from every angle!
all fredericia leather hides come from bulls reared in the local area surrounding the tärnsjö garveri tannery, a by-product of the local meat industry. these hides are tanned using time-tested techniques and natural materials, to give a warm patina and produce a leather that is strong, with little elasticity; ideal for supporting weight of a seated occupant. once the pieces of the chair have been stitched neatly to form the panels, the excess leather is trimmed using specialist tools – something i had the chance to try my hand at on the tour – and finished with a stroke of the felt-tip-dye along the edges, before eyelets are punched in and buckles fastened in place around the chair’s wooden structure.
to try our hand at this master craft technique, we were each given the chance to make our very own keyring holders using offcuts of the premium leather used in the spanish chair. to do this we needed to master the action of trimming the excess from the pre-cut leather lengths, before punching holes for the eyelets and securing the brass fixings in the right place. suffice to say, it took a little while to master – somehow i don’t think i’m quite ready to apply for a position at the tannery just yet!
and there you have it; a little insight into the highly skilled handcrafted production of børge mogensen’s the spanish chair for fredericia.
many of the most recognisable pieces from mogensen’s portfolio were developed to fit fredericia’s workshop during his career, and to this day fredericia is the primary producer of his furniture, maintaining his high demands for quality, functionality and sense of material very much alive in the brand’s approach to developing new designs today.
all imagery of the spanish chair © fredericia, imagery of #scandidesigntour2017 © fabric of my life. with thanks to fredericia and georg jensen for hosting us in copenhagen.