The complexities of chair design should not be underestimated. As legendary architect Mies van der Rohe once said, ‘it is almost easier to build a skyscraper than a chair’. However, Danish designer Hans J Wegner (1914-2007) overcame these difficulties to become one of the 20th century’s most prolific creators of seating.
Wegner began learning his craft at an early age; in his teens he was a carpenter’s apprentice, before attending The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen. After his studies, in 1942, he worked in architecture, assisting design legends such as Arne Jacobson and Erik Moller, who at the time were both involved in the redesign of the Aarhus City Hall building in Denmark.
While working on this project, Wegner discovered a book by furniture designer Ole Wanscher, titled Mobeltyper (Furniture Types). One of the pages depicted a Chinese armchair with a rounded, slanted back that was modelled on an early Chinese Emperor’s throne.
This image captivated Wegner and inspired him to open his own design studio in 1943. A year later he produced his first collection, ‘China Chairs’ – every piece was influenced by the principles and characteristics that Wegner had discovered in Wanscher’s book.
Danish furniture company Carl Hansen & Son loved the collection and commissioned its own version of the ‘China Chair No.1’. In fact, Wegner created an entirely different design for them: the ‘Wishbone’ chair. Unlike the large and bulky ‘China Chairs’, this new seat fitted easily under a dining table. Since its release in 1949, the distinctive Y-shaped back of the ‘Wishbone’ chair has graced the most stylish homes in the world. Out of the 500 pieces of furniture that went into production before Wegner’s death in 2007, this is perhaps his most celebrated design.
Wegner’s ‘Round’ chair (pictured) was influenced by his ‘Wishbone design, and was the seat of choice for the televised Nixon/ Kennedy debate in 1961.
Wegner worked wonders with wood. This sketch from 1950 displays how he meticulously crafted the bends and curves of the comfortable yet sculptural ‘Wishbone’ chair.
A rainbow of re-editions.
In 2016 Carl Hansen & Son has launched the chair in a range of new colour options: now there are 25 different shades to choose from.