Denmark’s position as one of the happiest countries in the world has created a lot of media interest, but why are the Danes so happy? They have awful weather and are subject to some of the highest tax rates in the world! Here in the UK. we are slightly obsessed with Danish happiness and so many books have been published on the subject. So what's the secret?
Having recently visited Copenhagen to experience the Danish way (and attempt to Hygge) first-hand. Their happiness is undoubtedly down to their way of life – but I have a personal theory that their excellent design culture, particularly their focus on chairs, has a great deal to do with it.
Danish happiness, well-being and Hygge centres around conversation, socialising, dining and relaxing, and the item all of these activities have in common is a chair. To really enjoy a meal or conversation, the space needs to have a good atmosphere but also you have to be comfortable and be tempted to linger – and a good chair can do that.
Danish design is of course famous for its modern clean lines, but what makes it so popular is its strong focus on the user, and where else would this be most important but for a chair – the thingin which we eat, relax and work.
The design brief for a chair is simple: 'create a structure that can support a body 42cm above the ground'. But great design is very much focused the human experience - how an item functions and feels is just as, if not more important that what it looks like. The small details really matter. Is it the right height? Does it have armrests? Are the armrests the right height? Is it padded? What is the angle of the back? There are many things to get right!
There is a saying that the chair is the closest item of furniture to a human being – it reflects the body it has to hold with arms, legs, a seat and a back. The Danes obviously take this into consideration during the design process, some chair designs take years to perfect, but if it works, then it is timeless, as proven by the many mid-century examples still being manufactured today.
In Copenhagen, you'll notice statement chairs are everywhere, from hotels and restaurants to the museums - some designed mid century, and others designed just last year - it seems to be part of Danish identity.
I was very lucky to stay at The Alexandra - the perfect hotel for a design lover! The 61 rooms and the lobby are all furnished, as if you were staying with a design loving Dane in the 50s and 60s! The Alexandra is in the Latin Quarter, just around the corner from Tivoli Gardens and each room has been decorated to have it's own mid-century identity.
The Design Museum
The Design Museum is filled to the brim with excellent examples, it even has a permanent exhibition called 'The Danish Chair', which I visited when I was there, and it shows an impressive collection of 110 Danish chairs.
The Great Danes
Many famous Danish designers are exactly so because of their chair designs. If you know Arne Jacobsen's work, you probably know your Egg from your Swan, but did you know there is also a Peacock, Shell, Clam and a Spanish?
An architect, Arne Jacobsen was one of the most prolific Scandinavian modernist designers of his time. His plywood Ant chair sold in millions and his many iconic designs include the Egg and Swan chairs.
Wegner has designed so many iconic pieces but he was best known for his chairs. He designed more than 500 chairs over the course of his career, including the Peacock, the Shell, the Flag Halyard and the iconic Wishbone chair.
Paton's approach was fluid and futuristic and he used plastics in bright vibrant colors, resulting in the famous Panton Chair
Arctander was an architect, not a furniture designer, yet the Clam chair he did design is one of the most sought-after items today, commanding tens of thousands at auctions!
Morgensen's best known work is the Spanish chair – classic influences that inspired his modern designs.
The Risom chair was one of the first to be manufactured by Knoll and is still manufactured today!
The Danes really do prove over and over again how important great design is. It seems to be something most Danes enjoy and appreciate, and when design is really good, it doesn't have to be showy, it just has to work to make our everyday lives that little bit easier.
Images 9 and 10: Pernille Klemp for The Design Museum
Images 12, 13, 14 & 16: My Domaine
Image 15: @Richard Ribe
All others: tashsouth.com