Knud Erik Hansen, third-generation CEO of Carl Hansen & Søn, talks about timeless design and their new Clerkenwell showroom
Why is it that Scandinavian design has become so popular across the globe in recent years?
Denmark has a very strong design tradition and is renowned for the design and production of furniture – it is simply in our DNA. We have a tradition of using the materials around us – such as wood and leather – to create furniture that is characterised by function, aesthetics and quality that all come together.
Danish design has, since the 1960s, enjoyed great popularity, and we can see that foreign countries attach great importance to the fact that our designs are produced in Denmark. In light of the financial crisis, it seems that there is a growing interest in buying quality combined with elegant design. People no longer just consume for the sake of consumption. People will invest in good quality and good design that lasts generations.
Scandinavian furniture is very minimalist; does this leave room for experimentation when it comes to the design process?
It does indeed! At the 2013 Milan Fair, Carl Hansen & Søn introduced a new product designed by Tadao Ando. The master architect wanted to extend a tribute to Hans J. Wegner and the result was both very distinctive and unique. It was a challenge for us to produce – but we are very proud of the result, dubbed the ‘Dream Chair’.
During this year’s Milan Fair, we introduced a new chair designed by the Austrian designers, EOOS. The chair was based on the DNA of the Carl Hansen & Søn quality, and unique and rounded woodwork; but the upholstery was entirely created on the ideas of EOOS. Here again, the result – the ‘Embrace Chair’ – was very interesting and exclusive.
Your new showroom in Clerkenwell, London, sits amongst some heavy competition from the architecture and design sectors. How do you feel that this will benefit your brand?
The UK is one of our strongest markets, with customers demanding great quality and craftsmanship in their furniture. We felt it was time to bring the whole universe of Carl Hansen & Søn, as well as Rud Rasmussen, to this design-led city, in order to bring our business closer to our international audience. My vision is international; as Denmark is a small country, most of the producers in this country are too small. We need to trade outside Denmark, which coincidentally follows a thousand-year-old national tradition.
Clerkenwell Design Week was the perfect occasion to open our new three-storey showroom in London’s Clerkenwell. We are overwhelmed by the very positive response our new space in London received from architects, dealers, press and other partners from the design community and we look forward to being part of this city.
The brand has stayed in the family for generations. Is it important for you to carry this tradition into the future?
I joined Carl Hansen & Søn in 2002 after working in the shipping industry and also as managing director of Tempur-Pedic. I’m representing the third generation after founder, Carl Hansen, and I led the family-owned company into a new phase when I initiated an internationalisation process that resulted in the company’s furniture being sold worldwide.
On a daily basis it inspires me to work internationally; dealing with different people both within the company and externally is fantastic. But also working with the design and the quality of these environmentally clean products gives me a very good feeling of doing something valuable. Taking my grandfather’s legacy out into the world and seeing how the history and iconic design continues to appeal to people gives me a great deal of joy and fills me with great pride.
The second level of your showroom in London features a large collection of Rud Rasmussen furniture. what relationship does Carl Hansen & Son have with Rud Rasmussen?
Rud Rasmussen – Denmark’s oldest cabinet making workshop – is owned by Carl Hansen & Søn. The transaction took place during 2013 – but Rud Rasmussen was purchased entirely by heart because of its total commitment to the old methods of producing furniture.
The workshop is situated unchanged in the centre of Copenhagen, where it has resided since 1872. The planks are still being stored in the basement – where they lay for ages drying and acclimatising until the carpenters need the wood and cut pieces from the planks to make the furniture upstairs. A very unique process in 2015.
The same approach to craftsmanship can also be found at the modern Carl Hansen & Søn factories that are situated approximately 180km away from Rud Rasmussen, where we produce furniture designed by Hans J. Wegner, Ole Wanscher and Frits Henningsen, a.o.
Another part of the history is that, by acquiring Rud Rasmussen, Carl Hansen & Søn could thus represent the most important of the ‘Danish Modern’ architects from 1930 onwards. Within the Carl Hansen & Søn range you will find pieces designed by Kaare Klint, Mogens Koch, Poul Kjaerholm and many more in an uncut line. Again a unique and fantastic history that represents all the best of Danish Design!
What are some of your favourite pieces of furniture from your brand?
My favourite design is the Wishbone Chair. It is not only a fantastic dining chair but also a totally unique chair with the most fantastic lines. It has survived more than 60 years of competition and it still sells more than ever before.
Besides the iconic Wishbone Chair, my favorite chair is the sculptural Oculus Chair designed by Wegner in 1960. Until its recent launch in 2010, the design remained a prototype. One of the prototypes was carefully prepared for production through close cooperation with the Hans J. Wegner Studio, using Wegner’s original drawings and clay models. ‘Oculus’ is Latin for ‘eye’, and refers to the chair’s curved back which forms an ‘eye’ in the upholstery. The chair is the natural centre of attention in the living room, on its own or in groups.
Visit the showroom at 16 Bowling Green Lane, London, EC1R 0BD, or phone on 020 7632 7587