Firefly House

J is for… Arne Jacobsen (1902 – 1971)

Arne Jacobsen is one of Russell’s favourite designers, and this post follows on nicely from Alvar Aalto in our designers series, because Jacobsen, like Aalto, advocated design as a total work of art – Gesamtkunstwerk, or to quote Ernesto Rogers, one of Jacobsen’s influences, design “from spoon to city”.

Arne Jacobsen was an architect and designer of furniture, textiles, lighting, wallpaper and silverware. Before graduating he won a silver medal for a chair design at the Paris Art Deco fair, Exposition Internationale des Arts Décoratifs et Industriels Modernes (1925).

Despite his early success (and later triumphs) with product design, Jacobsen felt that he was an architect above all things. Thus, I find it interesting that Jacobsen is most famous for the products he designed for the buildings, rather than the buildings themselves.

After winning the Danish Architect’s Association prize for the House of the Future in collaboration with Flemming Lassen, Jacobsen stamped his modernist architectural sensibilities on the design world. He set up office in Copenhagen, where he remained until World War 2, a leading proponent of modernist architecture.

Jacobsen’s Jewish background would have resulted in his forced deportation from Denmark in 1943, but he rowed across to Sweden and went into exile. He and his wife, textile designer Jonna Jacobsen, lived there for two years before returning to a Denmark in need of housing and public buildings.

Jacobsen’s career was back on track by the early 1950s, and he became increasingly interested in product design, inspired by that ‘spoon to city’ philosophy and the moulded plywood designs of Charles and Ray Eames.

It was during this era that Jacobsen dominated production at Fritz Hansen, a Danish furniture company, beginning in 1952 with the Ant, which was Denmark’s first industrially manufactured chair. This was followed by the Series 7 in 1955, whose ongoing success firmly established the two names as key chapters in the history of furniture production.

In 1956 the build of the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen began. Jacobsen was commissioned to design every element of the hotel building including the furniture, right down to the silverware and door handles. Though the building design did not please everyone (it has been called “the punch card” and “the glass cigar box”), it is know as the world’s first designer hotel, and was Jacobsen’s opportunity to put his theories of integrated design into practice.

For the SAS Royal Hotel, Jacobsen designed the Swan, the Egg and the Series 3300. Today, the hotel has preserved only one room to be completely original – Room 606.

room 606 #2
room 606 #2 by Peter Guthrie

Although Jacobsen’s designs are of the Danish modern style which combines industrial technology with simplicity and functionality, he successfully united this approach with the human need for organic natural forms. A wonderful example of this is the Egg chair in the Royal SAS Hotel lobby. Koen De Winter notes:

“The Egg chair is not just a comfortable chair reduced to a very simple and architectural shape suitable for a large hotel lobby, it is not just a friendly yet readable shape, it also provides the user with a level of visual isolation that witnesses a keen understanding of the need for privacy and warmth in a large semi-public space.”

The second of Jacobsen’s most famous architectural designs is St Catherine’s College at Oxford Univeristy. Oxford Dons appointed Jacobsen after visiting the SAS hotel in search of an architect, and despite one notorious letter to the Times complaining that appointing Jacobsen was an insult to British architecture, he began work, designing absolutely everything right down to the species of fish for the ponds in the Jacobsen-designed garden.

St Catherine's College
St Catherine’s College by Steve Cadman

What I like most about Jacobsen is that he had little faith in theories of design:

“You can always see a thing from two sides, if only one has a little imagination”

He spent all his energy in the creative process. After sketches came the prototypes, which were modeled and remodeled until they reached perfection. Jacobsen’s goal was the total quality of the man-made environment, and the independent success of his product designs is a testament to this ideal.

The Furniture Designs of Arne Jacobsen

Here are Jacobsen’s key furniture designs, illustrated by some of your photographs on Flickr.

Ant chair (3100) 1952
This stackable wooden chair was originally designed for the canteen at the Novo Nordic healthcare company. It is available with three or four legs.

Three Ants
Three Ants by Jorunn D. Newth

Series 7 1955
The Series 7 was a spin off of the Ant, and a result of Jacobsen manipulating the lamination technique to perfection.

Ubiquitous Chair
Ubiquitous Chair by Tony Hall

3300 Series 1956
This formal sofa design, a contrast to the organic shape of Jacobsen’s chair designs, was created for the SAS Terminal at the Royal Hotel in Copenhagen.

arne jacobsen, rødovre library, 1961-1969
arne jacobsen, rødovre library, 1961-1969 by seier+seier

Grand Prix (3130) 1957
So-called because it received the Grand Prix at the Triennale in Milan.

Arne Jacobsen 3130 aka Grand Prix
Arne Jacobsen 3130 aka Grand Prix by Artur Félix da Cru

Egg chair 1958
Designed for the lobby and reception of the Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, the Egg chair was an elegant contrast to the straight lines of the building. It has a foam inner shell beneath the upholstery – Jacobsen was the first to use this technique.

0765 by magnus*

Swan chair (3320) 1958
Also designed for the Royal Hotel, the Swan has no straight lines, making it technologically innovative in 1958. The Swan was also designed as a sofa.

Swan chairs at Firefly House
Our Swan chairs, currently looking for a new home

Oxford chair 1965
Jacobsen designed a professor’s chair for St. Catherine’s College, and this evolved into the Oxford chair, with its tall back symbolizing prestige. Also note the Jacobsen-designed silverware in this photograph from St Catherine’s College.

Dining by Andy Matthews

Did you know?

  • The Ant nearly ended up on the scrap heap because Fritz Hansen wasn’t convinced of its potential. The chair survived the initial scepticism, when Arne Jacobsen guaranteed to buy all chairs produced if noone else would.
  • Jacobsen’s flatware was used in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey because of it’s futuristic look.
  • The Series 7 chair shot to fame when a copy of the chair was used in a photoshoot with Christine Keeler of the Profumo affair. You can read more about this iconic image on the V&A website.

Further Links

  • Republic of Fritz Hansen
    Manufacturers of Arne Jacobsen’s furniture designs and useful resource for the history of their collaboration.
    A Fritz Hansen website dedicated to the work of Arne Jacobsen.
  • Louis Poulsen
    Manufacturers of Jacobsen’s lighting designs.
  • Stelton
    Manufacturers of Jacobsen’s tableware.
  • Design Museum
    Arne Jacobsen at the Design Museum, London.
    A community resource site dedicated to this most curvaceous form.
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