Hans Wegner: Giants of Mid-Century Furniture Design

by George Schwab

It’s an old saw to say; “We all stand on the shoulders of giants.” That saw cuts so fine because of the patent truth found in it. This post is the first in an occasional series dedicated to just that, the giants of mid-century furniture design.

The great furniture designers of the mid 20th Century were heavily influenced by the early titans of Modernism: Frank Lloyd Wright, Charles Rennie Mackintosh and the designers of the Bauhaus among many others. In Denmark they were also influenced by their native designers of the 20s and 30s such as Poul Henningsen and Kaare Klint. Those early 50s Danish designers included Finn Juhl, Arne Vodder, Ib Kofod-Larsen, Borge Mogensen and Hans Wegner. Today let’s say a little bit about one of my favorites, Hans Wegner.

Photo of Hans Wegner sitting in the Wishbone Chair. Photo of Hans Wegner sitting in the Wishbone Chair. Source: Life.Style.ect

Hans Jørgensen Wegner, 1914 – 2007. The sense of craftsmanship found in Wegner’s work makes it no mystery that early in his career he was apprenticed to a master cabinetmaker. After military service he went to technical college and later to the Danish School of Arts and Crafts and the Architectural Academy, truly a solid academic background. His high quality and thoughtful work, along with the cooperation of his manufacturers, contributed to the international popularity of mid-century Danish design and his status as a world renowned designer. His style is often described as Organic Functionality, a modernist school with emphasis on ease of use.
There is also a strong minimalist component to his personal aesthetic. He designed so that there is a close balance between the size and scale of the components in any particular design with the requirements of its use. I think that this structural minimalism leads to the lovely sense of proportion in his work.

Kennedy sits in  "The Chair" designed by Hans Wegner, during the debate with Nixon. Kennedy sits in "The Chair" designed by Hans Wegner, during the debate with Nixon. Source: The Guardian

Arguably his most famous work is “The Chair.” Designed in 1949, this work synthesizes his philosophy of “continuous purification” that I believe is achieved by continually eroding away the material of the chair till it achieves the final purity of the design. This chair was offered in a variety of seats and the finger joints in the back dramatically vary the wood grain while at the same time reinforcing the strength of the construction, a very clever trick if there ever was one.

“The Chair” came to prominence in America during the televised debate between John Kennedy and Richard Nixon in 1960 when both of the candidates used it during the seated portion of the program.

Other well known Wegner projects include the Wishbone Chair, a piece that has strong Asian influences and the Heart Chair and table set which is a brilliant design treatise on the three-legged table and chair. The GE290A lounge chair (pictured at top) is an example of a very comfortable chair that is not too big and not too small, but just right. MidMod has examples of all three and more of Wegner’s designs. We have and in the future will, continue to collect and offer for sale, as many examples of his work as we can find.

We have only just touched on the life and work of Hans Wegner. An excellent book, recently published in English, on Wegner is Wegner, just one good chair by Christian Holmsted Olessen published by Hatje Cantz.


Hans Wegner "The Chair" and joining detail.