Small Spaces and Danish Modern Furniture

by George Schwab

A few weeks ago I made the statement that in general, the scale of Danish Modern furniture suited smaller spaces. I also said that I’d, in the future, discuss this in more detail and with a little history. Well, the future is now and it’s the topic of this week’s blog.

Destruction in Europe after WWII. Source: Source: book, Savage Continent, by Keith Lowe Destruction in Europe after WWII.  Source: book, Savage Continent, by Keith Lowe

After World War II, with the exception of a few major cities like Paris, Rome, and Budapest, urban Europe was in ruins. Millions of people were homeless. In America we realized that a devastated Europe was bad for national security in light of our increasingly deteriorating relations with the USSR. In this context John Marshall, US Secretary of State and former chief warlord of FDR, convinced President Truman and the congress to institute the Marshall Plan. This initiative provided 120 billion dollars (current US) for the rebuilding of the European economy and infrastructure. It was an historic success.

Unité d’Habitation apartment house, Marseille France, designed by Le Corbusier

Rubble was cleared and the landscape of the cities, small and large, was populated with new buildings. Much of this new construction was much needed housing. Because of the need to make this largesse from the US go as far as it could, much of this housing was small and mid-size apartments in buildings that were in the International Style, inspired LeCorbusier and the other Modernists of the Thirties. Now because of European international politics during the war, the manufacturing plant of Scandanavia, especially Denmark, was virtually untouched and was ready to provide the furniture for all those apartments and to anybody else for that matter.

Ib Kofod-Larsen lounge chair Source: ©MidMod-decor Ib Kofod-Larsen lounge chair

Designers like Finn Juhl, ib Kofod Larsen, Hans Wegner, Kai Kristiansen and others went to work designing furniture for the residential market in Europe that was inexpensive, light and modern. The result of this flowering of design was Danish Modern. It was generally smaller to suit the scale of the smaller apartments being designed and built. It was made of teak, a very strong and durable species that came back to Denmark as ballast in their ships that sent manufactured goods to the East Indies. It was “airy” in that on the whole it was constructed of linear pieces of teak, cleverly joined together that allowed for a view through the piece to the area beyond. This “airiness” is what gives Danish Modern furniture its small scale and lightness while the strength comes from the teak. The designers and manufacturers of Denmark designed and built larger scale furniture too, but I maintain that for the most part furniture, especially the chairs, were designed and built to suit the smaller scale spaces going up all over Europe at that time.

Stylish kitchen with mid-century present day decor. by Portico Layout Group. Source: Ion Stylish kitchen with mid-century present day decor. by Portico Layout Group. Source: Ion

Now that’s history (of which I am so fond) but what is really interesting is that in America today, in the urban environment, apartments and condos are being built at a rate, I would guess, that hasn’t been seen since the late 19th century. This trend has not been lost on the furniture manufacturers and retailers, in that they are knocking-off Danish Modern furniture and pieces “inspired” by Danish Modern at an astonishing clip.

We can also say that there is the beginning of a new trend in the building of smaller, efficient houses with a smaller carbon footprint, (I believe that this is partly in response to the excesses of all those McMansions out there) that are less expensive to build. If we consider its carbon footprint, vintage Danish Modern furniture has a 0 footprint! I believe that these economic factors in the 21st Century bode well for the long term value of vintage Danish Modern furniture.

Example of a small space using Danish Modern furniture.