During the span of his career, Hans Wegner created over 500 chairs and 1000 other pieces of furniture – earning himself the nickname the “King of Chairs”.
Of all his designs, Wegner declared the Round Chair as his greatest achievement, “not because of its export success, but because I have been more thorough with it than anything else”.
Evolution of a Name
Perhaps the evolution of its name most aptly describes the impact of this design: originally identified in catalogues as Chair JH50 in 1949, it then took on the Round Chair in Denmark based on its back and armrests which are made of one continuous wooden semicircle. The British called it The Classic Chair and it was then imported to America where it became simply known as The Chair. A tribute to its encapsulation of all that a chair design should be.
Wegner’s furniture was intended, as he said to be “as simple and genuine as possible, to show what we could create with our hands, to try to make wood come alive, to give it spirit and vitality, and to get things to be so natural that they could only have been made by us”.
The Round Chair is available in cherry, walnut, ash and oak and it can have a lacquer or an oil finish. These variations have certainly contributed to the design’s long-lasting popularity and its chameleon-like nature deems it fit for spaces as diverse as a boardroom, a formal dining area or a more contemporary family room.
Attention to Detail
It is well-known that Wegner would take a new design home and try it out for a period of time to explore possible adaptations to both the design and functionality of a piece. He explained his approach as being an “advanced process of purifying, and for me a simplification, cutting the elements down to the bare essentials”. He would continue to perfect the Round Chair throughout his life.
This perfectionism is reflected in the Round Chair’s delicate proportions and gentle curves. The vertical elements of the chair are elegantly tapered, and the strong but slim profile of its arms make this design one of Wegner’s most beautiful. The flowing form of the back and arm rest has been described as a propeller shape as it evokes images of the complex curves on the blades of the first wood propellers seen in early aeroplane designs.
In the Spotlight
The Round Chair has received much acclaim. In 1950 the American magazine “Interiors” featured the Round Chair on its cover and from 1952 to 1953 it was selected for the Good Design Exhibition organized by the Museum of Modern Art and the Chicago Merchandise Mart. It quickly became a symbol of Danish Modern design style and was lauded as:
The most beautiful chair in the world.
The Round Chair was thrust into the contemporary spotlight in 1960 when John F Kennedy requested it for the first ever Presidential campaign debate with Richard Nixon. This was televised and viewed by over 70 million people and its appearance gave the Round Chair substantial status, particularly in the United States.
The lounge chair was not only chosen to suit the design of the set which aimed to be “extremely modern and to give a sense of looking towards the future”, but also because of its comfort. John F Kennedy had aggravated a pre-existing back problem and he did not want to appear weak by moving around in discomfort during the debate. The Round Chair was seen as a solution to this – with Danish Modernism emphasizing careful research into materials, proportions, and the requirements of the human body.
The Round Chair has no superfluous details and it celebrates the decorative features of fine cabinetmaking. It is the epitome of traditional Danish wood working and design philosophy, beautiful from all angles.
A chair is to have no backside. It should be beautiful from all angles.Hans Wegner
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