Kai Kristiansen was born in 1929 and continues to inspire and energize those around him – all his productions are still supervised and approved under his watchful eye. He has established himself as one of the best Danish Modern furniture designers, yet his name has remained a relatively well-kept secret in the design circles.
Kristiansen apprenticed in cabinetmaking before enrolling at the prestigious Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen in 1948. In 1955 he opened his own studio, at just 26 years old. It was here that he began creating striking furniture in what would soon become known as the Danish modern style.
He uses clean lines, superior craftsmanship and manufacturing, and keeps functionality and practicality at the centre of his designs. Minimalism certainly features, but there is a strong under-current of the traditional in all his works. He followed the Danish tradition of “practicality and fitness for purpose”.
Kristiansen is best known for his smooth and geometric Mid-Century Modern cabinets, tables, desks, sideboards, wall units and dining chairs and he favours rosewood, teak, and oak. Perhaps his most-recognizable piece was designed just a year after opening his own studio, the No.42 Chair. Critics declared it as beautiful as it is comfortable, and it is viewed as one of the most enduring Danish designs of the 20th century. The sleek and striking No.121 Lounge Chair and the FM Reolsystem Wall Unit also contributed to Kristiansen’s success across Scandinavia, Europe and the United States.
With the above in mind, it is pertinent to question why Kristiansen is not better known. The overwhelming conclusion comes down to the scarcity of his work. At a peak period in his career, the emphasis was on mass-production and many designers were producing items in large volumes. Accessibility to their products resulted in easier recognition and cemented design careers.
In contrast, Kristiansen has always focused on intricate details and immaculate joints and refused to compromise on clean-lined wooden pieces. As a result, his designs were only available in smaller numbers and received less visibility. It was not a lack of demand that lead to lower popularity, but rather the excellence of his work that resulted in exclusivity. Today his vintage designs are considered highly collectable and many of his pieces have been re-issued through collaborations.
Today’s manufacturers have noted the perfect proportions, sense of balance, considered design and timeless appeal of Kristiansen’s furniture design. He is being re-recognized for the strong harmonious element found in his pieces, which greatly reflect Kristiansen’s Scandinavian design values.
Kristiansen’s keen attention to detail and high standards is evident in a response to his designs that were recently manufactured by a team of cabinet makers in Denmark; “We didn’t stop until we were both happy with the result and our expectation was perfection”. He is well-known to have travelled around the world in his 80’s to monitor the quality of designs that are being re-launched.
Kristiansen has not just focused on his own designs and studio’s success; he is passionate about design in general. He was a powerful role-player in many regional furniture fairs in the 1950’s and from 1966 to 1970 he was the driving force behind the Scandinavian Furniture Fair. He is known for keenly supporting his fellow designers and has collaborated with various contemporaries over the many decades of his career.
Despite the well-respected nature of his designs, Kai Kristiansen is not yet as famous as some of his colleagues. However, the successful re-issue of many of his 1950’s designs has savvy collectors taking note. Drawn to the superior manufacturing quality and lower quantities that define his work, there is no doubt that Kai Kristiansen is a name that will have celebrated longevity.
- 1950’s and 1960’s Model 121 Series: lounge chairs, sofas and coffee tables.
- 1950’s and 1960’s Universe Series: dining chairs, lounge chairs and sofas.
- 1960’s Entre Series: sideboards, storage options and mirrors
- 1960’s FM Series: wall mounted shelving and dresser system