Japanese selects Danish master chairs

Joe Suzuki in an Egg Chair.

By Kent Dahl

Well known Japanese design producer, Joe Suzuki, chose three Danish chairs, when he decided to write a book about design masterpieces for the Japanese public. The book was recently launched in Tokyo and has generated press in Japanese radio and TV programs as well as other vernacular media.

Travelling around the world talking to designers, manufacturers and other relevant sources, he picked the Egg Chair by Arne Jacobsen, the Y-chair by Hans Wegner and the Spanish Chair by Børge Mogensen from Denmark.

The book “Meisaku Kagu no himitsu” (The real story about masterpiece furniture) from the 19th century until today, covers 26 furniture and lamp manufacturers and four people.

“Japanese people look at famous designers as superstars, but they generally only have a very limited knowledge about their products,” says Joe Suzuki, who has an office in Tokyo.

“I wanted to portray the designers as real people, who struggled and both had success and failures. It is also important to note, that they often were helped along by other factors including their enterprising manufacturers and customers,” continues Suzuki and adds that his book is not a distinctly design book. It is written for the general public.

Close to home, Suzuki relates the story about the world famous Japanese designer, Tadao Ando, who rediscovered Hans Wegner’s Y-chair and started to use it in many of his projects. As information about his architectural works travelled the world, it helped create a new interest in the iconic Danish chair. However, a change of management at the manufacturer, Carl Hansen & Son, was instrumental in bringing the chair to the world market on a larger scale. When present director, Knud Erik Hansen, took over the family business about 12 years ago, it employed 14 people. Today there are more than 200 employees, and the company is winning prizes as one of the best places to work in Denmark.

“Hans Wegner was great, but an enterprising manufacturer and luck helped him along,” says Suzuki.

Likewise, he recounts how one of Arne Jacobsen’s first big projects was the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen build by the Scandinavian Air Lines in the early 1950ies. Jacobsen designed several of his long lasting furniture icons for the first tall building in Copenhagen and among them the Egg Chair, for the lobby.

“As the owner of the hotel was an airline it projected Arne Jacobsen’s design to the world,” says Suzuki, who visited Danish design furniture manufacturer Fritz Hansen, who is producing the Egg Chair.

As for Børge Mogensen’s Spanish Chair, Suzuki recounts that the Danish designer got inspiration from a Spanish chair. However, many Japanese people mistakenly believe that the leather is sourced from a Spanish saddle maker. It actually comes from Sweden. The chair’s wide armrests are not a Spanish invention. It is a convenient place to place a drink while conversing or reading a book. “I think it is a whiskey lover’s chair,” smiles Suzuki.