The work of Hans Wegner (1914-2007) is representative of the combination of excellent craftsmanship and commitment to modern living that made mid-century Danish design internationally popular during the mid 20th century. Born in Tondern, he got an early start working as a child apprentice to a carpenter. After serving in the military he went to technical college and then to the School of Arts and Crafts and the Architectural Academy in Copenhagen.
He worked as an assistant to Arne Jacobsen and Erik Møller until 1943, contributing their design for the Aarhus Town Hall, and adding some of his own furniture. In 1943 he opened his own office and came out with the "Chinese" chair that, along with his 1949 "Round" chair would provide the basis for many of his later chairs. Although Wegner did not name his chairs, most of the iconic designs have attained a colloquial name.
The American magazine Interiors put the "Round" chair on the cover in 1950 and called it 'the world's most beautiful chair,' catapulting Wegner into international fame and sparking a profitable export market. It became known simply as "the Chair," and began making high profile appearances like the televised presidential debates between Nixon and Kennedy. Of the design Wegner said, "many foreigners have asked me how we made the Danish style. And I've answered that it...was rather a continuous process of purification, and for me of simplification, to cut down to the simplest possible elements of four legs, a seat and combined top rail and arm rest."
While "the Chair" is the probably the chief icon of Wegner's career, and a form that he revisits often, he is responsible for a number of other designs. He and Johannes Hansen exhibited a joint project at the Danish Cabinetmaker's show every year from 1941-66, Wegner claiming that it was "more like a game...we had to have something to display every autumn." His own chair designs from those decades, manufactured primarily by PP Møbler and Carl Hansen & Son, were made with the modern, sculptural idea that they could stand on their own, rather than as parts of a furniture set. The "Peacock" chair from 1947, with a slatted backrest fanning out to evoke the bird's plume, was inspired by the traditional "Windsor" chair. His 1949 folding chair was meant to be hung from a hook on the wall, and his "Shell" chair from the same year experimented with curving the wood in three dimensions to form the seat. The multi-purpose "Valet" chair, designed in 1953, had elements for hanging up or storing each piece of a man's suit. He carved the backrest to be used as a coat hanger, pants can be hung on a rail at the edge of the seat and everything else can be stowed in a storage space underneath the seat. In 1960 he came out with several variations on the "Ox" chair, which came with or without horns, and was a fine example of the line Wegner could masterfully walk between elegance and playfulness. "We must take care," he once said, "that everything doesn't get so dreadfully serious. We must play--but we must play seriously."
In his later years he continued to design chairs and also worked with lighting, such as the "Pole" lamp created in 1976 with his daughter Marianne. A true craftsman, Wegner has stated that, "the chair does not exist. The good chair is a task one is never completely done with."