Midcentury Modern Furniture Owes Its Popularity to the Welfare State

  • May 27, 2023

Praise of Danish
design mounted quickly in the U.S. through exhibitions, magazine articles, and
word-of-mouth. Taft relates how Wegner was approached by a members-only club in
Chicago in 1949 hoping to acquire 400 chairs, a number far beyond the capacity
of the Copenhagen workshop that produced them. Danish chairs became a bragging
right with devotees memorizing the shapes and mentally cataloging the available
colors of upholstery. The appetite for Scandi furniture was so voracious that
knock-offs proliferated. Genuine producers began affixing metal plates, stamps,
and brands to the underside of their furniture. One would not be surprised to
see their dinner guest surreptitiously peering under the Chieftain looking for
where the wood had been marked by a hot iron in the Danish workshop.

The heyday of artisan
furniture, however, was brief. Keeping production in Denmark, or even in
Scandinavia, did not last long. In 1951, Juhl began designing for Baker, a
furniture company from Michigan; the idea was to sell his designs to a larger
mass market by scaling-up production. Yet it was never clear how the level of
quality could be maintained outside of the Scandinavian welfare state with its
unique compromises between government, industry, and labor. In an American mass
market, it would be difficult to make elegant joinery using Fordist production
techniques (and to pay artisan wages to assembly line workers). As the scale of
production increased, it was more difficult to maintain the myth of “Nordic
naturalness” and wood forms that represented a closeness to nature. In fact,
even the teak was being supplanted by razor-thin slices of rosewood pasted onto
furniture facades. 

Meanwhile, loose
legal protections for furniture design meant that fakes and copies
proliferated. Well-heeled tourists in Copenhagen could visit the immense
furniture showroom Den Permanente near the central station to see

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Ecart International is putting iconic French modern furniture design back into production

  • June 21, 2022

“Andree had an extraordinary eye that enabled her to zero in on quintessential pieces that were at once modern and minimalist and had yet been almost forgotten,” says Pascal Lapeyre, director of Ecart International since 2011.

“In effect, she constituted a catalogue raisonne of the history of today’s design aesthetic. The forms of these pieces are somehow eternal, appealing to people today as they did 100 years ago.”

A Jean-Michel Frank steamed oak sideboard. 

The Ecart team keeps the offer fresh – and the call to a new clientele vibrant – by exploring new, natural materials and of-the-moment colourways. Occasionally, they’ll unearth a never-before manufactured piece and decide to put that into production. Expect a trouser press designed by Eileen Gray to be brought to light early next year, an unseen desk and a few armchairs by Jean-Michel Frank, too.

“It doesn’t hurt that we appeal to many luxury brands that call upon Ecart to provide pieces for their boutiques,” Lapeyre shrugs. “Dior, for example, and Cartier; this presence ensures the pieces are always showcased in a contemporary and changing context.”

Ecart holds the rights to some Chareau furniture. But the IP for the vast majority of the catalogue – and most importantly, the lighting – is in the hands of Galerie MCDE. It was set up to commercialise the dramatically sculptural alabaster pieces in the late 1980s.

“Chareau was working at the height of the art deco era, that is, between the age of artisanal, craft production and that of mass industrial production,” explains Pierre-Emmanuel Risch, who directs the gallery today. “For that reason, his designs were never produced in big quantities. And yet, what’s amazing is that while the lighting pieces are clearly of their moment, they also could have been designed last year.”

I don’t know

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