Classic, simple, elegant, beautifully made and as relevant today as it was 60 years ago, the market for furniture by 20th century Danish designers such as Arne Jacobsen, Hans J. Wegner and Finn Juhl has exploded over the past twenty years or so, with more dealers, collectors and imitators than ever before recognising the enduring beauty of these designs.
Danish and Scandinavian furniture now “dominates worldwide,” says Simon Harrison of Danish Homestore, who has seen the demand for vintage Danish furniture grow beyond recognition since his father first spotted a gap in the market after selling a coffee table for £14 some 28 years ago. “Dad realised that Danish second-hand furniture was different” to the often poor quality English antiques that were dominating the market at that time, and “of a much higher quality,” says Simon. “It was completely unheard of, but slightly quirky furniture. That’s really where it all started. Antiques of the future were identified as this uniquely Danish furniture, so ahead of their time, but also very classic in the line.”
As vintage Danish design has grown in popularity, dealers such as Simon, once in the minority, have experienced an increase in competition. “15 years ago, there were three shops specialising in Danish furniture, now there’s nearly a hundred - even Liberty’s have a section in their store,” says Simon. “We used to go into an auction and buy everything that was there. Now we have to strike deals with other dealers – if you’re not bidding on this one, I won’t bid on that one.”
With the increased demand, prices have risen and the designs are now a valuable investment. As Simon notes: “In 1991, one of our customers bought a desk from us along with a cabinet by Bodil Kjaer and, back then, paid just under £600 for the pair. Now, the asking price for the desk alone is £18,000.” The rarity of furniture by Bodil Kjaer, who predominantly worked as an architect, has helped these pieces climb in value. Meanwhile, Danish furniture in Brazilian rose-wood, which was banned in 1978, is also very highly sought after – the reason being, says Simon, that “you simply can’t get it any longer.”
Much value can be attributed to the beauty and timeless nature of these designs, but their unique manufacturing process is another factor in their enduring appeal. Nina Hertig, a furniture specialist, who runs an interior design service, Sigmar, with interior designer, Ebba Thott explains: “20th century industrialisation never happened in Denmark, so you have this style that belongs to what we would call mass production, but a production method which is very much 19th century, with lots of little workshops hand-making things. That’s why you get this much higher quality, and after 50 or 60 years, you really feel the difference.”
It’s not just collectors, museums or galleries clamouring for a piece of vintage Danish design these days. Both Nina and Simon have seen their customer base change over the past 15 years to include ordinary home-owners, who now know the names of different designers and distinguish between them. People today, says Simon, “want something different, and which is uniquely theirs, something that you can’t go back to the manufacturer with and say, ‘here’s another order for 25 of the same’.”
It’s why so many of the cheap imitators that you see knocking around - reproduction designs of Arne Jacobsen’s Egg Chair, or Hans J. Wegner’s Wishbone Chair - are nothing like the originals in terms of their quality, rarity and value. The fakes are “a big shame,” says Simon, who points out, “the Wishbone Chair, which is an original 30 year old chair, will be worth £400 tomorrow; the copy won’t.”
If you’re after a piece of original vintage Danish design though, you’d better not hang about. Many of the Danish giants of 20th century design are now coming to the ends of their lives, and retrospectives such as Trio: Hans J Wegner (1914 – 2007); Herbert Krenchel (b. 1922); and Ib Geertsen (1919- 2009), taking place at Rocket Gallery in Shoreditch until 24 April, are drawing yet more attention to the work of these designers. Prices, it seems, are only going to go up from here, and with contemporary Danish designers still lurking in the shadows of their mid-20th century predecessors, such unique and visionary designs are worth every penny.
Emily Jenkinson is interiors writer for furniture and interior design website mydeco.com.Reuse content