Carl Hansen and Son at LA Design Fest

by Andy Chan

Scandinavians are very particular with their furniture.
DSC_0093Two versions of the wing chair, its frame, and the Oculus Chair frame

A passion for highly-crafted furniture is in the DNA of Carl Hansen & Søn, a family-owned design brand that for the past 100 years has been creating some of the most iconic, sustainable, and eco-conscious Danish furniture. They’ve recently been growing their presence in America by opening new showrooms in Los Angeles and New York. One of the main obstacles they face however, is bridging the gap between Danish and American sensibilities about furniture, and convincing American customers why they should spend upwards of $4000 on a lounge chair.

11378622_1593016610946673_1346631656_nWishbone chair designed by Hans J. Wegner, courtesy of Hansen and Son

Scandinavians are very particular with their furniture, explains a dapper Morten Hai Hansen, the son of Carl Hansen and Søn’s current CEO, “A Danish customer will come to our store and know exactly which chair he or she wants,” he pulls out their iconic Wishbone Chair, “because their grandparents had this exact same chair decades ago. With American customers, however, we have to explain from scratch why this is a quality product.”

Hansen tells me how the Whishbone Chair was designed in 1949 by Hans J. Wegner, a pioneering furniture designer considered a driving force in the “Danish Modern” movement. The chair represents an alliance between Wegner and Carl Hansen & Søn that has flourished since its production in 1950. It is made from high quality oak, and its top rails and arms are made of one single piece. The seat alone takes one hour to weave using 120 meters of paper cord. It lasts up to 30 years and because it does not contain plastics, there are no harmful chemicals released into the environment when it is disposed of.

DSC_0325Cuba chair

DSC_0281Knud Erik Hansen sitting on the Oculus Chair, designed by Hans Wegner

I was able to speak with Carl Hansen and Søn’s 3 rd generation CEO Knud Erik Hansen. When I ask Hansen which is his favorite chair, he quickly takes a seat on the Oculus Chair. He tells me that this chair is $4000, and when I ask him why Americans would pay that much, he responds, “People today work so hard for their money, they don’t want to buy rubbish.” Composed of high quality beach wood, leather, stainless steel, and wool, this chair is anything but rubbish. I ask him why it is his favorite and he replies matter-of- factly with a grin: “I sit very well in it.”

I was hesitant to sit on any of the furniture at first because of their resemblance to art installations. Then, I saw the Cuba Chair. It is made of gently contoured solid oak that fits ergonomically against one’s body while the hand-woven, cross-thatched seat provides a balanced stiffness with just enough suppleness for the right amount of support and relaxation. Lounging in it with a glass of red wine in hand, I was not sure if I had sunk into peace or oblivion. I was, however, ripped away from the chair like a baby from its mother, when one of the showroom’s staff informed me that they were going to commence the Q&A portion of the evening.

 DSC_0205Deborah Weintraub (top left) speaking after receiving the 2016 ICON award.

Every year, LA Design Week recognizes one woman with the ICON award for her contributions to her field, city, and society. This year, the award went to architect Deborah Weintraub, without whom there would be no bridge over the LA River. As the Chief Deputy City Engineer, she oversees projects that total $3.5 billion. She has worked on the revitalization of the LA River for the past 15 years and is currently working on designing and constructing the 6 th Street Viaduct. She spoke on water reclamation, sustainability, LA’s unique geography, gender and diversity. She shared an anecdote on how, early in her career, she was in the middle of a meeting when a male client suddenly reached out and caressed her face, “It’s an evolving understanding in our society to take women seriously,” she says, “I am proud to be championing and paving the way for women in this industry.”

DSC_0312The Shell Chair (oak and lined with cow hide) has no backside, making it beautiful from all angles