During Northmodern, the Danish fair, which was just held in Copenhagen from 18th–20th January, we caught up with Poul Madsen, who owns Normann Copenhagen, together with Jan Andersen.
DANISH™: What is the history behind your name, Normann Copenhagen?
Poul: Jan Normann Andersen and I started Normann Copenhagen in 1999. Up until then I had my own company, Transparent, which imported glass from Poland. Jan and his wife Britt had their company, Normann Design, with a much larger client base than mine as they had been in the field longer. Normann is something that you can pronounce in every language, so we actually started out as Normann Design. However, we changed it shortly after to Normann Copenhagen to emphasise our Danish roots. We got tired of people thinking we were from Norway or Germany when we exhibited at fairs.
The fact that it is a name that is easy to pronounce all over the world is also important because we export to 82 countries.
DANISH™: In what way has Normann Copenhagen evolved since it started?
Poul: There is nothing left in the collection today of the pieces that we had back in 1999. Our collection really began with the Norm 69 Lamp, which we introduced in 2002. The last two to three years we have focused a lot on furniture, so that today we are strong in both accessories as well as furniture. So you can decorate an entire house, restaurant or office with Normann Copenhagen.
DANISH™: Do you have an overall concept approach?
Poul: Yes, we do. You should buy Normann Copenhagen as a whole not just buy one cognac glass or a Bell Lamp. When you move out from your parents, or when you need a new living room you should immediately think Normann Copenhagen for the entire space.
DANISH™: Where does your passion for design come from?
Poul: It is hard to say. I think that everyone considers how he or she dresses, or how you decorate your home. Everyone has their own style but what everyone has in common is that they have put thought into their own unique style. Most people like beautiful and nice things. So I think that everyone has an interest on some level. I was born in Poland where there is a long tradition of glass and there are a lot of glass factories – so I think my interest was sparked by glass. Therefore, after I graduated it seemed natural to enter that world. I saw all this glass art in the stores here in Denmark and thought to myself that if I went directly to the factories in Poland I could get them cheaper and then import and sell them. I thought there must be other people apart from me that would find this beautiful, and I discovered there were. So I started importing them and it kind of took off from there.
DANISH™: What qualities are important in a designer for Normann Copenhagen?
Poul: First off all it is about something as basic as personal qualities and how you relate to each other. That is the foundation for every relationship. Furthermore, we need to be on the same side and have the same expectations. It is a different world today than it was ten years ago – the opportunities we have via computer technology mean that the options are endless. So it is important that you, as a designer, are not only aware of that but also that you embrace it. For us the designers are an important resource. We have a lot of creative people in-house but we still team up with external partners and, when we are finished with a product, they become a part of that. It is important that you can communicate and develop products together. It is all about showing mutual empathy.
DANISH™: Simon Legald was your first in-house designer; do you have more now?
Poul: Simon was the first designer we hired in-house; today we have seven, some of whom are interns. They are really productive and are the reason we are able to launch many more products – especially furniture, which has a very long process of back and forth dialogue. If we had to have that dialogue with an external designer it would have taken much longer. So it works really well, and taking in more in-house designers is definitely something that we can see us self continuing with.
They are also part of a lot of other tasks, such as our visual expression when we design our stand for different fairs. That is also something that is typical Normann Copenhagen. Of course you have your area of expertise and tasks within your own field but there can be days where it doesn’t matter if your are the export manager or a designer – you will be asked to pitch in on other projects in order for us to finish them in the best possible way. We are a flexible company and we know what we want and act fast once a decision has been made.
DANISH™: What is it that makes Normann Copenhagen unique?
Poul: If you look at our products they have a sense of warmth, kindness, a softness and a simplicity about them. And they work – there is a function to each and every item. It is not necessarily something that everyone will notice but every time we launch a new product –whether it is a chair or whatever it is – we will always have added something new. Otherwise, there is not much point in launching a product.
Jan and I are responsible for curating and selecting new products and the filter we have is hard to define. We are the common denominator that all the products share, so you could say that we are the common thread that ties everything together.
DANISH™: In your flagship store in Copenhagen you sell products from other brands as well. Why do you choose to mix your products with others like that?
Poul: The store is just a regular shop, an independent unit, which we are lucky enough to have as our office at the same time. It is also more and more becoming our showroom as the collection simultaneously increases. But we keep having other brands as well and we will continue that way. By having different brands we meet the customer where they are and at the same time learn to understand their needs. In that way we also learn more about how to do well in retail. In the end we seem more trustworthy when we say something because we do so based on our own experience.
DANISH™: You have just launched FORM by Simon Legald. What makes this collection special?
Poul: With FORM we have worked on perfecting small details, some of which are visible some of which aren’t. Normally, when making a plastic chair you will see a lot of marks. With FORM there is just one mark and we have covered that with our logo. It is very smooth and it has the same surface all over. Also, we have focused a lot on different thicknesses, for instance the seat is thicker where you place the majority of your weight while sitting down and more flexible in the back where you need the chair to adjust to your body.
It has something beautiful, something that pleases your eye and that captures you. It caught us and we can see that a lot of other people have been captured by it as well. We can already see that it is a success.
DANISH™: Do you have a personal favourite from all the collections you have launched?
Poul: That is a difficult question to answer – it is a bit like having to choose which child is your favourite! However, we have invested a lot of time and resources into FORM so in some way I guess it has become a new darling. But you get a new favourite each time we create a new collection. You have to, otherwise you should not be doing it at all.
DANISH™: Would you ever consider launching a new version the Norm 69 Lamp?
Poul: We have talked about it and we have also looked at different samples. But it should feel exquisite and natural before we do anything. We have experimented a lot with glass and transparent plastic but we could only find one type of transparent plastic that works and it is extremely expensive, so it would be a very expensive lamp. It would look great though.
DANISH™: What does 2015 have in store for you?
Poul: We have a lot of news we will be presenting, though not as much as the previous couple of years when we launched 50–55 pieces a year. At the end of the year we will be introducing something that is brand new for us – an entirely new area for us both functionally as well as price wise. We are going all in – but I cannot reveal anymore at the moment.