We recently had a chat with owner and Creative Director of Fredericia, Thomas Graversen, about the enduring popularity of Danish design, his company Fredericia, which was founded in 1911, and the legacy of the late great Børge Mogensen, whose designs helped transform Fredericia from a local manufacturer into a global design brand. Graversen engages in the Danish way of designing furniture and believes that it is important that Danish design as a business holds on to what is so special Danish.
DANISH™: What is the essence of Danish furniture design to you?
Thomas Graversen (TG): Danish design is pure and often simple but at the same time rich and full of material feeling and with distinct details. These key features make Danish design well known for its ability to create atmosphere wherever the furniture is placed. The essence of Danish design is also that in Denmark we not only have a tradition for making form, but a tradition for making something that originates from an idea – from something you want to solve. This makes Danish design relevant in your daily life. Less art – more tools. Take furniture for example. It must enrich the room, and not work only on its own terms. That’s why functionality is a key word in Danish design as well.
Danish design has a lot to do with the sense of material. We are used to properly made furniture, properly made lighting, kitchenware, textiles, etc. You can sense the fine detail and the quality craftsmanship even though the furniture is more or less made industrially. Børge Mogensen brought craftsmanship into the industry. He managed to maintain the sense of material and the quality of the materials, even though most of the products were industrially produced.
DANISH™: I presume that you believe that authenticity and honesty are important parameters in Danish design?
TG: Yes, with Danish design you don’t need to be an architect or an expert in furniture to understand the construction of most Danish furniture designs. Danish design is very self-explanatory because of its simplicity. And simplicity is important, because simplicity equals survival over many generations, and in this respect, Danish design is usually above the temporary changes in style, because it is typically so down-to-earth and simple that is just lasts. That’s the authentic Danish way of solving design tasks.
DANISH™: Does this label of being down-to-earth, or this label of calmness, come from the fact that we are aware of the furniture’s interplay with the spaces it is used in?
TG: Definitely. I believe that good furniture should not possess the room it’s in. Good furniture should instead enhance the room. Hans J. Wegner and Børge Mogensen were inspired by the shaker mindset from the USA. There, people who believed in the shaker mindset were considered fundamental functionalists, where the functionalism was the leading aspect. In Danish design, we have managed to combine a pronounced level of functionalism with a beautiful and relevant form that makes our designs great – even after 50 years.
DANISH™: What is Fredericia’s DNA when it comes to renewing and retaining traditions?
TG: The Fredericia DNA that people know and relate to today is the same DNA that my father created together with Børge Mogensen. They started their close collaboration when my father took over the company in 1955. Together they created a great range of furniture, some of which are today much beloved classics. They both shared the opinion that making furniture shouldn’t be just for fun, but instead they created and produced furniture with a high level of design integrity; together with durability, a sense of material, functionality, thoughtfulness and world-class craftsmanship.
Today we cherish that design integrity in everything we do and we make sure that the new designs we create are relevant in both a historic and modern context. We call these modern originals.
For instance, we recently made a new lounge chair, Swoon, designed by Space Copenhagen. The idiom instantly tells a story about the chair’s ability to blend in with what is going on at the moment. We have to keep our furniture relevant, from Mogensen to Space Copenhagen. So, the thing about always being relevant is kind of a trademark of Fredericia.
DANISH™: What is the strongest aspect of your company’s brand?
TG: The strongest aspect of our brand would be its culture – our heritage. And the fact that we have been in business for more than 100 years, 105 years to be precise, together with the vast amount of furniture in our back catalogue, the collaboration with Børge Mogensen, Nanna Ditzel, Hans J. Wegner and now Space Copenhagen, Gamfratesi, Welling/Ludvik, Alfredo Häberli and Jasper Morrison. This is inspiring for both me and everyone else in the company. All this combined with our uncompromising attitude to quality and integrity makes Fredericia a very strong and enduring brand.
DANISH™: What is the future plan and ambition for Fredericia?
TG: Our ambition is to continue to do what we do. We want to expand internationally. We have so many stories to tell and we want the world to hear them. We will continue to cherish our heritage and to create an even better and more relevant connection between our Mogensen era tradition and the present Fredericia.
DANISH™: What do you think Danish design as a business area should be aware of in the future?
TG: The biggest challenge is to sustain the international awareness that Danish design has benefited from over the years. There is a risk that real Danish design will merge with a wider Nordic design culture. The challenge therefore is to maintain what is so special about Danish design and our cultural heritage. I believe that is what people want to have a piece of when they buy our designs. We have to hold on to and believe in the Danish feeling and not try to be someone who we are not.