Two Designers Tweak Danish Icons


Sebastian Herkner and Niek Pulles


By Lauren Grieco, Frame Magazine

Influenced by the Bauhaus movement in Germany, 20th-century Danish designers upgraded their long-standing tradition of handcrafted woodwork with the aid of modern industrial developments. The function-driven yet aesthetically pleasing results of that step forward benefited from the scale of the burgeoning manufacturing industry and became available to a broader public. When we hear the term ‘Danish design’, the images that spring to mind are of icons like Arne Jacobsen’s Egg Chair (1956) and the Panton Chair, which was launched in the mid-1960s – as well as the more contemporary designs still emerging from the nation’s creative industry.

An ever-evolving society has ever-evolving needs, which occur in response to advances in science and technology and to new applications of the materials, systems and structures that accompany such advances. Human interaction, particularly in the field of communications, has experienced tremendous shifts in the past six or seven decades. Design has no choice but to adapt to these constant changes. At the heart of Re-Framing Danish Design, an exhibition organized by online publication DANISH™ and Frame magazine, is a 21st-century interpretation of Danish design. The show invites visitors to view Denmark’s classic and contemporary pieces through a global lens. As any seasoned treasure-hunter knows, a second glance is worth its weight in gold. Re-Framing Danish Design proves the point.

Robert Thiemann, editor in chief of Frame, asked two international designers to contribute to the exhibition by injecting their perspectives and personalities into a sampling of ten objects, each from a different Danish company. Thiemann encouraged Sebastian Herkner of Germany and Niek Pulles of the Netherlands to translate the objects as they saw fit: no holds barred. The designs they chose include Brdr. Krüger’s Tray Table by Hans Bølling; Plateau, a new table by Søren Rose Studio for DK3; Caravaggio, Cecilie Manz’s pendant for Lightyears; the Montana storage system; and Nordic Antique, a hand-painted wallpaper by Heidi Zilmer. Among the seating designs are two by Arne Jacobsen: his Series 7TM chair, produced by Fritz Hansen, and the Tongue Chair, available from Howe. Others are J39 by Børge Mogensen, produced by Fredericia Furniture; Kaare Klint’s Safari Chair, made by Carl Hansen & Søn; and the Fiber Chair, designed by Iskos-Berlin for Muuto.

Having studied in Offenbach am Main, where he now runs a studio, Sebastian Herkner is a successful product designer who’s interested in the fusion of new technologies and artisanal crafts, with an eye to accentuating the beauty of materials and the details of an object. With a host of designs in production – examples are Collar, a pendant for Gubi; Bell, a coffee table for Classicon; and Banjooli and Coat, collections for Moroso – Herkner is known for a sophisticated style that reflects clean-lined craftsmanship and clear references to the roots of Danish design. ‘The city of Offenbach radiates traditional craftsmanship, sensory perception and passion – the same elements you find in Danish design,’ he says. ‘My way of thinking and analysing is German, but I don’t always stick to the German mantra of simplicity and functionality. Design is also about beauty, passion, sensuousness.’

Based in Amsterdam, designer Niek Pulles explores the tactile connections between materials and the human body. His work, which blurs the boundaries that separate product design and fashion, features a dynamic that highlights the development of his living, breathing ‘foamboy monsters’, most recently seen frozen in a state of suspended animation at Comme des Garçons stores worldwide. At Dutch Design Week 2014, Pulles staged mannequins wearing fashions of the future, afloat in a tropical island-cum-nightclub as part of the Modebelofte installation. He recognizes the link between his work and the task at hand: ‘Danish design is very close to the body. I see a beautiful and elegant relationship with human shapes.’ Referring to the iconic objects that he’s chosen for Re-Framing Danish Design, he continues: ‘They are sculptures, pieces that are very delicate and made with lots of love and dedication. I want to respect their origins but execute the designs with my own signature – give them my personal identity.’

By initiating a reinterpretation of Danish icons, both classic and contemporary, Re-Framing Danish Design provokes an open-ended discussion about the impact of global influences on design, while addressing society’s continually changing needs.