Carl Hansen & Son is a family affair

By: Álvaro Tavares Ramos

Founded in 1908 by Carl Hansen, the Carl Hansen & Søn brand has been run by the family’s third generation since 2002, and remains one of the major symbols of the best in Danish design

When Samantha Cameron, wife of former UK Prime Minister David Cameron and former creative director at Smythson, purchased a copy of the Arco lamp (designed in 1962 by Achille & Pier Giacomo Castiglioni) online in 2011, the resulting spotlight on these poor-quality reproductions led to controversy. In fact, the director of Elle Decoration UK referred to Cameron’s choice as “cheap, hypocritical and fake”. While replicas in the fashion industry have always been frowned upon by the press and the more informed consumers, in design, reproductions have never had the same level of condemnation, due partly to the public being unaware of them and because they are wrongly celebrated as a form of democratisation of design.

Conceived by Hans J. Wegner in 1949, the CH24 chair, better known as the Wishbone Chair, is an excellent example of pieces that have been copied unethically over the decades. Despite the apparent aesthetic similarity between the original and the copy, when placed side by side, the differences stand out a mile. In the original Carl Hansen & Søn model, the proportions and thickness of the materials are perfect, the upper ‘arch’ of the back is a single, solid piece (without joints), the wood is knot-free and the hand woven paper cord seat is compact and firm.

The copies fail miserably at presenting these characteristics, producing a poor reproduction of the piece designed by Wegner, due to the use of poor-quality materials and flawed construction. One of four pieces developed by the designer for Carl Hansen & Søn when he started working with the brand in the late 1940s, the Wishbone Chair fully reflects the philosophy of Danish design, revealing essential organic lines, attention to detail and an exceptional appreciation of craftsmanship. In addition to this, the chair mirrors Wegner’s respect for wood and his original training as a cabinet-maker, which enabled him to take this material to its limits and to always produce pieces of great elegance.

Seemingly simple, the CH24 goes through a process of more than 100 steps, with most carried out by hand, over a period of around three weeks, until it is ready to be delivered to its users all around the globe.
Carl Hansen & Søn’s focus on the quality of materials and on craftsmanship has ensured that the Danish brand has enjoyed sustained growth in recent years, avoiding the market effects of copies produced in the Far East.

Proof of its healthy countenance and its faith in local manufacture was revealed with the opening of its new factory in 2014, the year in which Hans Wegner would have celebrated his 100th birthday. The new factory in Gelsted – located at a site previously occupied by a window manufacturer, which had in the meantime left the country to produce in other parts of Europe – reflects its success abroad and the public’s appreciation of the long tradition of the brand founded in 1908 by the grandfather of current CEO Knud Erik Hansen.

As one of the major trailblazers of the Nordic style, Carl Hansen & Søn enjoyed its golden era in the 1950s and 1960s, bringing together two of the most iconic figures in Danish design: Hans J. Wegner and Holger Hansen, the father of the current CEO. “They had a mutual need for each other. The commercial side was driven by a love of wood and the desire to produce quality wooden furniture. Both were excellent cabine-makers, but my father was also a businessman. So they complemented each other and also had a very strong friendship,” explains Knud Erik Hansen.

Despite the difficult times following the unexpected death of Holger Hansen in 1962, Carl Hansen & Søn continued to focus on its collection of classics. Thanks to the dedication of his widow, Ella Hansen, to the brand, the Danish company remained in the family, passing the baton on to the third generation in 1988 when Jørgen Gerner Hansen took the reins. In 2002, his brother and current CEO began his own chapter at the head of the company, continuing its long traditions. Notwithstanding, he began to combine the finest craftsmanship with the best technologies available in furniture manufacturing.

Currently the largest producer of Hans J. Wegner furniture, Carl Hansen & Søn enjoys a close relationship with the Hans J. Wegner Studio, which administers the designer’s legacy, enabling the brand to introduce or revamp pieces that Wegner developed throughout his long career. The CH88 chair is an excellent example of these pieces sourced from the creative treasure-trove of the Dane, who designed more than 1000 creations between the 1930s and his death in 2007.

Having never made it past the prototype stage, the chair, designed in 1955, boasts an exceptional visual lightness, combining the designer’s favourite material, wood, with a steel frame, making it one of the most affordable pieces that the designer developed. At the time, Wegner said that he “always wanted to make furniture that ordinary people could afford to buy, but of unusually high quality”. In addition to the Wishbone and the CH88, the collection of Wegner creations for Carl Hansen & Søn is rich and varied, including the CH20 and CH37 chairs, the iconic CH07, CH25 and CH445 armchairs, and the elegant CH110 desk.

Despite this fruitful connection with Wegner, Carl Hansen & Søn is also one of the great proponents of the legacy of other great masters of Danish design. Kaare Klint, referred to as the father of the modernist design in Denmark, is represented in the brand’s collection through the Safari Chair. Designed in 1933, it is an excellent example of functionality, simplicity and attention to detail. Other names also mark their presence, whether modernist figures, such as Frits Henningsen, Ole Wanscher and Mogens Koch, or contemporary creators, such as Tadao Ando or the Austrian studio EOOS.

Quality pieces produced by Carl Hansen & Søn have long resided in the interiors of private spaces, restaurants and hotels, whether it’s the home of Knud Erik Hansen’s family on the island of Funen, the famous Noma restaurant or the offices of Uber. The Danish brand deserves our admiration for developing pieces of timeless beauty with universal appeal, which pass from generation to generation and resist the test of time through their robustness, visual lightness and elegance like no other.

“We have tradition, we have quality, we have the best products you can buy. They’re still modern; they were modern 50 years ago, they’re still in their prime period, they are still growing, all of them. We pay attention to the same factors as our ancestors did, by keeping quality, looking at the environment, treating people well and I also think we have a great future. These are points that will never go out of fashion; these are things we’ll always appreciate,” concludes Knud Erik Hansen.

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