Earlier this year, The New Yorker published a piece that heralded luxury paint company Farrow & Ball as the arbiters of modern taste in interior design. The writer described this company’s paints as being “a repudiation of the stark Scandinavian aesthetic—the tyranny of ikea—that has dominated interior design in recent decades.” It wasn’t until going to the Denmark Design exhibition at Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki this week that I realised how simplistic this view of Scandinavian design really is.
Danish design aesthetics are indeed popular and have been flooding our newsfeeds for the last several years. Natural lighting filtering through the windows, furniture with sleek silhouettes, beds dripping with buttery-soft linens, wildflowers bursting out of ceramic vases... It’s easy to dismiss the popularity of this minimalist style as being monotonous and for the mindless masses - for those happy to let their homes’ styling be dictated by the trends of the moment. But Denmark Design will show you a different story behind the aesthetic’s popularity, and help you explore the many influences that have shaped a nation’s design identity.
There are many lessons to learn from Danish design. Firstly, the designers have a great awareness and appreciation of Danish people’s way of life. Historically, their objects were made to be functional - designed in every way to suit the needs of the individual user. But they were also made to be artistic - Hans Wegner, Denmark’s ‘King of Chairs’, created over 500 different chairs in his lifetime. Creatives like Wegner merged unparalleled craftsmanship with creativity to produce furniture as sculpturally timeless as they were practical for everyday use.
Though the ‘timelessness’ of many showcased objects and the dominance of natural materials may make you think that the designers stuck to tradition and formula, this isn’t the case either. The availability of new textiles and production techniques were embraced, and influential furniture and interior designers like Verner Panton created futuristic works that were bold, playful, and unconventional. Designers who created in more restrained colour palettes were still driven by a spirit of constant and nuanced experimentation.
Something that struck me by surprise was the extent to which Danish design is inspired by the social values upheld by their society. Their toy industry, for example, responded to the nation’s belief in the necessity of play in child development by producing toys that could offer unlimited possibility and creativity for kids. Like Lego, for example. A Danish creation by a manufacturer with a name originating from the phrase ‘leg godt’ (play well).
It was inspiring to see the works of designers who are exquisitely attuned to the sociopolitical changes of their time. Take Mater’s Ocean Chair. A reimagining of a 1955 chair design made of recycled fishing nets, this is an example of designers pioneering green production methods and making strides in the industry towards a more sustainable future.
It’s one of the many aspects that makes Danish design so compelling to homeowners worldwide. These are carefully and masterfully made objects imbued with values that help make dreams a reality. They’re mindfully-made pieces that capture people’s eyes and hearts in an era when so much of what we buy feels mindlessly acquired.
Saturday 26 Oct 2019 – Sunday 2 Feb 2020
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o TāmakiSupport Villainesse