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Fritz Hansen, Poul Kjærholm & the dimensions of timeless design

Timelessness is an aesthetic. The best minds in furniture design can look at raw materials and imagine shapes and structures — informed both by past breakthroughs and future tastes — bending and twisting them into existence.

Known precisely for its timeless design pieces and quality craftsmanship is Fritz Hansen, a Danish furniture company founded in 1872, which has iconic pieces (the Egg chair, Swan chair and the Drop chair, among others) that have appeared in movies featuring equally iconic figures from The Beatles to Bond to the MIB.

Dario Reicherl, Fritz Hansen CEO for Asia, says if you make a list of the 10 most iconic chairs of all time, “Fritz Hansen would have four of them, and the other six would be a mix of chairs by brands from the US, Denmark, Italy and Germany.”

It is important to note how Fritz Hansen purposely did not become a monolithic company with expanding production facilities in China.

Elegant shot: The PK60 coffee-table

“After 152 years, we are still operating in the small village of Hillerød. Our focus is on quality. We want to do the best chair in the world — but that doesn’t mean the most beautiful. The best means being made from the best material that lasts the longest as possible, right? To do that, you need two things: You need the best leather, the best metal. You also need the best people. So, if you talk about Fritz Hansen, it’s about quality and how less is more. It’s about being timeless.”

We live in a throwaway society: new gadgets, gear, fashionwear, the in-thing every season. The Danish brand tries to go the opposite direction.

Poul Kjærholm’s final design: PK15

Dario explains, “At Fritz Hansen, we believe in buying less; people should buy once and that’s it. You don’t need another chair from us or from anybody else because we believe you will never get tired of the aesthetic of our chair. That’s why our chairs from 1952 to ’58 are what we produce the most, our most iconic pieces. After 70 years ago, they are still hot and popular. You see celebrities in the US or in Korea sitting on the Series 7 chair. So, timeless means something that never ages. It does age physically, yeah. But the leather… actually, when it gets older, it looks better. It’s not a trend because it’s been like that for almost a century.”

Reicherl was at Studio Dimensione in BGC recently to talk about the design philosophy of Poul Kjærholm. Kjærholm stands among modern architecture’s most significant pioneers, alongside Le Corbusier and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe. Kjærholm’s journey began as a cabinetmaker but his education at The School of Arts and Crafts in Copenhagen led him to innovate with materials beyond wood, notably steel, setting him apart from his peers.

At Studio Dimensione in BGC: Dario Reicherl explains, “The story we tell about Fritz Hansen is the same story my colleagues were telling 20 years ago. It’s like the story of Coco Chanel — how she built the company and so on.” The evolution of modern furniture design is indeed closely intertwined with the story of Fritz Hansen. Photo by IGAN D’BAYAN

At the age of 22, Kjærholm designed the PK25 chair for his graduation project, catching the eye of Søren Hansen from Fritz Hansen. Adhering to the philosophy of “Less is more,” Kjærholm’s designs are lauded for their simplicity and elegance. His works are displayed in major museums worldwide, including MoMA in New York and the V&A Museum in London.

Over 60 years on, his designs continue to be revered for their innovative use of materials and minimalist aesthetic. Today, Kjærholm’s designs are celebrated as a shining gem in the Fritz Hansen collection. His pieces, characterized by a profound respect for materiality and simplicity, remain a testament to his legacy in the world of design.

The Fritz Hansen CEO for Asia focused on the evolution of Kjærholm’s iconic design pieces — from his classic masterpieces to his cutting-edge creations. Dario mentions the PK15 chair, which makes its first appearance in Asia.

“It was the last chair that he designed. It’s so difficult to produce because it’s a steam-bent wood. You take a piece of wood, you bend it with hot air, and it becomes absolutely straight — and that is almost impossible. Have you ever seen a straight tree (laughs)? We can produce only around 20 chairs a month.”

According to Dario, Kjærholm was a super humble guy.

“Not a guy who did interviews or showed off his personality through his designs — but the exact opposite. What he wanted to show was the quality of the material. (Pointing to the PK61 coffee-table, which is almost oriental in its simplicity and Zen-like starkness) This is his table. It’s all about the quality of the steel. Look, there is no welding. It’s pure joinery. Nobody does joinery with steel. No one, not yesterday, not tomorrow, only Poul Kjærholm did this. He was treating steel like wood, as if it was mahogany — with joints. No glue needed; it’s just pressure, similar to the time of the Ancient Egyptians.”

Kjærholm’s pieces of furniture were constructed in a way that they become profoundly simple and minimal. “He was looking at beauty in nature. And nature is stone, rocks, marble, minerals, metals. To make something beautiful with very little, simply because the material itself is beautiful. So, it’s basically giving back to nature.”

Another example is the PK22 lounge chair: four small pieces of metal that have been bent, two bolts on the left and two on the right. Dario explains, “The leather goes in — like a shirt or a sock. It’s empty, but because the leather has been stretched, it bounces. So you’re sitting on virtually nothing. It’s like sitting in the air and the chair seems invisible.”

For Kjærholm, furniture should disappear in the house, and should be assimilated within the interiors. Reicherl quips, “Nothing should scream.”

We ask him what makes more and more Filipinos gravitate toward Fritz Hansen’s pieces. He answers, When I tell the story of the brand, people get really fascinated and they say, ‘Okay, we want to have a piece of Fritz Hansen in our homes because this represents value, which is essential to us Filipinos.’ That’s what they’re thinking, right? It is all about value, about family.”

He tells a story about a friend who is a Filipina with a house full of plants and flowers, lots of browns in the interiors, very tropical. But the way Fritz Hansen furniture blends with this setting fascinates Dario no end.

Palawan with its lush tropicality and Scandinavia with its immaculate snow… will there be synergy?

“Yes, and it makes absolute sense,” says the Fritz Hansen executive, who hails from Italy, works for a Danish company, and holds offices in Singapore with two headquarters in Korea and Japan.

Ten years ago, when he met chairman Ben Chan and VP for business development Bryan Lim of Suyen Corporation, which exclusively represents Fritz Hansen in the Philippines, they found out they share the same vision. They’ve become like family friends ever since.

“There is a huge trust between Ben and me,” says Dario. “I look at Ben as a mentor. It is inspiring what he created out of nothing. And the fact that he has stayed so humble… I want to be like him. With Bryan, we’re the same age so we have so many things in common in terms of taste and understanding. He’s calmer; I’m more agitated (smiles). And whenever I visit, I constantly learn more about the Philippines.”

How Poul Kjærholm’s design preference has resonated with us here in the festive, multi-hued tropics, it’s not at all baffling. Dario points to a chair in the corner of the showroom.

Why is the Series 7 chair so popular in Denmark, Korea, the US, the Philippines, practically everywhere?

“It’s because of comfort, because it serves many other purposes,” concludes Reicherl. “The shape itself is super simple. It takes the shape of the human body. Or you could think of it like a clessidra.”

An hourglass, I see it now. Imagine how this timeless piece of Danish furniture is shaped like an instrument measuring time.

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The Fritz Hansen showroom is at Studio Dimensione, One Parkade, 28th St. corner 7th Ave., Bonifacio Global City, Taguig.

Credit belongs to : www.philstar.com

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