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TextielMuseum opens exhibition on Scandinavian furniture, textiles and interior products
Hans J. Wegner, ‘Flag Halyard Chair’ (Denmark), 1950. Producer: PP Møbler. Photo: PP Møbler/Jens Mourits Sørensen.

TILBURG.- One of the highlights of ‘Simply Scandinavian. Nordic Design 1945-2018’ in the TextielMuseum is the Flag Halyard Chair, designed by Hans J. Wegner (Denmark) in 1950. Curator Suzan Rüsseler spoke to the chair’s owner, designer Richard Rooze (Amsterdam). He tells the story behind this rare, sought-after, early version of the chair with its metal frame and plaited flag halyard seat.

SR: Richard, you are a designer yourself and the proud owner of a very early example of the Flag Halyard Chair by Wegner. Can you tell me about the significance of this chair in Wegner’s oeuvre?

RR: The Flag Halyard has an interesting backstory. In the late ‘40s, Wegner studied the possibilities of curved wood for furniture design. For his Shell Chair, he then went on to experiment with new materials such as curved multiplex, which he shaped and pressed into moulds. The Danes were the first manufacturers who were able to do this – and to keep the furniture affordable, a large production capacity was necessary. Wegner kept the first prototype of his Shell Chair and looked for affordable alternatives for a comfortable chair. That is the essence of his designs: creating comfort with minimal resources. A family outing to the beach gave him the idea for the Flag Halyard. He dug a hole in the sand with the ideal, lightly leaning position in which he could still keep an eye on his surroundings. He translated this natural tub form into a chair with a steel frame where the seat, back and armrests were formed by flag halyard wound around the frame. The first frame was painted entirely white, but he soon opted to paint the lower section green and chromium-plate the upper section. The green of the lower section accentuated the difference between the load-bearing part and the floating upper part of the chair. My example is from that early period.

Hans J. Wegner (1914-2007) is considered a master of Danish furniture design. Trained as a furniture maker and architect, he established his own practice in 1943, after several years working for Arne Jakobsen. He took his inspiration from Danish craft traditions and his natural environment. Besides wood, his furniture often incorporated textile materials and techniques such as woven wicker and paper cord. Around 500 of Wegner’s designs went into production at Danish furniture makers including Johannes Hansen, Carl Hansen & Søn, Fritz Hansen and Getama. His iconic chairs are coveted collectors’ items and some are still produced today.

SR: Wegner’s style is epitomised by technical precision and attention to detail. What distinguishes the early version from the current version now being produced by PP Møbler?

RR: Wegner dedicated him career to designing the ultimate chair. He was not interested in the traditional use of springs to increase comfort. In the Flag Halyard, the four functional elements of the seat, back, headrest and armrests are all an integral part of the interplay between the metal frame and the plaited flag halyard. He had previously used flag halyard in the design of his Circle Chair in 1949. The Flag Halyard is continually being revised and, as I just mentioned, the lower section was first painted white and then green. In the original versions you can also see a metal circle at the end of the chair legs with a trapezoidal wooden disc underneath. That shape and the wooden discs prevented the chair from making dents in the floor. Wegner later went back to the white version and replaced the wooden discs with plastic ones. Although he was looking for a cheaper production option than the Shell Chair, the Flag Halyard also turned out to be expensive, as nearly 250 metres of halyard had to be plaited by hand.

SR: You told me the Flag Halyard is a family heirloom.

RR: Yes, as a child I often visited my aunt and uncle. They drove a Citroen DS and did their shopping at De Bijenkorf [a Dutch department store], which had a very progressive furniture department. As an eight-year-old sitting in that fantastic chair, it seemed enormous. The fact that you could make such a comfortable chair with only a bit of string and a frame fascinated me. My aunt and uncle hadn’t been married long when they bought the chair and I imagined it as their love chair. About five years ago, I asked my aunt what had happened to the chair. It was stored in the attic and was in a bad state, so I had it cleaned and completely restored. In the metal of one of the armrests I found a hand-punched ‘10’ – I presume that each chair was numbered. In the late ‘50s, few people had much money, so I assume not many were sold in the Netherlands.

SR: Danish design from the ‘50s is now bought and sold for impressive sums and is extremely popular.

RR: Yes, that’s true. I was actually trying to sell the chair through an auction house, but I put that on hold for this exhibition. A Flag Halyard from the early production period has been sold in the US for $27,000, which is an incredible price. I think the current popularity of this kind of furniture indicates a yearning for times past where there was less stress and more quality time. After the war, houses were also smaller – and in the Netherlands, apartments measuring just 48m2 are still available. Isn’t it ideal, then, to have practical furniture such as Wegner’s Folding Chair, which you can fold up and hang on the wall?

SR: Wegner’s designs peaked in the ‘50s.

RR: Yes, if you look at his oeuvre you can see it was a very productive period, but he continued designing into his old age. It reminds me of the Japanese island of Okinawa where many people have very long lifespans. This is connected to the Japanese concept of ikigai: the idea that every person has a reason to exist and that your work doesn’t stop when you reach retirement age. You just carry on. Wegner also carried on, and creating comfortable chairs remained his fundamental motivation. He never abandoned that idea, even though the designs changed.

Based around five themes – minimalism and practical beauty, inside and outside, nature as inspiration, craftsmanship and industry, and playful living – the exhibition sets out to answer the question of what makes Scandinavian design so enduring. ‘Simply Scandinavian. Nordic Design 1945-2018’ is on display in the TextielMuseum until 11 November and features furniture, textiles and interior products from Sweden, Denmark and Finland from 1945 to the present.

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