Bright colours and whimsical themes elevated a traditional craft to a design classic, writes Chris Pearson.
How Christian Flensted’s homemade mobile for his baby daughter became a classic.
When Mette Flensted was baptised in Funen, Denmark, in 1953, her father Christian (pictured) marked the occasion with the gift of a stork mobile. His creation of three cardboard birds, mounted on two straws hanging by a thread, combined movement and colour with storytelling and humour.
In Denmark, making mobiles is a traditional craft that hangs neatly on the hook of hygge, a cosiness and comfortable conviviality that engenders a feeling of contentment or wellbeing.
“Danish weather can be cold and dark, which leads us to spend a lot of time indoors decorating our homes,” says Christian’s granddaughter Christine. And once upon a time, those months indoors also generated a tradition of storytelling. “My grandfather was a brilliant storyteller and brilliant salesman – he really knew how to create fairytales,” she says.
So popular were the ‘Lucky Storks’, as they became known, that in 1954 Christian and his wife Grethe started producing mobiles commercially. “My grandfather not only designed and produced mobiles to make homes more beautiful, he sold stories about love and hope,” says Christine, now CEO of Flensted Mobiles, the company Christian founded.
In 1982, his son Ole and daughter-in-law Aase took the reins of the firm. Ole, a gifted designer and entrepreneur, and Aase, “a magical saleswoman and extremely gifted with languages”, made a formidable team. They frequented international trade fairs, promoting the export side of the business while also ensuring “the roots of the company tree grew deeper and stronger in the Danish soil”. After 35 years, Ole and Aase transferred control of the company to their daughter Christine earlier this year.
Flensted Mobiles now produces about 200 designs, yet its philosophy remains unchanged. Since the beginning, the mobiles have been assembled by homeworkers. “Instead of 60 people driving to a factory every day, they work from their homes,” says Christine. “We exchange unassembled parts for mobiles packed and ready to ship. This saves more than 14 tonnes of fuel every year.”
And the product, like the company, spans the generations. “I’ve often heard how a Flensted mobile becomes a part of a family,” she says. “Our mobiles become heirlooms and are passed from generation to generation, reminding the grandchildren of their grandparents.”
WHAT IT MEANS TO US
Flensted Mobiles took to global roaming early, landing in Australia (one of its first overseas markets) in the 1960s. Now about 90 per cent of its product is exported, to around 30 countries.
The rainbow-coloured ‘Balloon 5’ mobile is the top seller here, says Craig McCredie, director of local agent Design Mode International. And parents aren’t the only ones purchasing. “We see architects and designers buying the more abstract models for buildings and larger spaces. They use the flow of breezes to create movement in normally still and stark places.”
In a wonderful case of symmetry, Christine’s current favourite mobile echoes Christian’s first creation. “Before, I didn’t pay much attention to the ‘Expecting Mother’,” she says, “but now that I would love to start a family, I find it poetic and beautiful.”