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ITS NOT EVERY DAY YOU MEET A LIVING LEGEND of mid-century design. Kai Kristiansen, aged 87, recently visited Melbourne and Sydney for the first time to launch the reissue of his Entré range of storage cabinets from the late 50s. Anton Assaad, founder of Great Dane, has been communicating with Kristiansen for more than 12 years and over the last four years the pair have been working towards the reintroduction of Kristiansen’s unique storage pieces. Due to the modular nature of the Entré system, the current offering of three products will be expanded into a much larger range in the coming months and years. “Entré started life in 1954 when I first opened my studio and was manufactured through to 1964,” says Kristiansen. “We have introduced just a few of the classic pieces but the possible variations for this system run into the hundreds.”
A contemporary of renowned Danish designers Børge Mogensen, Hans Wegner and Finn Juhl, Kristiansen studied furniture design at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, under Kaare Klint, the great Danish architect. “Klint brought architecture and interior and furniture design together for the first time. He saw design as one united element and his influence led to what we now know as the golden age of Danish design,” says Kristiansen. “I was his last pupil. A great deal of my thinking has come from him.”
These days Kristiansen is best known for his ‘Model 42’ dining chair (produced by the high-end Japanese manufacturer Miyazaki Chair Factory) but ‘Model 31’ was his most successful chair as a young designer and sold more than 10,000 per year in the 60s – many bought by Ikea, then a young company. “Ikea loved the chair and were buying large quantities from the Danish manufacturer, Preben Schou Andersen. I was invited to Sweden to meet with Ikea founder Ingvar Kamprad to discuss becoming one of their in-house designers. He suggested I look out the window and said, ‘That could be yours if you come to work for us’.” Kristiansen still isn’t quite sure whether he was being offered the sleek white Porsche in the driveway but he turned down the offer and continued to work from his small studio in Jutland. “But we remained good friends for many years,” he adds.
Kristiansen is still motivated by perfection. As pressure from would-be licensees intensifies around the rights to his acclaimed ‘FM’, modular wall unit designed in 1960 for Feldballes Mobelfabrik, he is circumspect about its future. “I don’t think it will come again. I have been approached by many companies wanting to do this particular design but I’m not satisfied with it. I need to make a few changes before I can give permission for anyone to make it again,” he says.