NOTH­ING LIKE A DANE

VET­ERAN DE­SIGNER KAI KRISTIANSEN IS EX­PE­RI­ENC­ING A LATE CA­REER RESUR­GENCE AT 87, WITH TWO FUR­NI­TURE COM­PA­NIES RE­VIV­ING PIECES FROM THE MID-20TH CEN­TURY.

The Australian - Wish Magazine - - CULT - STORY JENI PORTER PHO­TOG­RA­PHY JAN SøNDERGAARD

Ten years ago Danish fur­ni­ture de­signer Kai Kristiansen and his wife moved out of their large fam­ily home in ru­ral Jut­land into a new apart­ment about one­fifth the size. He’d de­signed and built the airy open-plan house in the late 1970s, fill­ing it with his fur­ni­ture as well as some loved pieces by cel­e­brated friends such as Verner Pan­ton. Their new home was so much smaller, they gave away or sold most of their fur­ni­ture and he burnt the bulk of his draw­ings and pa­pers. Hav­ing worked for 52 years, Kristiansen was ready to re­tire, take a pen­sion and en­joy a new life with his wife in the vil­lage where they’d started their mar­ried life. But it wasn’t to be. His wife de­vel­oped de­men­tia and, as he says, he lost her sev­eral years be­fore she died.

See­ing him now in the apart­ment he has turned into a work­ing stu­dio, it’s hard to imag­ine he ever thought he would put down his pen­cils and rulers let alone rest his fer­tile mind. A large work ta­ble com­mands a prime cor­ner un­der the win­dows, the walls are pa­pered with his metic­u­lous draw­ings and there are pro­to­types ev­ery­where, in­clud­ing some se­cret ones he doesn’t want pho­tographed. He’s play­ing around with a stack­ing cube first con­ceived 30 years ago as well as re­think­ing some of his best-known pieces such as the pointy-armed Z or #42 chair he de­signed in 1956.

When we meet, Kristiansen has just re­turned from a trip to Aus­tralia where he launched a col­lec­tion of dressers for Great Dane Fur­ni­ture, and he’s pack­ing for a trip to Ja­pan the next week to visit the Miyazaki Chair Fac­tory for a work­shop with crafts­men who are mak­ing or de­vel­op­ing some of his chairs.

It would be a hec­tic sched­ule for some­one half his age, but the oc­to­ge­nar­ian is un­fazed if a lit­tle be­mused about his bur­geon­ing sec­ond ca­reer. He has worked since 1955, he says, but most of the time his tra­jec­tory was a flat line. Now it’s taken off, he says, draw­ing em­phat­i­cally in the air.

What’s it like to be hot at 87? “I feel it’s rather late,” he says in the wry and pre­cise English he learned while study­ing fur­ni­ture de­sign at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in Copen­hagen in the early 1950s.

In Aus­tralian par­lance, Kristiansen is a na­tional trea­sure – one of only two sur­viv­ing stu­dents of the fore­fa­ther of Danish Mod­ern, Kaare Klint. The vi­sion­ary ar­chi­tect and de­signer was the first pro­fes­sor in the art of fur­ni­ture mak­ing at the academy and he taught and in­flu­enced a gen­er­a­tion of young de­sign­ers, paving the way for the likes of Arne Ja­cob­sen, Hans J Weg­ner and Poul Kjaer­holm.

Klint be­lieved fur­ni­ture should be sim­ple and func­tional with stan­dard mea­sure­ments. He con­tin­ued the Danish tra­di­tion of cab­i­net­mak­ing rather than adopt the in­dus­trial aes­thet­ics of the Euro­pean mod­ernists. He left a body of work span­ning fur­ni­ture and ar­chi­tec­ture and, more sig­nif­i­cantly, a set of found­ing prin­ci­ples that are em­bod­ied in the best of Danish de­sign to­day.

By the time Kristiansen came to the academy in 1950, Klint was busy with his own prac­tice and in ill health. He died in 1954. But he made a last­ing im­pres­sion on the young cab­i­net­maker from Aarhus.

“Kai is very fond of math­e­mat­ics prin­ci­ples and uses that in some of his works,” says Ni­co­lai de Gier, who heads the lat­ter-day ver­sion of Klint’s fur­ni­ture de­sign pro­gram at the Royal Academy. “He told me that this was the best gift he got from Klint.”

That maths brain was put to good use when Kristiansen set about re­work­ing a 1959 dresser to cre­ate the new En­tré range for Great Dane Fur­ni­ture. Among the pa­pers he’d thrown out as he moved house were his draw­ings of En­tré, so named be­cause it suited a hall­way. “He told me he just threw them on the fire,” says Great Dane founder An­ton As­saad – “it was re­ally sad.”

As­saad owned a vin­tage piece, which he had

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.