Hans Wegner was born on April 2nd, 1914 in Tønder, Denmark. At a young age, he started working as an apprentice to master cabinetmaker H. F. Stahlberg where he soon discovered he had a feeling for wood, and developed an affinity towards the material which marked his entire career. Finishing his apprenticeship at 17 he remained in the workshop for another three years before joining the army. Afterwards, he went to technical college and then to Danish School of Art and Crafts in Copenhagen.
After finishing his studies in 1940, Wegner started working at Erik Møller and Arne Jacobsen’s design studio where one his first assignments was designing the furniture for the new town hall in Aarhus.
During the war, Wegner worked with Børge Mogensen at FDB Furniture, where he helped create FDB’s low-cost quality furniture which was an important part of the functionalistic ideology behind the Danish Modern. Along with other big names in Danish design, Hans Wegner’s work is often credited for changing the general public’s view of furniture in the 1950s and 1960s.
Master of the Chair
Unlike most of the other designers at the time, Hans Wegner wasn’t interested in architecture. Instead, he devoted his entire career to furniture design and especially chairs. During his career, Hans J. Wegner designed over 500 chairs and a large number of different furniture elements, earning himself the title “The Master of the Chair”.
When talking about Wegner’s immense success in this field, one must mention that, despite his modern, minimalistic and innovative approach to design, he always held a deep respect for nature and, unlike many of his contemporaries, Wegner kept wood at the heart of all of his most successful designs.
Some of his most popular chair designs include:
In 1941 Hans J. Wegner began a long and productive collaboration with the joiner master, Johannes Hansen. The two worked together on some of Wegner’s most famous furniture, including The Chair, Peacock Chair (Butterfly) and the Chinese Dining Table.
After Johannes Hansen passed away in 1995, the production of several models has been taken over by PP Møbler. Another company closely related to Wegner’s work certainly is Fritz Hansen, where some of his most iconic designs are still being produced today.
Wegner's own Design Studio
After working for a couple of years at Arne Jacobsen’s studio, Hans J. Wegner decided to open his own design studio in 1943. It was here that he began designing chairs which were inspired by the Chinese Ming era and which later became his most famous and successful series. During the post-war period, Wegner also used his studio to produce furniture together with Børge Mogensen and others designers involved in the FDB projects.
The time Wegner worked at his own studio spanned for many years and is considered one of one of the most productive periods of his career as he produced hundreds of new prototypes. He seldom left work and, as his contemporaries later told, he was extremely dedicated to his work and had little other interests.
Wegner's International Career
Hans J Wegner’s immense success in Denmark and increasing popularity of his designs quickly lead to a wider recognition on the international market. During the 1950s, Wegner’s furniture appeared on many American exhibitions and the ensuing publicity lead to the greater demand for Danish designer furniture overseas.
Wegner also received a number of international awards, including Lunningspirisen in 1951 and 8th International Design Award in 1971 in Osaka, Japan, and his designs were displayed at a number of world-renowned design museums, including The Museum of Modern Art in New York, Die Neue Sammlung in Munchen and Centre Pompidou in Paris.
In 1997, Hans Wegner received an honorary doctorate at Royal College of Art in London.
The Last Years of Wegner's Career
Wegner retired in 1993 and his daughter Marianne, a qualified architect, took over her father’s design studio after working with him for 20 years.
Wegner passed away on January 7th, 2007, at the age of 92. However, his designs are still being produced today and are extremely sought after worldwide, while the legacy of his work continues to live on. His enormous contribution to the international recognition and popularity of the Danish Modern, as well as his unique style and flair for innovation, earned the “Master of the Chair” a place among the biggest names of Danish design.
However, maybe the most important legacy of Wegner’s work is his devotion to wood, through which he showed that modern design isn’t an obstacle to using traditional materials. As Paola Antonelli, head of the department of architecture and design at Museum of Modern Art in New York, said, Wegner was one of the most earthbound designers of his time, but he will rather be remembered as a carpenter than as a designer.