Danish Design Firm Carl Hansen & Søn Reissues the Wishbone Chair in Bold New Colors
What is the perfect chair? Is it the relaxed Eames Lounge Chair? Or maybe an exquisite chaise by Le Corbusier? Or perhaps Arne Jacobsen’s simple Series 7 chair?
Each of these pieces deserves a home in elegant design, but we believe it’s the Wishbone Chair that truly represents the two qualities—aesthetic style and utilitarian functionality—that define an ideal chair. Designed by Hans J. Wegner in 1949, the Wishbone Chair has been continuously produced since 1950 by the revered Danish firm Carl Hansen & Søn.
We’re elated to report that Carl Hansen & Søn recently reissued Wegner’s iconic Wishbone Chair in a stunning array of colors. This new series of Wishbone Chairs offers design devotees the chance to experience the more vivid side of Danish style. The reissue also provides Carl Hansen & Søn the opportunity to retell the story of Wegner’s special and innovative vision, a vision that defined not only Danish modern but also the midcentury modern movement in America.
The Essence of a Chair
Born in 1914 and the son of a cobbler, Wegner began his career as an apprentice to master cabinetmaker H.F. Stahlberg. At 20, he moved to Copenhagen to attend the Danish School of Arts and Crafts and, after that, the Architectural Academy. Unlike Arne Jacobsen, the Danish design titan who gave Wegner his first job, Wegner would never fulfill his architectural ambitions. However, his early education is central to understanding his design, as well as to the overall beliefs of the Danish modern movement.
It is important to remember that, at the beginning of the last century, there were essentially two types of chairs: stylish and often ornate chairs for the prosperous, and crude but practical chairs for everyone else. Wegner’s insight was to combine the best of both worlds. As Wegner himself once said, he worked at “stripping the old chairs of their outer style and letting them appear in their pure construction.” The concept was that if you took a Louis XVI chair, for example, and disposed of all the floral upholstery and gold leaf, you would reveal not only a sturdy chair underneath but one that was also practical.
Wegner’s first groundbreaking work is a great example of this idea played out in the real world. In 1944, Wegner designed his Peacock Chair, which was basically a classic Windsor chair stripped of all its period detail. Wegner’s great innovation was to then expand and amplify the back spindles so that they fanned out like a peacock’s tail. The result was a more comfortable—and more stylish—chair. The Peacock Chair epitomizes one of Wegner’s design rules: ”A chair is to have no backside. It should be beautiful from all sides and angles.”
The Playful Perfectionist
In 1944, Wegner began creating a line of chairs shaped by pictures of traveling Danish merchants sitting in chairs from the Ming dynasty. These designs would not be produced until 1950, when Wegner began his partnership with Carl Hansen & Søn. Their first collaboration had its roots in a later version of those early Ming-inspired chairs—what would eventually be called the Wishbone Chair.
“The good chair is a task [that] one is never completely done with.”
The Wishbone Chair is essentially a stripped-down version of a traditional design that is then coupled with Wegner’s signature panache. Knud Erik Hansen, of Carl Hansen & Søn, refers to Wegner as a “playful perfectionist.” That playfulness is on full display with the Wishbone Chair. With its Y-shaped back and its top rails and arms forged into a single piece, the Wishbone Chair looks like a more comfortable Ming Chair, one that a Ming-dynasty emperor might have slumped into after an endless day of sitting in his more formal seat.
The perfectionist in Wegner is clear from one of his famous axioms: “The good chair is a task [that] one is never completely done with.” This obsessive streak reveals the motivation behind why Wegner traveled with the Hansen family to the island of Funen so he could oversee every step of the chair’s initial production.
After all these years, the process of crafting a Wishbone Chair remains just as labor-intensive as it was 66 years ago. According to Carl Hansen & Søn, ”Over 100 production steps are required to make a single chair, and most of the processes demand manual work.” One chair takes nearly a month to complete, and it involves fashioning and combining the 14 separate parts, steam-shaping the backrest, and hand-weaving the seat. At its cutting-edge factory outside of Odense, Denmark, Carl Hansen & Søn specially trains a group of artists just to weave the seats. Almost 400 feet of paper cord is used to produce a single chair.
Christian Holmsted Olesen, head of exhibitions and collections at the Designmuseum Danmark, said that the Wishbone Chair is “an icon for everything Danish design stands for: the finest craftsmanship, a sense for detail and the material, user-orientation, and superior durability.”
A New Classic
Since 1950, Carl Hansen & Søn has crafted 12,000 to 14,000 Wishbone Chairs each year, and it remains Wegner’s most popular design. Outside of Scandinavia, Japan is Carl Hansen & Søn’s largest importer, so it’s no surprise that the National Art Center in Tokyo chose the Wishbone Chair for its Salon de Thè Rond. Wishbone Chairs can also be enjoyed in stylish hotels and restaurants across the globe, including the Woodspeen Restaurant, in England, and the Hotel Son Brull, in Mallorca.
This continued interest in Wegner’s classic design spurred Carl Hansen & Søn to issue the colorful new editions of the Wishbone Chair. According to the company, “There is another important chapter of the Wegner story that bears retelling: that of his passion for color.”
Wegner utilized color during his design process, often painting models with bright hues to gain a clearer sense of their true shape and character in a room. Now, Carl Hansen & Søn is offering the chair in 25 colors, all of which are prompted by Wegner’s original palette. As Knud Erik Hansen said, “We imagine that he would have enjoyed making updates to his designs to accommodate and appeal to new generations. The twenty-five-color range offers today’s customers many possibilities for self-expression, while also conveying the creativity that went into Wegner’s iconic designs.”
Inspired by the colorful finish options of Carl Hansen & Søn’s Wishbone Chair, we curated this collection of Pratt & Lambert paints to bring the feel of Danish modern into your design.
Thirteen of the new color options are sourced from Carl Hansen & Søn’s traditional palette: red browns and orange reds, as well as deep greens and neutrals that run the gamut of color. The company is also offering 12 color options that are exclusive to the Wishbone Chair, all of them inspired by Wegner’s choice of palettes. These 12 are split into three distinct color schemes: ocean, energy, and citrus. Of course, many fans of Danish modern love the natural look of the original, and for these wood lovers there are many choices available—flaxen ash, muted beech, bright oak, dark walnut, and deep cherry. The woven seat also comes in natural, white, and black. All told, the Wishbone Chair is now available in 150 different color, wood, and seat permutations.
But at the heart of the Wishbone Chair is Wegner’s simple yet complex design, a design that reflects why Danish modern furniture remains so popular today. Wegner was once asked how the uncommon style of Danish design was created, and he responded that it was “a continuous process of purification, and, for me, of simplification, to cut down to the simplest-possible elements of four legs, a seat, and combined top rail and arm rest.”
To peruse all the color and wood options Carl Hansen & Søn has to offer, download the company’s latest catalog.