February 7, 2014 6:15 pm

Design classic: The Swan chair by Arne Jacobsen

The Swan chair by Arne Jacobsen

Arne Jacobsen (1902–1971) is perhaps the most famous Danish designer of them all. His work, which ranges in scale from a hotel to a teaspoon, has been seen everywhere from an Oxford college to the headquarters of a fast-food restaurant; his furniture is among the most copied in the world.

A fervent believer in the theory of integrating design and architecture, Jacobsen was responsible for every element of the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen and, when asked to design St Catherine’s College, Oxford in 1958, he insisted on adding a clause stating that he would “undertake as much as possible of the landscape design and the design of the fixtures and fittings”.

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The son of a safety pin wholesale trader and a bank clerk, who painted floral motifs in her spare time, Jacobsen, as a child, showed signs of his later obsession with detail when he painted over his wallpaper in white.

One of his most renowned pieces of furniture is the Swan chair which he designed in 1958 – along with the equally well-known Egg – for the SAS Royal. Designed in Jacobsen’s garage, it was created from a moulded shell on an aluminium swivel base and upholstered in fabric or leather. It was technologically innovative for the time, as there were no straight lines.

The Swan, which is made by the Republic of Fritz Hansen, has been in constant production since it was first designed. Such is the chair’s popularity that when the designer Paul Smith launched a new design, Point, he chose to cover a Swan chair with it.

Fabrics aside, the design of the Swan has changed very little over the years and each one comes with a unique serial number to distinguish it from a copy. Fritz Hansen is fanatical about protecting its work and recently won a lawsuit against a Danish company who was making copies. It was the first case of its kind in Denmark and the action was taken by several other brands as well. Jacob Holm, Fritz Hansen’s chief executive said after the ruling: “We will not accept theft in broad daylight of modern design classics.”

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Letter in response to this article:

Swan chair’s legs originally teak / From Dr George R Schoedinger III

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