Arne Jacobsen was one of Denmark’s most influential 20th century architects and designers. Both his buildings and products, like his Swan and Egg Chairs, combine modernist ideals with a Scandinavian love of naturalism.
Born in Copenhagen in 1902, Arne Jacobsen worked as an apprentice bricklayer before winning a place to study architecture at the Royal Academy of the Arts in 1924. Humble though Jacobsen’s first job may seem it was precisely this hands-on experience that imbued Jacobsen with the love of materials, which became a dominant feature of his work.
As an architect, Jacobsen strove to achieve grace and coherence in his work. He emerged as the single most influential Danish architect of the 20th century, with his great masterpieces being the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen and St Catherine’s College in Oxford- a design so holistic that Jacobsen spent weeks fretting over not only the shade of grey he wanted for the curtains but also the height of the trees in the courtyard and the mood of the wall art in the corridors.
During the 1950s, Jacobsen became increasingly interested in product design inspired by the work of the now legendary US furniture designers, Charles and Ray Eames. He was also influenced both by the ideals of his textile designer wife, Joanna, and the Italian design historian Ernesto Rogers, who believed that the design of every element was equally important “from the spoon to the city”.
Today his furniture is amongst the most copied and collected in the world. His work is typical of a great designer in that you may not know its name, or the name of the person behind it but you will certainly be familiar with its form. His most celebrated furniture designs include modernist classics as the Swan, Egg and Ant Chairs as well as the stainless steel, abstract-shaped cutlery which the director Stanley Kubrick chose as timelessly futuristic props for his film, 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Though now a classic of modern chair design, the Ant chair was originally designed by Jacobsen for use in the mundane surroundings of the canteen of a Danish pharmaceutical firm. The Ant was named for its striking similarity to the outline of an ant with its head raised. The chair was designed to be light, stable, easy to stack up, and to minimise tangling the user’s feet. The original model had three plastic legs and a seat made from form-moulded laminated veneer. Though an original would now set you back a pretty penny or two, there are tons of imitations on the market which are beautiful in their own right. Ikea in particular has stayed very faithful to the original design.
The Egg chair and Swan chair are both very similar in style. Both are designed in typical Jacobsen fashion in that they completely rewrite the rulebook in terms of shape and form- with each pushing their physical make-up of steel and leather to the absolute limit of the capabilities. Due to the highly unusual shapes of both chairs, affordable copies have been difficult to manufacture meaning it is definitely better to look for an original in these instances. Though pricey, both the Swan and the Egg make for a brilliant central piece in any room. If you are very lucky you may come across a battered and bruised original in an antique shop or flea market. A little money spent on reupholstering in a PVC fabric could possibly save you hundreds- keep your eyes peeled!