What’s behind the resurgent interest in Danish Modern furniture in the Northwest?
Is it the sexy look of the sets on TV’s “Mad Men”? Is it a new generation of people looking for sleek lines? Is it our collective Scandinavian heritage floating to the top?
Or is it, perhaps, the fact that the high end of homes most people can afford these days are those built in the 1950s and ’60s?
Not those expensive architectural masterpieces, mind you, but the mid-century homes in many Snohomish County neighborhoods, those with masonry fireplaces, wood floors (under yucky wall-to-wall carpet), plain cabinets, big windows, open dining-living areas, two or three bedrooms and one or two baths.
After World War II and the war in Korea, people now in their 80s bought up these houses, and many, such as Anna and Peter Evans of Mountlake Terrace, invested in Danish Modern furniture from Scan Design and Skarbos.
Over the years, minimalist mid-century furnishings have flooded the resale market. Unfortunately, to get original Danish Modern you’ll pay much more than grandma did.
Marianna Evans Hanefeld of Kirkland guesses that the furniture her folks bought in the early 1960s for their modest home in Terrace now is probably worth more than $30,000. And that’s for three living room chairs, a couch, a dining table and matching chairs and some side pieces.
“I am not going to tell my dad how much it is worth because I don’t want him to sell their furniture,” Hanefeld said. “They’ve had it recovered several times and it looks just as good as it did when I was a kid. Mom wanted style and good value for their money. They got it.”
Still, fuss-free furniture appeals to a lot of people who scraped by during the past six years and who live in houses built in the 1950s. More affordable Danish Modern furniture reproductions, such as those found at Ikea, Target and Crate and Barrel, often fit the bill.
To get a good look at the real stuff, get down to the Nordic Heritage Museum in Ballard before Aug. 31 to see the exhibit “Danish Modern: Design for Living.”
The exhibition was produced by the Museum of Danish America in Elk Horn, Iowa.
Displayed are dozens of vintage pieces from the 1950s and 1960s by Danish designers such as Poul Henningsen, Arne Jacobsen, Niels Otto Møller, Borge Mogensen and Hans Wegner.
Wegner designed “The Chair” — known as such after it gained popularity after the televised presidential debates between John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon.
Jacobsen’s well-known Egg and Swan chairs, his Ant chair and his follow-up, the Seven chair are displayed.
Form, function and beauty are evident and you are invited to sit in some of the pieces.
In addition, the cool upsidedown “artichoke” light fixtures, tableware, serving pieces and even toys are included in the exhibition. Visitors also can listen to videotapes of six contemporary Danish designers describe their work in relation to the question “What makes design Danish?”
The late Danish poet Piet Hein is quoted in the exhibit:
“Why are the Danish craftsmen acclaimed with such world-wide cheers? Why are but few their equals and probably none their peers? What made the Danish Modern? We practiced for 23,000 years.”
Lizette Graden, Nordic Heritage’s curator, said the Puget Sound region was particularly susceptible to the marketing of Danish Modern furniture. The affordable homes of the 1950s and ’60s paved the way and the modern look appealed to many, she said.
It didn’t hurt, either that the 1962 World’s Fair in Seattle, the Century 21 Exposition, featured a lot of mid-century modern art, furniture and styles.
By the 1970s, interest in Danish Modern waned. It’s had a comeback over the past 10 years or more.
Mark Mussari, who earned a doctoral degree in Scandinavian studies at the University of Washington, says in the exhibit’s accompanying catalog that with the resurgence in its popularity, original Danish Modern furniture is indeed commanding astronomical prices.
“It has been difficult for new designers to overcome the towering reputations of figures such as Jacobsen, Juhl and Wegner,” Mussari said. “More than half a century later, their designs continue to define the qualities of Danish Modern that spoke so strongly to American tastes in the last century.”
Gale Fiege: 425-339-3427; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visit the exhibit
“Danish Modern: Design for Living” through Aug. 31 at the Nordic Heritage Museum, 3014 NW 67th St., Seattle. Hours are 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and noon to 4 pm. Sunday. The standing exhibits at the museum such as “Dream of America” has plenty of information about Scandinavians outside of Seattle, including those who settled in Snohomish County. Admission is $6 for children, $7 for seniors and college students and $8 for adults. More information is at www.nordicmuseum.org.