Liam – August 27, 2019
My wife, Kim, and I were in Milwaukee a few weeks ago for a cousin’s wedding. We’ve been to the Cream City plenty of times before, and when we’re there, we always make a point to stop into Cream City Restoration. It’s a vintage shop run by a husband and wife that specializes in locally curated and crafted vintage items. Its main attraction is its furniture, much of which is of Danish modern design.
My wife has her reasons for falling in love with me. I’m confident one of them is my Danish heritage. She’s a designer and goes ga-ga for mid-century modern furniture, especially the Danish kind. It’s completely understandable. Its quality materials, careful craftsmanship and minimalist ergonomic details make Danish modern the outright example of beautiful, quality furniture. She might not admit it, but I think Kim is hoping I have some untapped skills as a furniture designer that will one day reveal themselves, and I’ll build her custom pieces for each birthday, anniversary, Christmas and Valentine’s Day.
Whether or not there’s a furniture design master hiding somewhere inside of me, artistry and craftsmanship are undeniable Danish traits. And the Danish Home of Chicago excels at providing its residents with ample opportunities to quench their Danish design thirst with lifestyle programs like jewelry repair and taking trips to the Morton Arboretum where the Nature Connects®: Art with LEGO® is on display through September 15. (A visit is planned the week after Labor Day.) Last year, residents had a blast hunting giant wooden trolls at the Arboretum’s Troll Hunt created by Danish artist Thomas Dambo.
LEGO is, perhaps, the most famous and beloved Danish creation. But Denmark’s furniture is not far behind. The industry is composed of about 400 companies and employs approximately 15,000 people. More than 80 percent of all the furniture produced is exported, making it one of Denmark’s top ten exports. So far, Denmark’s furniture industry has earned $6.3 million USD, according to Statista.com.
The style Kim and the rest of us know and love today began in the 1920s when Danish designer and architect Kaare Klint embraced the German design principles of Bauhaus. But it was the visionary approaches of Arne Jacobsen, Hans Wegner and Finn Juhl that brought Danish modern to the forefront of design. Americans first became interested in the style after some pieces were used in the Frank Lloyd Wright-designed Fallingwater home outside of Pittsburgh in 1935.
At first, American manufacturers were creating the works of the masters like Jacobsen, Wegner and Juhl using similar high standards of production as the Danes back in Copenhagen. But as demand increased and department stores like Sears and Woolworth’s got in the game, stateside manufacturers switched to cheaper materials like Formica and molded plastic. Quality over quantity won and sales began to decline around 1966.
But demand remains, as proven by how much furniture is made and shipped overseas as well as by American stores dealing in Danish modern like Design Within Reach and, of course, restoration and vintage shops like Milwaukee’s Cream City, and Chicago’s Mint Home and Orange Moon.
Let’s be honest: I’m never going to design beautiful furniture for Kim. She’s going to have to make due with fawning over the designs of others. At least they’re Danish.