Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Jens Risom's Scandinavian Modern Designs

We all have that one piece of furniture that was our first love when it comes to modern design. Maybe it was an Eames lounge chair, or perhaps a Saarinen Womb Chair. Maybe you saw the iconic Mies van der Rohe Barcelona Chair and never looked at traditional furnishings again. For us, the chair that made us stop and take notice of modern furniture was a lesser known piece: the Jens Risom Lounge Chair.

Risom’s Lounge Chair is what we consider to be the perfect transition piece. It's got enough sleek lines and innovative designs to be a great modern piece, but it’s also warm, comfortable and accessible. All of Risom’s work is like this, and it’s why not only his pieces still work well today, it’s one of the reasons why he was credited to bringing Scandinavian designs to America.

His most well-known pieces are his pieces made of birch frames and parachute straps, two materials that were actually in surplus during World War II, when Risom first began his collaboration with the famous furniture manufacturing company Knoll in 1941 (coincidentally, Risom was one of the first designers to produce furniture with Knoll). Risom came to these fresh designs by touring architecture being created by the world’s top architects of the day and seeing what would work best---which happened to be a combination of Scandinavian materials and forms and new ideas of the time. Along with his birch furniture with parachute straps, Risom also contributed a number of other upholstered pieces and a lovely line of tables with great style.

Born in Copenhagen, Denmark in 1916, Risom wasted no time in gaining a number of educations, notably being trained as a designer at the Copenhagen School of Industrial Arts and Design, studying at the Niels Brock Copenhagen Business College and working under great architects at architecture firms in Denmark. After getting to America in 1939, he briefly worked in textile before teaming up with Knoll in 1941. After a brief stint in the army, Risom started his own firm in 1946 called Jens Risom Design (also known as just JRD). So successful was the work coming out of his firm that he worked with famed photographer Richard Avedon in a wildly successful ad campaign in the 1950s, expanded productions into other forms of furniture, was featured in Playboy magazine in 1961 and even had one of his office chairs used by Lyndon B. Johnson in the Oval Office.

You don’t have to be a president to find a Risom piece of furniture for your home, though; in 1997 Knoll wisely began selling Risom's furniture designs from the 1940s and 1950s again, and his furniture is available through Design Within Reach.

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