Danish Design Firm Carl Hansen & Søn Reissues the Wishbone Chair in Bold New Colors
What is the ideal chair? Is it the laid-back Eames Lounge Chair? Or maybe a refined chaise by Le Corbusier? Or perhaps Arne Jacobsen’s classic Series 7 chair?
Each of these achievements deserves a place in well-curated design, but we believe it’s the Wishbone Chair that truly represents the two qualities—aesthetic style and utilitarian functionality—that define an ideal chair. Designed by Hans J. Wegner in 1949, the Wishbone Chair has been continuously produced since 1950 by the revered Danish firm Carl Hansen & Søn.
We’re elated to report that Carl Hansen & Søn recently reissued Wegner’s iconic Wishbone Chair in a dazzling array of colors. This new series of Wishbone Chairs offers design aficionados the chance to experience the more vibrant side of Danish style. The reissue also provides Carl Hansen & Søn the opportunity to retell the story of Wegner’s singular and innovative vision, a vision that defined not only Danish modern but also the midcentury modern movement in America.
The Essence of a Chair
Born in 1914 and the son of a cobbler, Wegner began his career as an apprentice to master cabinetmaker H.F. Stahlberg. At 20, he moved to Copenhagen to attend the Danish School of Arts and Crafts and, after that, the Architectural Academy. Unlike Arne Jacobsen, the Danish design giant who gave Wegner his first job, Wegner would never fulfill his architectural ambitions. However, his early education is a necessary insight into his later design, as well as to the overall aesthetics of the Danish modern movement.
It is important to remember that, in Wegner's time, there were essentially two kinds of chairs: stylish and often elaborate chairs for the well-to-do, and crude but practical chairs for everyone else. Wegner’s genius was to combine the advantages offered by both. As Wegner remarked, he worked at “stripping the old chairs of their outer style and letting them appear in their pure construction.” The concept was that if you took a Louis XVI chair, for example, and cut away all the floral upholstery and gold leaf, you would reveal not only a strong chair underneath but one that was also useful.
Wegner’s first groundbreaking work is a wonderful example of this idea played out in the real world. In 1944, Wegner designed his Peacock Chair, which was basically a regular Windsor chair stripped of all its period detail. Wegner’s great innovation was to then expand and exaggerate the back spindles so that they fanned out like a peacock’s tail. The product was a more comfortable—and more stylish—chair. The Peacock Chair illustrates one of Wegner’s design rules: ”A chair is to have no backside. It should be beautiful from all sides and angles.”
The Playful Perfectionist
In 1944, Wegner began creating a line of chairs inspired by portraits of traveling Danish merchants sitting in chairs from the Ming dynasty. These ideas would not come to fruition until 1950, when Wegner established his association with Carl Hansen & Søn. Their first collaboration was designed from a later version of those early Ming-inspired chairs—what would eventually be called the Wishbone Chair.
“The good chair is a task [that] one is never completely done with.”
The Wishbone Chair is essentially a stripped-down version of a traditional design that is then paired with Wegner’s signature brio. Knud Erik Hansen, of Carl Hansen & Søn, refers to Wegner as a “playful perfectionist.” That playfulness is on full display with the Wishbone Chair. With its Y-shaped back and its top rails and arms fashioned into a single piece, the Wishbone Chair looks like a less upright Ming Chair, one that a Ming-dynasty emperor might have rested in after an exhausting day of sitting in his more formal seat.
The perfectionist in Wegner is clear from one of his famous sayings: “The good chair is a task [that] one is never completely done with.” This obsessive streak is the reason why Wegner moved with the Hansen family to the island of Funen so he could monitor the progress of the chair’s initial production.
To this day, the process of crafting a Wishbone Chair is just as complex as it was 66 years ago. According to Carl Hansen & Søn, ”Over 100 production steps are required to make a single chair, and most of the processes demand manual work.” One chair takes almost a month to complete, and it involves building and assembling the 14 separate parts, steam-shaping the backrest, and hand-weaving the seat. At its new, modern factory outside of Odense, Denmark, Carl Hansen & Søn specially trains a group of artists just to weave the seats. Almost 400 feet of paper cord is utilized to create a single chair.
Christian Holmsted Olesen, head of exhibitions and collections at the Designmuseum Danmark, said that the Wishbone Chair is “an icon for everything Danish design stands for: the finest craftsmanship, a sense for detail and the material, user-orientation, and superior durability.”
A New Classic
Since 1950, Carl Hansen & Søn has produced 12,000 to 14,000 Wishbone Chairs each year, and it remains Wegner’s most popular design. Outside of Scandinavia, Japan is Carl Hansen & Søn’s biggest customer, so it’s no surprise that the National Art Center in Tokyo selected the Wishbone Chair for its Salon de Thè Rond. Wishbone Chairs can also be enjoyed in stylish hotels and restaurants across the globe, including the Woodspeen Restaurant, in England, and the Hotel Son Brull, in Mallorca.
This sustained interest in Wegner’s classic design inspired Carl Hansen & Søn to issue the colorful new editions of the Wishbone Chair. According to the company, “There is another important chapter of the Wegner story that bears retelling: that of his passion for color.”
Wegner employed color during his design process, often painting models with bright tones to gain a clearer sense of their true shape and character in a location. Now, Carl Hansen & Søn is offering the chair in 25 colors, all of which are inspired by Wegner’s original palette. As Knud Erik Hansen said, “We imagine that he would have enjoyed making updates to his designs to accommodate and appeal to new generations. The twenty-five-color range offers today’s customers many possibilities for self-expression, while also conveying the creativity that went into Wegner’s iconic designs.”
Inspired by the colorful finish options of Carl Hansen & Søn’s Wishbone Chair, we curated this collection of Pratt & Lambert paints to bring the feel of Danish modern into your design.
Thirteen of the new color options originate from Carl Hansen & Søn’s traditional palette: red browns and orange reds, as well as deep greens and neutrals that run the gamut of color. The company is also offering 12 color varieties that are exclusive to the Wishbone Chair, all of them inspired by Wegner’s choice of palettes. These 12 are split into three distinct color schemes: ocean, energy, and citrus. Of course, many devotees of Danish modern love the natural look of the original, and for these wood lovers there are a variety of alternatives available—flaxen ash, muted beech, bright oak, dark walnut, and deep cherry. The woven seat also comes in natural, white, and black. All told, the Wishbone Chair is now available in 150 different color, wood, and seat permutations.
But at the heart of the Wishbone Chair is Wegner’s simple yet complex design, a design that illustrates why Danish modern furniture remains so in demand today. Wegner was once asked how the uncommon style of Danish design was created, and he responded that it was “a continuous process of purification, and, for me, of simplification, to cut down to the simplest-possible elements of four legs, a seat, and combined top rail and arm rest.”
To peruse all the color and wood options Carl Hansen & Søn has to offer, download the company’s latest catalog.