DANISH RATTAN CRAFTS ⏤ Interview with Birgit Lyngbye

Written by Niklas Søgaard the

KLASSIK has been dealing in original Nordic master cabinetmaker's furniture since 1991, but what we haven't previously displayed is our large modern collection of 20th century wicker furniture that we've been collecting for the last three decades.

Therefore, we are thrilled to be presenting our collection for the first time with our exhibition 'DANISH RATTAN CRAFTS' from 7-30 June 2023 in our Flagship Store at Bredgade 3, 1260 Copenhagen K.

To give an insight into our themed exhibition, we have had the pleasure of interviewing design historian and author Birgit Lyngbye Pedersen, who has recently published a book on Danish wicker furniture.


Birgit Lyngbye Pedersen portræt 

1. You are the author of several books on Danish designer furniture and design history. How did your interest in Danish modern furniture come about?

In the 1930s, my grandfather, Thorvald Pedersen, became friends with architect Arne Jacobsen, who, among other things, designed the Ant Chair for Novo Nordisk's canteen at Fuglebakken. Arne Jacobsen also designed a large and very modern functionalist villa for my grandfather and his family, which my father grew up in. I have always pursued the idea of where the desire to design very visionary and modern interiors came from. I also grew up with fine craftsmanship and have been exposed to modern furniture and design from my mother's side.

I have a small 1950s cottage that I've been furnishing for 30 years using nothing but objects and furniture from the 1950s. It's a time warp, and for many years I've been playing with design from different decades, trying to understand how the tastes of a particular decade were created. There's a wide range of small and large influences that have come and passed down through time, so I became interested in the history of design, modern furniture and the interaction with the norms of the time very early on.



2. You recently published a new book titled 'Wickerwork - The History of Danish Wicker Furniture 1830-2020'. What prompted you to delve into this particular topic?

I was contacted by Karen Louise Wengler, whose great-great-grandfather founded R. Wengler in 1854, which was the largest wicker furniture company in Denmark at the time. She asked me to write a book about the family's wicker furniture factory. But there was too little archival material, and then it struck me that there were countless books written about modern cabinetmaking furniture, but not a single book about the wicker furniture that we all have a relationship with.

I felt it was a compelling untold story that deserved to see the light of day.

Image from Wengler's workshop on Blågårdsgade in Copenhagen, 1928.

3. While Danish carpentry furniture from the 1930s to the 1960s has received a lot of attention, why do you think rattan furniture has been largely overlooked until now?

In Danish design history, rattan furniture hasn't quite received the attention that rattan furniture deserves. Several books have been written about Danish furniture architects and especially the golden age of furniture design from the 1930s to the 60s. But wickerwork is usually only mentioned in passages. Unlike cabinetmaker-made furniture, rattan furniture is ephemeral and because of its natural colours, we consider it cosy and attribute warmth and charm to it.

Most books about wicker furniture are about the craftsmanship, the wood and the collaboration between master cabinetmakers and furniture architects, and the furniture is almost considered as a work of art. The carpenter's furniture has run away with the honour, despite the fact that wicker furniture has been familiar and popular to most Danes for generations and has been in almost every home. We haven't attached any special meaning to wicker furniture.


4. Which piece of rattan furniture from your research for your book stands out to you and why?

For me, there's rattan furniture in every decade that stands out. From Robert Wengler's elaborately sculptural chairs in the late 1800s to the wicker chairs of the 1930s that made a difference to the industry as wicker furniture went from being anonymous furniture to architect-designed furniture. Viggo Boesen's ‘Fox' chair from 1936 is legendary as it helped create a new wicker furniture adventure for the entire industry.

Nanna and Jørgen Ditzel's Hanging Egg Chair from 1959 also broke with the norms of the time, it was suspended from a chain wrapped around a birch trunk. The chair from 1959 was refined and humorous, and as a counterpart to Arne Jacobsen's The Egg from 1958, you could withdraw into the shell and let yourself be enveloped by the cave of the wickerwork. In general, Nanna and Jørgen Ditzel experimented with wicker furniture on several occasions. The first chair was the Basket Chair from 1950, which was inspired by Finn Juhl's work with the separate frame and seat and was basically a basket suspended on a teak frame.

Det Hængende Æg, Nanna & Jørgen Ditzel, 1959
Design couple Nanna & Jørgen Ditzel's iconic Hanging Wicker Chair also known as 'The Hanging Egg', 1959.


5. How has the art and craftsmanship of creating rattan furniture evolved over time?

Wickerwork goes way back in history and has been used on furniture in Denmark since the mid-1850s. As a cottage industry, where people used the cheap willow, shavings, straw or other available local material from nature for their own use, wickerwork goes back a long way in history. As an organised craft, there was no actual industrial production in Denmark until the first half of the 19th century.

In the late 1980s, the industry changed radically when it was no longer possible to import materials from Indonesia. Small craft workshops had to survive with repairs and specialised work, while large companies moved their furniture production to Indonesia. Unfortunately, basket-making has suffered the same fate as many other small crafts in our welfare society. The craft of wickerwork has been outcompeted on price, but not quality.

Today, the craft has barely survived, but wickerwork is still a labour-intensive craft. It takes a skilled craftsman to weave six identical chairs so that they look the same in colour and weave. The history of wicker furniture is not an unbroken and upwardly successful story. The furniture has lost steam several times throughout history and especially in the aftermath of both world wars. Today, more than ever, wicker furniture is a sought-after vintage find at auctioneers and auction houses around the world. The patinated furniture has become a collector's item.


6. How has Danish wicker furniture been influenced by other design movements and styles throughout history?

Danish wicker furniture was firmly established in many people's minds from the mid-1800s, and this was primarily thanks to German basket makers. They brought craftsmanship and a Victorian style with them when they settled in Denmark. There has always been a rich exchange of experience and information across countries throughout time. The cultural history of Danish wicker furniture is characterised by patterns, materials, techniques, details, furniture types and meanings that have travelled across the Danish border and vice versa from many different parts of the world.

There are also a few chair types that have had a major international impact. It's hard to ignore the Austrian Thonet company, which has played a pivotal role in modern furniture design and wickerwork. On a slightly smaller scale, there is hardly an international rock star who hasn't posed for a photographer in the Peacock Chair in the 1960s. Writers and other intellectuals did the same in the bistro chairs outside Café de Flore in Paris in the 1940s.

If there's one thing that both anonymous and famous people around the world have in common, it's having sat in a legendary wicker chair to be photographed.

Havemanns Magasin, Laurids Lønborg, Wengler, fletmøbler
The wickerworkers at Laurids Lønborg were on display in the shop windows of Havemann's Magasin to showcase their craftsmanship, 1959.

7. What advice would you give to someone who wants to incorporate wicker furniture into their home?

The wicker furniture reaches backwards and points forwards, and is a repository of memories. Just when we think wicker furniture is out of style and gone, it comes back with a vengeance. But wicker furniture has never really gone away, although it may have had a quieter existence at times.

Wicker furniture is a treasure trove of design history. They represent a strong sensuality that shines through in materials, weaving techniques and natural colours. They represent a fine work of the hand. Buy them, soften austere architecture, add a casual touch to a more formal interior. Wicker furniture fits in anywhere.


8. What do you hope readers will get out of your new book on Danish wicker furniture?

My book can be read from cover to cover, but it's also a coffee table book where you can make do with just pictures and captions. It's a story about the cultural history of wicker furniture and the time and environment in which it was created.

JI hope readers will understand and enjoy a small part of a large furniture industry, while appreciating the quality of this amazing craftsmanship.




We look forward to seeing you at Bredgade 3, 1260 Copenhagen K, where we will be selling off our unique collection of 20th century Danish wicker furniture for the first time between 7-30 June 2023. Follow us on our social media here:

Instagram: @klassikcopenhagen
Facebook: KLASSIK Moderne Møbelkunst


View the majority of our collection of Danish wicker furniture here.