Ahead of the Denmark Design exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery, Novelnyt will be running a digital series about Danish design (full articles here). In this piece we speak to Dan and Emma Eagle of Mr. Bigglesworthy, an Auckland-based furniture store focused on mid-century modern, in particular, Scandinavian design, Italian modern and American design.
Why do you think Scandinavian design has proven to be so popular in New Zealand?
It has an aesthetic derived from values like functionality, simplicity, quality craftsmanship and an admiration for the beauty of natural materials. These are values that New Zealanders also appreciate and respect.
How would you describe Denmark’s place within the wider Scandinavian design scene? How does it differ? What are its strengths?
The Scandinavian countries share a common heritage and have geographical influences that unify their designs. Denmark, in particular, had a strong cabinet-making heritage and was slow to industrialise. This meant that emerging modernist designers in the early to mid-20th century were able to collaborate closely with established, highly competent cabinetmakers to create furniture that elevated both craft and design.
How do you think Danish design has influenced local New Zealand designers?
Conceptually, Danish furniture has had a strong influence in all Western countries. The warmth of timber is appealing to live with and the Danes have developed masterful techniques to successfully incorporate this material into functional objects for the home and commercial environments. With our similar climate and easy access to timber, it’s an obvious reference point for local designers to take note of the successful work produced by Scandinavian designers. In the 1960s, we really saw the rise of New Zealand furniture design pieces, which, clearly, have been developed with a close eye on Danish design. The lines and forms of Scandinavian-style furniture from New Zealand in that period are still very appealing.
Are there any specific furniture pieces you think best exemplify that connection between Denmark (or the wider region) and New Zealand?
New Zealand designer Garth Chester’s Curvesse Chair (1944) is an outstanding experimental work in steam-bent plywood, which was a new, natural material at the time. It considered the warmth that timber brings and really pushed its technical ability. Chester would have most likely been familiar with Scandinavian pioneers like Alvar Aalto, a celebrated Finnish designer and architect.
When talking about furniture, many people equate Scandinavian design with mid-century modern… are they correct in doing so? What are the differences?
Mid-century modern refers to the use of modern industrialised output combined with design that is progressive and forward-focused, rather than trying to recreate the past. There are many different forms of modern design from the mid-20th century, but Scandinavian design would be the most popular. It embraces modern production techniques, without sacrificing the warmer natural materials and craftsmanship that connect people to beautiful objects.
The region has influenced, and continues to influence, designers the world over… how has Scandinavian and specifically Danish design changed since that era?
At the heart of Danish design is a philosophy that is founded on simplicity, functionality, clean lines and natural materials. There is a desire to create an inviting environment with considered design solutions. Danish design has evolved to suit both time and modern tastes, with more sustainable timbers, more comprehensive use of materials and the use of new technologies. As we are all now part of a global design space, makers might partner with designers and suppliers from other countries for production processes.
Who would you say are the biggest names in furniture, architecture and/or interior design in the region?
Arne Jacobsen, Bjarke Ingels, Henning Larsen and Jørn Utzon.
If you had to choose one Danish design item to take to a desert island, what would it be and why?
A Kay Bojesen Monkey (1951) for company!