If you live in the UK, you may recall the impact Ikea had on home furnishings during the 1990s. The interiors company opened its first British store in Warrington in 1987, but it wasn’t until their large warehouses began opening up across the UK that the Scandi influence seemed to really take off. You couldn’t visit friends or family without spotting that ubiquitous Poäng chair or floor lamp, with its white opaque uplighter, nestled in a corner.
The Poäng chair, originally designed in 1976 by Japanese designer Noboru Nakamura in collaboration with Ikea's design director Lars Engman.
Prior to this, Britain in the late 1980s, early 1990s had seen a frenzy of pine stripping shops spring up. We filled our homes with Tiffany lamps, dado rails, William Morris style wallpaper borders and Victorian reproduction fireplaces, with their gas ‘coal’ fires. Shops like Past Times also helped us to enjoy the nostalgic commercialism of a bygone time when Arts and Crafts reigned supreme.
In contrast, the low cost interiors and paired down furniture design offered by Ikea felt so modern. Except that, in reality, it wasn’t. Ikea was founded in Sweden in 1943 and the ‘Scandi’ look that many have come to recognise today had its feet firmly grounded in the middle of the 20th Century.
Ib Kofod Larsen wasn’t the only designer to bring Scandinavian design into our homes but, in collaboration with a certain British furniture manufacturer, he helped to make it accessible to the buying public.
Let’s Start at the Beginning
Born in 1921, Ib Kofod Larsen initially trained as a cabinet maker before studying architecture at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, graduating in 1948. Having received an award at the Danish Cabinetmakers Guild, it wasn’t long before his talents were recognised and, in the same year as his graduation, he was offered a position at one of Denmark’s leading furniture companies.
By the time Ib Kofod Larsen joined Danish furniture manufacturer Faarup Møbelfabrik, the company had already gained an international reputation for the fine, high quality wood furniture it produced. A family affair, Faarup was founded in 1922 by Sigurd Hallas who relinquished his position to his sons in the 1950s. The firm embraced Danish Modernism, collaborating with designers such as Svend Åge Larsen, Jørgen Linde and Kurt Løvig but is mostly recognised today for the minimalist sideboards it manufactured in the 1950s based on Kofod Larsen’s designs. Mainly produced in beautifully rich rosewood and teak, his designs included dining table sets, book cases and chairs, which are now highly sought after.
The Model FA-66 Sideboard
One of the most collectable Ib Kofod Larsen designs produced by Faarup is the Model FA-66 sideboard. Created in rosewood or teak, the FA-66 is testament to Kofod Larsen’s love of natural materials and streamlined design. The symmetry of his designs creates balance, and a typical indicator of his work was the flow of the wood grain across each piece. With its expertly crafted, adornment free doors and drawer fronts, five hidden drawers, concealed handles curved into the door tops, and adjustable shelves, the FA-66 is a stunning piece of furniture with clever looks and functionality. Measuring over two metres long, it needs space to be full appreciated in all its glory. In today’s market, prices range from £4,000 to in excess of £15,000, with the earlier rosewood versions being very collectable.
During the 1950s Ib Kofod Larsen’s reputation grew. He became known as one of the decade’s pioneers of Danish Modern, a design movement which championed paired back designs that brought out the beauty of simplistic forms and shapes. Marrying form with function to create balance, Kofod Larsen had a passion for the richness of woods such as teak and rosewood and utilised their grain to great effect. His clean designs enhanced these natural materials rather than cloud them out with overzealous detail.
During the early 1950s, Kofod Larsen began a series of collaborations with furniture makers other than Faarup. Although his work plays a major role in the Danish Modern movement, he considered himself a part of the global Modernism movement. He would go on to collaborate with companies in Europe, the US and Japan, including Selig; E. Gomme Ltd.; Carlo Gahrn and Bovenkamp, but he always stayed faithful to his Danish roots.
In fact, many of his most famous pieces started life in Denmark before flying overseas.
Christensen and Larsen
A Danish furniture company that began life in the 1940s, Christensen and Larsen will be forever tightly associated with the Kofod Larsen name, having manufactured some of his most popular designs that were sold internationally, including to Selig New York.
The Knitting Chair
One of the earliest pieces designed by Kofod Larsen, and produced by Christensen and Larsen, was a lounge chair created in 1951 in a very limited edition, making it rare and collectable. The Knitting Chair was incredibly elegant, with a clean, sculptural shape. Made from ash wood, the frame was simple but cleverly proportioned in a triangular shape with expertly crafted joints. The upholstered seat and sloped back, with its cut away sections for elbows, gave support and comfort making this a chair to relax in – and obviously knit, if you felt the urge.
A highly coveted design, you don’t have to search very far to find mass manufactured imitations influenced by the original Penguin chair. Designed in the early 1950s, the Penguin was initially sold in Denmark with a solid wood frame, bentwood back support with winged sides and upholstered or leather seat. However, in 1953 the frames were imported by Selig NY who placed the chair on metal frames, retaining the wooden back support. The Penguin went on to become one of Denmark’s bestselling furniture exports to America.
Originally manufactured in Denmark, the low-slung U-56 lounge chair was produced in 1956 but two years later acquired a prestigious nickname having been patronised by British Royalty. The chair was created with a backward leaning, curved, sculpted teak or rosewood frame, a shell-like one-piece leather back, and base with a round leather seat. The rounded joins, where the arm rests meet the front legs, are exquisitely formed. In 1958, this beautiful design was bought in a pair by Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip during a visit to Denmark, forevermore the U-56 would be known worldwide as the Elizabeth. In today’s market, buyers pay in the tens of thousands to be able to own an original.
Collaborating with Swedish manufacturer OPE Möbler in the mid 1950s, Kofod Larsen began to impact on Sweden’s furniture industry, which had suffered economically. The 1956 Sälen chair (Swedish for seal) followed the same rudimentary design principles of his earlier chairs, it had to be human centered to embrace and support the body’s form. Another reclining frame, Sälen was similar to the Elizabeth but slightly more angular. Again, it had the leather shell like main body moulded to be comfortably reclined in, but the seat was squared off.
Post War Britain
During World War ll, the British Government had introduced the Utility Scheme, with strict guidelines on what could be manufactured. Everything had to be streamlined, including clothing, furniture and household goods, to reduce the stress on production lines and materials. During the make do and mend years, even home sewing patterns had an additional ‘purchase tax’ and reduced radically in size due to paper and publishing restrictions. In 1952, seven years after the war had ended, the Utility Furniture Scheme was brought to an end. Restrictions on furniture manufacturing in Britain were lifted, giving companies the freedom to create designs to their own specifications without having to adhere to the utilitarian design rules.
This was an era when thousands of people were having to start from scratch because they'd lost so much during the war years and many bought second hand or via hire purchase schemes. Tastes were predominantly pre-war when it came to furniture, with traditional oak in 1930’s and earlier styles being the norm, but new designs had started to emerge on the British market.
Scandinavian design was becoming influential and, along with Italian design and culture, was the epitome of all things cool.
Like many manufacturers, E. Gomme Ltd., from its High Wycombe HQ, began looking toward the future.
The Gomme family were not shy in exploring new design, materials and manufacturing trends overseas and actively sent representatives to seek them out. Their in-house team also had the added benefit of skilled designers and craftsmen who were also inspired by the Scandinavian design philosophy. In 1953, the G-Plan brand was launched in furniture salerooms across Britain. Buyers could buy one item at a time or furnish the whole house as ‘the G-Plan’ was to ensure each piece was designed to be interchangeable. Contemporary and exciting, the first range was designed by Victor Bramwell Wilkins, who would go on to design for E. Gomme for another forty years. The Scandi inspired ‘Brandon’ came in light oak with splayed legs and solid wood handles and was a hit with those who were desperate for something modern and well made.
In 1958, following successful beginnings, Donald Gomme – who spearheaded the new G-Plan – retired as head of design. For a short period, E. Gomme lost its way, struggling to compete with Nordic imports, and in the early 1960s the company turned its head to Denmark, having noticed the rise of acclaimed designer Ib Kofod Larsen.
G-Plan Danish - Scandinavian Design Made in Britain
Kofod Larsen’s time with E. Gomme Ltd. was short but impactful. In 1962 he was commissioned to design an exclusive range under the G-Plan brand. The Gomme family wanted to blend the best in Danish Modern with their machine-made production methods. The resulting designs were made in smaller quantities, due in part to their production and material costs, and sold at mid-market prices. Kofod Larsen brought his love of natural materials and organic forms with him and produced what are now amongst the more collectable pieces from the G-Plan stable.
AndersBrowne archive: Ib Kofod Larsen coffee table design for G-Plan
Beautifully crafted in rich teaks, rosewood and afromosia, the furniture designs were a resounding success, but, despite being highly sought after today, they were not as great a commercial success as the lower priced ranges. G-Plan Danish was much admired but out of reach for the average household due to the higher cost and larger styles. Today, Ib Kofod Larsen pieces are rare and collectible, chiefly because of the exquisite designs and craftsmanship.
AndersBrowne archive: 1960's Ib Kofod Larsen designed G-Plan dressing table
AndersBrowne archive: G-Plan teak sideboard designed by Ib Kofod Larsen
AndersBrowne archive: G-Plan model 4060 highboard in teak and rosewood by Ib Kofod Larsen
Ib Kofod Larsen continued to design pieces that were produced internationally by various companies. He died in 2003 but his name and designs live on. Despite barely cropping up in Mid Century furniture design books, unless linked with G-Plan, Kofod Larsen was one of the biggest selling Danish architects / designers in the US during the 1950s.
Nowadays, buyers are able to buy reissues of his most famous chairs, which are sold worldwide. We'd love to own one of his rarer originals, these days generally priced in excess of £30,000, how about you?
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