Portrait of the Making of a Classic Chair: Hans Wegner's Wishbone

Portrait of the Making of a Classic Chair: Hans Wegner's Wishbone

Janel Laban
Nov 6, 2012

This is how it begins. Simple shapes, natural materials. Combine with a skilled craftsperson and the end result is a modern classic that, even in today's super speedy fast-forward world, involves more than 100 manual operations to create...

As part of Inside Design: Amsterdam, Carl Hansen had a craftsperson travel to Holland to show the design show visitors just how much handiwork still goes into the making of these beautiful chairs. The written info on the chair and process that accompany my photos below is from their website:

Hans J. Wegner designed it back in 1949, clearly inspired by antique Chinese "emperors chairs". European chair making traditions and Wegner's own restless curiosity and sculptural aesthetics no doubt also played an important role.

Although designed specifically for Carl Hansen & Son, producing CH24 was anything but easy. Wegner designed the chair to be beautiful and functional - not to be easy to make. It was up to Holger Hansen and his team of craftsman to figure out a way to make the chair in serial production - and then try to sell it.

The curved top rail had to be steam-bent under pressure, a technique that was still relatively new at the time. The characteristically sinuous front legs had to be turned in a process so demanding that it defied the limits of serial production. All pieces had to be joined so precisely that even the smallest mistake in one joint would ruin the overall structural integrity of the chair.

And then skilled weavers had to figure out how to create a comfortable and long-lasting seat with a material that had never been used in furniture production before: paper cord.

And through it all, Wegner demanded that every CH24 - from the very first to the first few dozen (and later, thousands) lived up to his exacting standards: museum quality, no matter whether you make one or one hundred.

Back in 1949, Carl Hansen & Son combined the best craftsmanship traditions with the best technology available to produce high-end furniture in a rational way. We still do.Today, we use advanced technology where this makes sense - and handcraft techniques where this makes sense.

While I had previously known how labor intensive these chairs still were, seeing the individual parts and quality of the raw materials really hit home how important carefully considered design (every piece is beautiful!) and impeccable craftsmanship is to the end product. You get the feeling that something this carefully birthed will inevitably grow old gracefully.

Inside Design: Amsterdam
Carl Hansen & Son
(Images: Janel Laban)

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