Danish Modern Modules


One of my latest obsessions has been reading about the 20th-century design studies by Kaare Klint and Børge Morgensen that sought to create furniture systems that could be adapted to store anything.

Today I’m working through Morgensen’s Øresund series, developed between 1955 and 1967. One of the foundations of this system is a module of 19.6 cm (almost 7-3/4”). These modules plus a plinth module of 9.5 cm (3-3/4”) can be combined into a wide variety of pleasing forms.

It’s not a big leap to distill the systems into whole-number ratios, a laBy Hand & Eye.”

Here are some of the formulas from Øresund.

Table height: 68.3 cm (26-7/8”). Three modules plus a plinth module.
Countertop height: 97.9 cm (34.6”) Four modules plus a plinth module.
Desk height: 107.5 cm (42.32”) Five modules plus a plinth module.
Chest height: 127.1 cm (50.03”) Six modules plus a plinth module.
Max height for pulling out a drawer: 146.7 cm (57-3/4”) Seven modules plus a plinth module.
Eye level: 166.3 cm (65.47”) Eight modules plus a plinth module.
Height of a man: 185.9 cm (73.19”) Nine modules plus a plinth module.
Height of a door: 205.5 cm (80.91”) Ten modules plus a plinth module.
Minimum ceiling height: 225.1 cm (88.62”) Eleven modules plus a plinth module.

The system also used two depths for carcases: 36 cm (14.17”) and 54 cm (21.26”).

The examples shown in “Furniture Designed by Børge Morgensen (Arkitekten Forlag, 1968) are quite pleasing to the eye.

— Christopher Schwarz

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17 Responses to Danish Modern Modules

  1. calebjamesplanemaker says:

    Wow this is so good.


  2. Oh please do a book on building modern furniture using traditional joinery. 🙂

  3. Stefan Rusek says:

    The nerdy software developer part of me likes the modular aspect of this, but the rest of me is filled with apprehension, because factory furniture such as what defines the stuff made by ikea is basically the logical culmination of this design approach. I realize that there is a difference between design and implementation, and Ikea takes a cheap mass-production approach to this style of design, but I also have a hard time looking at this style and not imagining it self-destructing under normal usage, because of the success of Ikea.

    • Stefan,

      Good Danish Modern stuff was made very well, using traditional joinery. It was only when the cost-cutters took hold of the style that it produced the stuff now that is shoddy beyond belief.

      A Hans Wegner chair, for example, can stand up against the best work of the 18th century.

      • jmcconnell2 says:

        Thanks for that clarification. When I saw these modules all I started having flashbacks to my wife’s sewing room worktable from Ikea. then I got all jittery and spilled my coffee.

        When I put that table together some years ago I thought of it as “adequate” and largely forgot about it, but I haven’t been able to look at that table the same way since reading the ATC. Now all I see is the missed potential in the form. Your comment gives me a frame of reference.

    • durbien says:

      Ikea flat-pack = the ultimate campaign furniture! .

      There’s much to admire in Ikea design. The materials, not so much. But that is the price of mass-production. Design for the masses, made affordable: the Modernist Ideal.

  4. therealdanh says:

    About the only serious Danish modern construction stuff I have seen is from Tage Frid. It is really good as far as it goes. Probably the main drawback is with the design of the pieces. You are presenting a much more sophistacated approach with ithe material you have referenced lately. I realize that you are not looking for new projects; but…

  5. steveschafer says:

    These are very close to what you get with the 32 mm system that is in widespread use. For example, a 4-unit (12.8 cm) plinth and 6-unit (19.2 cm) module give:

    • 4 + 3 * 6 units = 70.4 cm = 27.72″
    • 4 + 4 * 6 units = 89.6 cm = 35.28″
    • 4 + 5 * 6 units = 108.8 cm = 42.83″
    • 4 + 6 * 6 units = 128.0 cm = 50.39″
    • 4 + 7 * 6 units = 147.2 cm = 57.95″
    • 4 + 8 * 6 units = 166.4 cm = 65.51″
    • 4 + 9 * 6 units = 185.6 cm = 73.07″
    • 4 + 10 * 6 units = 204.8 cm = 80.63″
    • 4 + 11 * 6 units = 224.0 cm = 88.19″

    And you don’t have to convert to whole-number ratios; they’re already whole-number ratios.

  6. rondennis303 says:

    I was unsuccessful in locating the book, but did find an auction catalog in PDF format:


    Chris, you will find page 115 very familiar.

  7. This is brilliant. I grew up surrounded in mid-level danish furniture, and I like it a lot. Only few in the american blogosphere cared to write about it in the last decade, I am glad the schwartz is picking it up. Begone, ornated highboys! Begone, band sawn cabriole legs with ridiculous chicken feet! :-p
    Btw, the ikea furniture from the 70’s is very sound, and is usually consisted of nice looking ring-dense pine, no termit barf to be found. My parents have a few examples that whistood a generation of kids and grandchildren.

  8. Very interesting. The image seems to cover only case work. Did they have anything on tables and chairs?

  9. “It’s not a big leap to distill the systems into whole-number ratios….” Would this be a nod to de Stijl (Piet Mondrian and Theo van Doesburg were the primary proponents)? Design systems abound in the visual arts, from Alberti’s treatise, On Architecture, in the 15th century to Le Corbusier in the 20th. (Yes, I know I shouldn’t skip Vitruvius, but I am anyway). Theo van Doesburg (de Stijl) set the standard for early twentieth-century design. Le Corbusier dramatically altered the basis of proportion systems by insisting that proportion systems that did not refer to the human form were essentially missing the point of who design is for. He called it “le modulor.” And then there is the Bauhaus….. hmm…. on and on….

  10. abtuser says:

    Looking for the book noted above, over on Danish Design Store’s site, there’s a Børge Morgensen Hunting Chair, that, if you squint hard enough, you can see some Campaign Furniture DNA in the design. Nice chair.

  11. Laura Mays says:

    How about James Krenov for allying the handmade/traditional joinery with a vaguely Scandanavian modern aesthetic?

  12. Laura Mays says:

    What about James Krenov as an example of allying handmade/traditional joinery with a vaguely Scandanavian aesthetic?

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