You Cannot Design Your Way Out of Your Own Time


“An artist who could not stop himself, (Hans) Wegner was busting with ideas he had to express. Although a functionalist, he was not a rational dogmatist like many of Kaare Klint’s students. His furnishings were always created with the greatest understanding of materials, construction techniques, and use. Still, his aim was not primarily the harmonious or rational form but rather the expressive and exciting design. Wegner seems to posses the knowledge that you cannot design your way out of your own time – something most of the other Modernists had difficulty facing. Therefore, his furniture is anything but timeless: Wegner designed for his era.”

— Christian Holmsted Olesen, “Wegner: Just One Good Chair” (Hatje Cantz, 2014)

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Publisher of woodworking books and videos specializing in hand tool techniques.
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14 Responses to You Cannot Design Your Way Out of Your Own Time

  1. kv41 says:

    Lovely chair!

  2. calebjamesplanemaker says:

    Keep on keepin on. Don’t stop. Good stuff.


  3. Wegner is one of the 20th century greats. I love his flag halyard chair. No wood unfortunately.

  4. therealdanh says:

    Mr. Olesen sounds rather full of himself, or at least he sounds like he is full of something. Wegner’s best work is straight forward, almost an obvious design once you see it. But it is something that we could not have imagined before we saw it. Wegner’s best work is like the best Shaker chairs or those incredible plywood dining room chairs from Charles and Ray Eames. It is designed for people to sit in and be comfortable. Trying to put it in the context of a movement or an era is silly. Just sit in the damn thing and enjoy it!

  5. derekcohen says:

    What’s going here Schwarz?! 🙂 I show an interest in Campaign furniture a few years back, and you write a book on it. I build Wegner’s “The Chair” (or Round Chair) last year … are you planning a book on Wegner or Danish furniture?

    Caleb, you could do one as well!

    Regards from Perth


    • tsstahl says:

      How did you do the scarf joint twixt arms and back? Or am I just seeing it wrong?

      • derekcohen says:

        All joinery was identical to the factory joinery, except I used handtools throughout (with the exception of a bandsaw). The “scarf” joint is referred to as a “dovetail” or finger, and was one of the most complex joints I have ever made. It is detailed in the build-along on my website: (and scan down the Index page to “Building Hans Wegners The Chair”:

        This is what you are referring to ..

        Interestingly, my understanding is that Wegner did not design that joint. It was the creation of the factory (Carl Hanson & Son) he designed for. They sought a joint that would be extremely strong. Also, the chairs were designed – or at least “simplified” so that they could be made, in part at least, with machines.

        There is a GREAT video here on building The Chair at the factory:

        Regards from Perth


  6. Scott Taylor says:

    Wegner is not timeless? Really? The Peacock Chair is not as wonderful today as it was more than half a century ago? All design, especially furniture, is derivative. Windsor forms certainly influenced Wegner as did Shaker but he did it better than most. Mid-Century is coming back and getting the praise if deserves. Some of the founders of the craft furniture movement were steeped in this aesthetic, Frid, Watts, Maloof…

  7. I disagree. Most of Wegner’s designs were very timeless. Good design is good design.

  8. Brian Clites says:

    The enduring search for “timelessness” says more about the human condition than any given style of furniture. To the historical eye, Wegner’s chairs belong to a distinct time and place. The simple fact that this asthetic has endured so well need not compell us to attempt to erase the cultural and historical contexts from which it came.

    In plainspeak: our quest as crafstaman for forms that are “timeless” is implicitly ideological. We are rebelling against styles that were made only for the rich, and whose elements were designed to appeal to a very limited segment of the population.

    • jenohdit says:

      You are on to something but I can’t tell if your second paragraph is supposed to restate your first. If so, I don’t follow.

      Part of the timelessness of much art is that it is secretly classically inspired. An open secret maybe, but not to many viewers, especially those with little knowledge of art and architectural history. I’d argue that our desire for that sort of timelessness is largely physiological, (not without a beer in my hand though).

      Wegner almost certainly drew classical orders early in his drawing training. Mies van der Rohe, one of the granddaddies of minimalist modernism was obviously drenched in 19th century German neo-classicism. It wouldn’t be especially difficult to trace the influence of all that on mid-20th century Northern European furniture design.

      p.s. These chairs are for the rich.

      • These chairs were not designed for and were not solely purchased by “the rich”. When introduced, the chairs were accessible to middle-class people. I think it’s telling that Carl Hanson was able to produce and sell them at prices that has allowed these chairs to be a not-uncommon sight in Danish homes. This likely would not be the case had they been introduced in the last 20 years. Maybe this says more about the changes in the cost of high-quality goods today and the relative decline in buying power of the average household.

      • *Meant PP Møbler, not Carl Hanson and Son.

  9. nateharold says:

    I like this wormhole you’re exploring. I think my girl will dig it too – might even wait the 6-9mo it usually takes me to complete a project.

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