The ageless beauty of mid-century furniture

IF one imagines a snapshot of mid-century perfection, it’s impossible to do it without Fritz Hansen in the picture.

On Oct. 6, the Fritz Hansen Manila Lounge in BGC reopened after renovation, right in time for the brand’s 150th anniversary this month. The Danish furniture company is known for its collaborations with very influential designers (like Arne Jacobsen) resulting in classics like The Egg Chair and its sister, the Swan.

For the reopening, Dario Reicherl, CEO for Fritz Hansen Asia, sat down with BusinessWorld behind one of the desks the company makes. Checking out Mr. Reicherl’s Instagram page, we saw the enthusiasm with which Fritz Hansen is regarded in Korea, a market they entered in 2015. In seven years, they’ve managed to open 22 stores there. “I believe the future in the next 50 years is absolutely here in Asia. It’s in the East, not in the West,” he said.

“The values of Fritz Hansen are perfect almost for any place in the world,” he said. “We’re talking about something that doesn’t age. If something is beautiful now and it’s beautiful 100 years later, that doesn’t matter if you’re in the East or in the West. It’s for everybody.”

Mr. Reicherl comments about its mid-century pieces, that have arguably set its place in culture. To this day, the Egg and the Swan have been copied, seen in media, or at least used as reference to pieces we use to this day. “It’s just that the ’50s, design-wise, is the most important period in the history of modern design. Not just for us, but for everybody,” he said, pointing out that they have produced influential work before that, and that they continue to produce pieces to this day.

FORM AND FUNCTIONFurniture stores sell more than just objects to sit, or eat on. What they sell are plans and tools on how one lives life. “It’s an emotional connection. It’s not about if it’s comfortable, or beautiful. That is of course, important. You’ve got to use a chair or a table,” he said.

“The brand represents something. It has actually very little to do with furniture. It represents honesty, family, and believing in what you do.”

It’s often been argued that form should follow function, a philosophy taken from the Bauhaus school. But Mr. Reicherl disagrees with this. “Nothing is comfortable from Bauhaus. Even the architecture of Bauhaus is quite scary, or even terrifying to me,” he said.

“Form versus function doesn’t apply anymore, at all. It’s a matter of balancing these two things, and it should be almost a 50/50. You want to have something that is beautiful, and comfortable, and functional.”

GEOGRAPHY AND STABILITYMr. Reicherl talked about the uniqueness of Danish design, which takes off from geography, and compared it to the design approach of Italy, his own country of origin. “Danish design is unique because the Danish have very, very little resources. I’m talking about natural resources. Very small piece of land. There’s no agriculture, there is no oil or gas. It’s basically nothing.

“They have to be very creative and smart. With so little, they have to make something out of it. They’ve been challenged from the time of the Vikings,” he said. “The Italians, we have not been challenged at all. We grow up very lucky: natural resources, mountains, beaches, the weather — everything grows. Up there, it’s more difficult.

“Geography helps a lot.”

More than that, he comments that the stability of European societies becomes reflective in the things they make. “It doesn’t mean that Europe is better than Asia, or better than the US. It’s just that there’s a slow pace in Europe. The way life goes on in Europe is very stable. There’s a very large middle class. Your employees most probably stay with you until they retire. You can train them. You can invest in them, to improve their skills, and have a career within your company. Having a high retention rate of your employees definitely helps you improve and keep your quality standard. That person has been doing that job for many years.”

HUMAN OBJECTSSome of the objects we own will outlive us. When we turn again to dust, the things we leave behind will tell a part of our stories. “Objects are the expression of our creativity,” said Mr. Reicherl. “We make objects. If an object is designed by a computer and made by a robot, I don’t think that will matter (so much). But even if an object is produced by a machine, like a phone, it’s still designed by people.

“It matters because there’s another human being who tried to make something to improve my daily life,” he said. “Good design makes people happy.”

The Fritz Hansen Manila Lounge is located at Studio Dimensione, G/F One Parkade, 28th Street corner 7th Avenue, BGC, Taguig. — Joseph L. Garcia

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