Wood can say a lot about a mid century furniture piece. You can tell where it was manufactured, when it was produced, and how it’s been taken care of over the decades. Teak, rosewood, mahogany, and walnut were all major materials used during the 50s and 60s, and America, Britain, and Denmark each had their wood of preference. We’ve put together a little guide to help you not only recognize what your mid century piece is crafted in but to give you a context for its construction.
Teak is the most popular and common wood used in mid century Danish design. Imported primarily from India and Southeast Asia, teak is a hard wood with a smooth grain texture. The tone of teak varies greatly due to the age of the tree and the time of harvest. Old growth teak (top) is much darker with deep red tones throughout. Because many of the teak forests were over-harvested by the mid 1960s, later generations were planted and harvested without time for maturing. For this reason, the tone of the wood can often be used to date the piece. Young teak (bottom) is characterized by warm yellow tones. Many English pieces use young teak since they began to produce “modern” pieces about a decade after the craze began in Denmark. Over time, teak darkens with sun exposure.
Rosewood, named after the rose- like aroma of these old-growth trees, is another hard wood with a dense, tense grain pattern. Rosewood varies from country to country but most Danish designs were crafted from Brazilian (top) and Honduran Rosewood. The deep red tones are contrasted by dark “spider-webbing” patterns. Rosewood is an endangered species as a result of over- harvesting and is no longer used to craft furniture or goods of any kind. The wood’s rarity makes pieces more desirable and thus more expensive. Rosewood lightens with sun exposure (bottom).
Mahogany has been a popular wood in English design since the 1700s. When cabinet makers began manufacturing modern furniture, the wood was still in high demand. Not as popular in Denmark, only a fraction of their furniture was crafted in this wood. Mahogany is characterized by it’s striped or ribbon pattern and comes in a variety of tones ranging from light, yellow tones (top) to deep purple (bottom).
Most American mid century pieces are crafted in Black Walnut grown on the East Coast much of which is harvested in Virginia. In fact, many of the popular manufacturers from the era including Lane, American of Martinsville, and Bassett were based in Virginia. Walnut comes in a variety of tones ranging from dark brown tones (top) to a brilliant red (bottom). This hard wood usually has a softer grain appearance with straight and burled patterns.
Above: A new Futuro House in the 1960s. Photo: FuturoHouse.net
The Futuro House was designed by Matti Suuronen as a portable ski chalet in 1968. In total, less than 100 were built during the late 1960s and early 1970s. The Futuro is constructed of reinforced fiberglass, polyester-polyurethane, and measures 13 feet high and 26 feet in diameter.
A restored Futuro House at The Terrace, Central Saint Martins, King’s Cross. Photo: http://blogs.arts.ac.uk/
An excerpt from a February 1970 copy of Architecture d’aujourd’hui describes “Futuro” as:
“The first model in a series of holiday homes to be licensed in 50 countries, already mass-produced in the United States, Australia and Belgium. The segments of the elliptic envelope are assembled on the site using a metal footing. Through its shape and materials used, the house can be erected in very cold mountains or even by the sea. The area is 50 sq m, the volume 140 cubic m, divided by adaptable partitions.”
The oil crisis of 1973 tripled gasoline prices and made manufacture of plastic extremely expensive. Less than 100 were originally made and it is estimated that today around 60 of the original Futuro homes survive, owned mostly by private individuals. The prototype (serial number 000) is in the collection of Museum Boijmans Van Beuningen in Rotterdam, The Netherlands. The Futuro no. 001, the only other Futuro currently in a public collection, is in the possession of the WeeGee Exhibition Centre in Espoo, Finland.
We had the pleasure of hanging out with the great folks over at Dot & Bo a couple weeks ago! They’ve put together this lovely feature on our round 1967 Leon Meyer home. Make sure to check out the full article on their blog!
You might have noticed that my blogging is a bit heavy on the Swedish side of things. It has a simple explanation: I’m Swedish. But I would also like to add some depth to the idea of Scandinavian modern design. In America, the phrase Danish modern, is a bit of a catch all for Scandinavian design. Of course, nobody can argue against the fact that Danish furniture designers are some of the world’s most influential (and absolutely leading in Scandinavia), but what about Swedish glass and ceramics? And what about Norway?
Norway’s contribution to the golden age of Scandinavian design might not be as sizable, but that doesn’t mean that they weren’t contributing. Perhaps most well known in The U.S. is Ingmar Relling with his Fiesta series. Simple, functional and minimalist, the series continues to be a big seller.
Sven Ivar Dysthe is another famous designer from the era. His breakthrough came with the 1001 collection that combined black leather, steel and rosewood in sleek and elegant ways. Another big seller of his is the Laminette chair.
Another stackable chair that is considered a Norwegian design classic, is the City chair. Øivind Iversen designed this chair as a diploma project while in school, making it Norways own riff on Jacobsen’s Series 7 chair.
That’s all the Norway I have for you this time. But I’m sure I’ll find reasons to return to the land of fjords and brunost in this blog.
Last week we wrote about Einar Nerman, and his classic design for Solstickan, which has grown beyond it’s original product design purpose to be the star of a whole host of products. An almost equally popular design is Olle Eksells eyes for Mazetti’s cocoa products. As simple as they are haunting, these eyes are to be found in almost any design conscious home in Sweden. Eksell’s design was created in 1956 and they were an updated version of the original logo from 1904, which featured a more naturalistic pair of peepers. Eksell also wrote a book about the relations between design and economy, and his illustrations – often more playful than his Mazetti eyes, and often using his native Stockholm as inspiration – are as popular as ever.
Olle Eksell passed away in 2007, but his legacy lives on, on cocoa packets and beyond.
I sincerely hope you caught the Houzz feature on Julian and Desiree from Mid Century Møbler, and their amazing circular house. This post will be about another interesting house, without corners or straight lines. To understand the story of Villa Spies, you have to first understand who Simon Spies was. The Danish tycoon didn’t invent pacakge holidays, but in many ways his name came to be synonymous with the practice in Scandinavia, through his travel company Spies and his charter airline Conair of Scandinavia. Coming from a humble background, Spies made no attempts to be some kind of discrete magnate. Instead he grew his hair and beard long, partied in sex clubs and lived after the device that all press is good press.
In 1967, Spies contacted an architect by the name of Staffan Berglund, asking him to develop some ideas for the future of traveling. Berglund made drafts for how airplanes could change to include play areas for children, and a cabin bar for adults to have a cocktail or two during the flight. Spies loved it, but the Swedish version of FAA, Luftfartsverket were less than excited, pointing out a number of security issues, with having unbelted passengers roaming around inebriated.
But Spies was still interested in working with Berglund, and they know gave him the assignment to develop holiday homes for Scandinavian tourists in Spain. Berglund’s solution was both modern and frugal: round plastic houses, easily installed and complete with disposable cutlery and dishes. This time Spanish trade unions put up resistance, fretting that Spanish worker’s would lose business with this idea. Once again the project never moved beyond drafts.
Soon thereafter, Spies contacts Berglund again, this time to help him build a summer home on the Swedish island Torö, in the Stockholm archipelago. The house is to be based on the designs that Berglund made for the houses in Spain, but with the luxury amped up, and the exterior made of concrete rather than plastic. The plans of the circular house includes a circular pool, and a circular terrace. It also had a number of features controlled by remote control like a dinner set, that could be hoisted between floors, slide projectors to create different moods around the house and electric window shields.
After just barely managing to secure a building permit, the house is erected in 1968, to virtually no fanfare from the Swedish architecture press. Spies reputation as a playboy, along with Berglunds futuristic approach to architecture earned him no favors in the still conservative architect community. The tabloids however, featured the house frequently, but more as a backdrop to scandalous stories about Simon Spies, than as an architectural triumph. Simon Spies died in 1984, and the house was inherited by his last wife Janni, who is said to have kept the interior intact. She does not allow visitors, so very few people have actually seen the inside of the house with their own eyes. But we can still swoon over the amazing pictures!
”Hej uggla tjena moss/kom hit en stund till oss”, those words often greeted me when I turned on one of the two channels that Swedish television consisted of when I was a child. We didn’t get a whole lot of Jetsons, Flintstones or Scooby-Doo, but we did have an owl made of felt, reading us fables. The show was called Fablernas Värld, and I always just assumed that it was Swedish.
Years later, while visiting a friend in The Netherlands, I heard the theme song coming from their television, in unmistakable Dutch, and found out that De Fabetljeskrant was indeed a Dutch product. The show, that started in 1968 and ran to 1989, produced an amazing 1640 episodes! All in which the owl (Meneer in the Dutch and Jakob in the Swedish version) presented a fable – most often a classic one from the annals of Phaedrus, Aesop or Jean de La Fontaine, but sometimes one written for the show – which was then played out by the gallery of frequent characters. The mix of stop motion and puppetry seems a bit dated now, but the theme song is still pretty catchy.
If you’re anything like me, surely you have wondered at some point: ”Who is the german equivalent of Don Draper?” The answer to that question is Charles Paul Wilp. Although compared to the fictional Draper, Wilp also had a stroke of Andy Warhol to his persona.
A student of Man Ray, and proclaimed by Yves Klein to be the ”Prince of Space”, Wilps career intersected with those of Donna Summer, Marianne Faithful, Marsha Hunt, Amanda Lear and…umm..Miss Piggy (whom he interviewed and photographed for German Magazine POP/Rocky.) The other three mentioned all worked with Wilp on his groundbreaking commercials for German soft drink Afri Cola. Filmed through blocks of ice, and branded with the slogan ”Super-sexy-mini-flower-pop-op-cola – alles ist in Afri-Cola” , these commercials from 1968, skirt the line between great advertising and pure pop art. The cola still exists, and is widely popular in Germany, so most likely they did the trick!
Ain’t no dinner, like a Sunday dinner, and ain’t no Sunday dinner like a Scandinavian Sunday dinner. And if I can have my way, there will be some part of a pig on the table. Because what’s more Sunday then a big ole’ pork roast? I love it the way the Danes make it, with the rind all crisped up like cracklin’, and some sweetness to balance the rich taste of the pork. Now, there’s probably as many recipes for Danish pot roast as there is grandmothers in Denmark, but generally the idea around it is about the same, and most recipes can be easily tweaked to suit your particular preferences. Now there’s a number of way to get that crispy finish on the rind, but one of the simpler, if it doesn’t crisp up as you want it in the oven, is to use one of those little butane torches that chef’s use to make burnt sugar on top of crème brûlée (it sounds fancy, but they’re usually around $20). Meat is cut differently in different countries, but as long as you use a fatty part of the pig, like pork butt or ham that still has the rind, you’ll get pretty much the same results. Since my Danish is far from perfect, I borrowed the outlines of this recipe from the Swedish journal Hemmets Journal. As usual in our Scandinavian cooking section, we’ll be working in metric.
1.5 – 2 kg of pork butt or ham (with rind!)
3 tsp of salt
A few pinches of pepper
1 tsp of ground ginger
Juice from one orange
0.5 l of drippings and water
2 tbsp of butter
3 tbsp of flour
1.5 dl of heavy cream
Additional fresh squeezed orange juice
- Score the rind with a sharp knife, or if you’re at the butcher, ask them to score it for you. This can be done in lots of different ways, most common is etiher making parallell cuts, or making a grid pattern.
- Heat up your oven to between 480 and 485 (250 celsius), and put in a roast pan fill to about a third with water. Let the water boil and put the roast in the pan with the rind facing down. Leave it in for about 15 minutes, take out the roast and pat it dry with some paper towels. Lower the temperature to 320.
- Mix salt, ginger and pepper. Pat the pork dry again, and then rub it with the spices. Make sure the spices gets in between the scores.
- Put the roast on a rack over the roast pan. Put a thermometer in the thickest part of the roast, and wait til it reaches 185 (between 1 and 1.5 hours).
- Strain the drippings, and dilute them with water if there’s not enough. To really get the flavours from the pan, it sometimes helps to pour some water directly in to it, and wisk it around, and along the edges of the pan. Melt butter in a sauce pan, and sprinkle the flour over it. Mix and let brown a little bit, but not burn. Pour in the drippings and let boil for 5 minutes. Add cream and taste with salt, pepper and orange juice.
- Let meat rest for a while, and serve with your favorite sides. Goes well with brussel sprouts, caraway potatoes, apple slaw and prunes.