The Scandinavian TOUCH : IN BELGIAN FURNITURE - 1951-1966
The Scandinavian TOUCH
C.L., February 11, 2010
During the fifties and sixties, our country saw quite a substantial level of Scandinavian-style furniture production. Some of the more successful designs are now on display at Design museum Gent in an exhibition entitled “The Scandinavian Touch in Belgian Furniture – 1951-1966”. The exhibition is of great interest to vintage aficionados, and to all those who are keen to discover the link between Scandinavian and Belgian modernism. The exhibition places the focus on the furniture itself and displays a number of comparative cases. Designs by Belgian designers go toe to toe with Scandinavian models. All attention is directed towards to the furniture item itself, every detail of which is there for the visitor to admire. Text panels, photographic material and design drawings offer insight into the wider context. Interior designer Gilberte Claes and interior designer Luc van de Wouwer make the selection.   

Arne Vodder – dressoir Triennale - triennial sideboard 0S 63- 0S29_Olsen P. Sibast Mobler, 1958
Arne Vodder – dressoir Triennale - triennial sideboard 0S 63- 0S29_Olsen P. Sibast Mobler, 1958
Milan Triennial sets the Danish tone

At the 1951 Milan Triennial, Danish furniture design captures people’s imaginations the most with its demure and humane style. The modern aspect of Danish furniture design, however, does not imply a break with tradition but rather a continuation. This reasoning was first introduced in the early twenties by Kaare Klint (1888-1954) at the Royal Academy in Copenhagen. Through the analysis of historic furniture types, he develops a specific design method which reduces furniture to its essential elements. Kaare Klint is mainly looking for a functional and simple shape, thus creating the basis for Scandinavian Modernism. The breakthrough of Scandinavian furniture design after the second world war can be traced back to these beginnings. As of the 1930s, Scandinavian politics are dominated by the social democrats, who implement a tax fund-based welfare programme. Houses, schools, libraries and hospitals are built at a high rate, which creates new opportunities. As do so many in other European countries, so too are Belgian furniture designers in the beginning of the fifties showing particular interest in “modern social furniture”.

Modern social furniture

Belgian magazines speak of the necessity of ‘un mobilier populaire adapté’ (‘popular adapted furniture’). Within the context of post-war reconstruction, renewed vigour and the quest for the renewal of shape within architecture, interior design and furniture art, our country too sees the rise to prominence of “modern social furniture”, or what some call “the utopian ideal of aesthetic and high-quality furniture for the masses”. In 1950 a group of reformist artists and craftsmen create ‘Formes Nouvelles’ in Brussels. Designers are exposed to the new Scandinavian shapes through specialized magazines such as La Maison, Wonen, Streven, De Linie, Ruimte, De Nieuwe, as well as through international exhibitions. This inspires them to set off in search of ‘simple’ and ‘functional’ shapes with discreet yet elegant design. They mostly appreciate the emphasis on the human aspect, which fits well into the search for ‘social’ furniture. Modern social furniture is one of the highlights of twentieth-century Belgian design. Its toned-down modernism displays strong similarities with Scandinavian modernism, both conceptually and formally.

V-Form série Paola – dressoir - sideboard P220_V-Form, 1959
V-Form série Paola – dressoir - sideboard P220_V-Form, 1959
Ten cases on display

“The Scandinavian Touch in Belgian Furniture” is specific in its display of this influence process. Some ten cases featuring Belgian furniture pieces and their Scandinavian counterparts are presented. The starting point of the comparison is the furniture piece, all attention is directed towards the construction, the concept, the material and the finish. We are shown pieces by Belgian furniture producers such as Van den Berghe Pauvers, Belform, V-Form as well as by designer Emiel Veranneman. To Van den Berghe Pauvers, Denmark at the beginning of the fifties can be seen as the Mecca of modern furniture design. Designer Jos de Mey (1928-2008) is infatuated with the Scandinavian line, and shows great interest in its craftsmanship. The Belform company too shows great interest in Scandinavian furniture design. Besides presenting the modern furniture piece, after a design by Alfred Hendrickx, they also have the Danish furniture piece on display in their showroom in Mechelen. The light, elegant construction of the Danish furniture piece also serves as a source of inspiration to the V-Form company. The Paola series illustrates the love for demure design and attention to the material. Certain furniture pieces by Emiel Veranneman also show strong similarities with specific Danish models.

Set 1 - Belgian
V-Form Paola series – sideboard P220
Designer: V-Form team – Oswald Vermaercke (1926)
Producer: V-Form, 1959
Material: Bangkok teak, interior sycamore

Arne Vodder – triennial sideboard 0S 63/ 0S29
Designer: Arne Vodder (1926)
Producer: Olsen P. Sibast Mobler, 1958
Material: teak.

After Oswald Vermaercke takes over the management of V-Form from his father, he provides a fresh impetus to the company. Vermaercke places the emphasis on simple, functional furniture with limited decoration. During his visit to Copenhagen Oswald Vermaercke is exposed to the Danish furniture classics. It is intriguing to him to see that a large part of modern Danish furniture is made of teak. Inspired by Danish furniture, Oswald Vermaercke sets off in search of inspiration of his own. In the Paola series veneer is remarkably present, playing a major part in the decorative aspect of the furniture piece. The design is frugal and functional but with a fascination for detail derived from Danish furniture design. Furthermore, the modulated shapes, rounded edges and soft transitions are all details which impart the furniture with a distinctly idiosyncratic quality and catch the eye. The Paola series is characterized by the love of shapes. When compared to Finn Juhl’s furniture, we note that Vermaercke’s manner of construction is more akin to an industrial method of production. He uses birch plywood for the inside drawers with plywood guides. Vodder on the other hand uses solid wood and a traditional dovetail joint for the drawers. To Vodder, craftsmanship is key, both in the choice of materials and in the construction.

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