In her book, Jens Risom: A Seat at the Table, author Vicky Lowry details the esteemed designer’s life and catalogs numerous pieces he created during his illustrious, 80-year career.
When Jens Risom moved from Copenhagen to America in 1939 to build a career in modern furniture design, he couldn’t have imagined the bright future ahead of him.
As a young freelancer working in New York, Risom created collections for many notable businesses, such as Georg Jensen and Knoll. While he enjoyed collaborating with acclaimed figures, he longed to control all parts of the furniture-making process.
According to author Lowry, Risom explained that, “unless you understand, respect, and control your materials … you are not in charge of the product—you are a stylist only—not a craftsman responsible for the total design.”
In 1946, he established his own company, Jens Risom Design. Over the years, he “went on to buy factories in which to manufacture his furniture and fabrics with complete control, from the shape of the wood pieces to the finish of its upholstery,” says Lowry.
After selling his successful business in 1970, Risom worked as a freelance designer again and “made a remarkable comeback” in the early 2000s at the age of 88.
“Amid the meteoric surge of interest in mid-century furniture, his original designs were brought back to vivid life with contemporary styling, luxurious touches, and breathtaking price tags. Until his death in 2016 at the age of one hundred, he continued to conceive new furniture pieces admired around the world.”
Contribution to MCM Design
Risom’s unique style enchanted the masses and left a permanent mark on MCM design.
“His furniture demonstrates his professed principle of sound construction, clean lines and thoughtful treatment of woods,” praised the Dallas Daily Times Herald in 1951. “It’s contemporary in design, but it has an old-world look of elegance and craftsmanship that makes it compatible with good furniture of any period.”
By the time he was 26, Risom had “designed his most recognizable chair, model 666, a stripped-down wood side chair featuring tapered legs and a seat and back wrapped in woven canvas webbing,” says Lowry. “That fabric-strapped chair … became an instant classic and is still revered today.”
The author points out that the C140, “an airy design with an upholstered seat and cane back,” also became one of Risom’s trademark chairs. This modern seat graced the White House Oval Office during President Lydon B. Johnson’s tenure (1963 to 1969). “Johnson signed the Civil Rights Act of 1964 while seated in that chair,” Lowry adds.
While Risom ensured his products looked sleek, he also prioritized comfort and utility. “Comfort is important and in design terms a chair has to look like it supports you—to look comfortable as well as be comfortable,” he said. “I have always said a chair is not a sculpture. It should be practical, so that you can sit in it comfortably (Jens Risom: A Seat at the Table).”
Risom was a true visionary, and his ideas have stood the test of time.
“The renaissance of his furniture in the contemporary design scene should underscore the fact that Jens Risom revolutionized modern furniture design, and his legacy continues to shape our aesthetic today,” says Lowry.
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