Any child who’s played a musical instrument has been taught that practice makes perfect. This ages-old lesson gained new traction with the theory, popularized by Malcolm Gladwell in his 2008 book Outliers, that mastery can be achieved with 10,000 hours of practice. In his quest to design the perfect chair, Danish furniture designer Hans Wegner can offer proof to these concepts. Throughout a career that spanned six decades, Wegner designed hundreds of striking yet understated chairs that have found their place in homes, offices and museums.
Wegner was born in Tønder, Denmark, in 1914. As a teenager her apprenticed as a cabinetmaker then enrolled in the School of Arts and Crafts in Copenhagen, where he’d later teach. The young designer began his career working with architects Arne Jacobsen and Erik Møller, creating furnishings for a municipal building.
Classic furniture designs informed Wegner’s work. His Wishbone Chair took cues from Ming Dynasty furnishings, infusing those centuries-old styles with a Danish modern simplicity. The Valet Chair added more function to traditional gentleman’s racks with hidden storage for cuff links and other accessories.
Arguably most famous of Wegner’s hundreds of chair designs became known simple as “The Chair” after its debut in the early 1950s. Called The Round One, this minimalist chair with a curved design was used by presidential candidates John F. Kennedy and Richard M. Nixon in a 1960 televised debate, 10 years after Interiors magazine had dubbed it, “the most beautiful chair in the world.” The chair can currently be seen on screens in the film Hidden Figures in the office of Space Task Group Director Al Harrison (played by Kevin Costner).
Even with this acclaim, Wegner kept designing, innovating, perfecting, seeking inspiration for his pieces not just from seating of the past but from his everyday life, with one design being inspired by a family beach vacation. Ultimately, Wegner, who died in 2007, understood that the true purpose of his designs was in their usefulness. “A chair isn’t finished until someone sits in it,” he once said.