DESIGN

How Arne Jacobsen’s Egg, Swan, and Drop Chairs Got Their Curves

Fritz Hansen celebrates the trio of seats, which turn 60 this year, with a limited edition collection.

The Swan and Egg chairs from Fritz Hansen's 60th anniversary collection.

Strange but true: If not for styrofoam, three of the century’s most iconic chairs might never have existed. In the 1950s, Danish architect Arne Jacobsen was in the midst of creating Copenhagen’s SAS Royal Hotel (renamed the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel in 1994) while simultaneously exploring what was, at the time, an innovative material, carving it into organic geometries for furniture to fill the hotel’s interior. The resulting seats, first presented by Fritz Hansen in 1958, brought a softness and a human scale to the towering, rectilinear project.

“Jacobsen had this idea of doing these feminine, sculptural shapes for a rigid building,” says Christian Andresen, Fritz Hansen’s head of design. “He was interested in how the furniture fit the building and its purpose. And trying to design something [that made] people sitting in them look beautiful.” Thus, within the hotel’s original lobby, the Egg enveloped its occupant while the Swan opened like a blossoming flower, visually lifting the sitter. The smaller-scale Drop chair furnished the restaurant areas and guest rooms. “Jacobsen always said the Drop chair was perfect for his wife at home, because he could see her shape from the back,” Andresen recalls. “Instead of enclosing the individual, it points to and accentuates her.”

It wasn’t an easy feat bringing the chairs into fruition. Styrofoam is notorious for cracking when bent, so the designer experimented with glass fiber and reinforcements, which raised production costs dramatically. Eventually, a new material—polyurethane foam—offered more strength, reducing the amount of interior reinforcements. “Jacobsen was really into the scientific part of his work,” Andresen says. “That’s why he became who he was, and why this project was such a success.”

An archival image of the Drop chairs at the restaurant of the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen. (Photo: Jørgen Strüwing)

To mark the 60th anniversary of these modern classics, Fritz Hansen is reimagining the trio this month. A limited production of 1,958 Egg and Swan chairs are upholstered in “pure” leather (that’s never been water-treated or dyed). This maintains the hide’s natural grain and color, which will naturally darken with use and sunlight exposure. Each piece is numbered and includes a hand-annotated card that explains all the “beauty marks”—including scars, insect bites, and stretch marks—found on its exterior. Drop, which is not limited in number but available for purchase only this year, boasts a hard-wearing taupe-hued fabric marked by its rich texture and slight luster. All three sport four-star aluminum bases, electroplated in 23-karat gold for a satin-like finish that will patina over time. “It’s more of a birthday bling, but not too shiny,” Andresen says.

These updates received a stamp of approval from Jacobsen’s family, which has worked closely with the Danish manufacturer since his death in 1971. They share an even closer connection today via Jacobsen’s grandson, Tobias, who studied design at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts (as did Andresen and Jacobsen, who studied architecture there) and have reviewed the collection to ensure that every stylistic decision felt right.

The Drop chair at the SAS Royal Hotel. (Photo: Jørgen Strüwing). The Egg and Swan chairs at the Fritz Hansen factory in 1963. (Photo: Courtesy Fritz Hansen)

While the revamped seats commemorate Jacobsen’s longtime collaboration with Fritz Hansen, it’s as much a celebration of the brand itself. As such, three non-Jacobsen products feature in the anniversary line: a special edition Kaiser Idell floor lamp, Cecilie Manz’s pouf (upholstered with pure leather left over from the Egg and Swan production), and a multipatterned, ultrafine merino throw in a complementary gray-brown.

Rounding out the series with other pieces evokes the spirit of the SAS Royal Hotel, which Jacobsen conceived as a gesamtkunstwerk, or total work of art: In addition to the architecture, he designed the furniture, cutlery, glassware, door handles, candlesticks, and more. “It was a total project,” says Andresen. “He strived for that all his career.”

(Opening photo: Courtesy Fritz Hansen)

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