Carl Hansen & Søn’s New York Flagship Store Is a Danish Design Emporium
After experiencing unprecedented growth during the pandemic, the furniture brand greatly expands its New York footprint with a spacious SoHo flagship that showcases its most notable products old and new.
It may seem easy to be overwhelmed by the size of Carl Hansen & Søn’s new flagship store, which recently opened in SoHo, New York, to much design-world fanfare. Immediately upon browsing the heritage furniture brand’s array of Danish design classics, however, the mood lightens. Situated throughout the airy 5,200-square-foot Wooster Street storefront are artful vignettes that put the brand’s hallmarks on full display: a mix of mahogany and blond woods, recognizable silhouettes by some of history’s most esteemed designers, and chairs that practically beg to be sat in.
Knud Erik Hansen, the CEO and representative of the Hansen family’s third generation, views the flagship store as an outcome of prodigious growth for the company, which experienced an unprecedented 37 percent uptick in revenue during a turbulent pandemic year. Besides an influx of consumers seeking to refurnish their homes during quarantine, Hansen attributes a sizable portion of that growth to an increased awareness of quality and handicraft within the U.S. market’s younger buyers, who’ve otherwise relied on cheaply made, middling-quality products from Amazon that get thrown away after a year.
For this reason, Carl Hansen & Søn seems to be circumventing the “retailpocalypse.” Designers and end users alike have come to understand that the brand’s unmatched quality and time-honored handicraft traditions speaks for themselves and, like most design objects and furniture, should ideally be seen and touched in person. “[We’ve] been manufacturing furniture for 110 years, and the craftsmanship behind our collection—the quality, sustainability, and timeless design—should be experienced firsthand,” says Hansen, who oversees the brand with his wife Inger M. Jensen Hansen, the chief commercial officer. We sat down with Hansen to get the full scoop on the flagship and learn what the brand is cooking up next.
The arrival of Carl Hansen & Søn’s SoHo flagship indicates how the brand is expanding its purview in the U.S. What does it mean from a growth perspective?
We want customers to be able to see the whole collection—furniture, accessories, lighting—in one place. Despite having been made by different architects, the furniture all fits together under the Carl Hansen & Søn umbrella and we don’t want to show anything that stands out too much. It’s important that everything meshes well because we can’t expect our dealers to show such a wide selection. They only have bits and pieces, but we have the whole story here at the New York flagship. Every piece of furniture has a story. It’s a pleasure to show.
Can you find just about every Carl Hansen & Søn piece in the flagship?
Not quite, but there’s a vast selection of what’s currently in production. The beauty of Carl Hansen & Søn is that we can manufacture a product for several years, return it to the vault, and resurface it in ten years and it suddenly feels new again. That’s what makes it interesting for us. We’re also collaborating with young, talented designers and architects, and have so much fun showing their products. The RF1903 Sofa by Rikke Frost is one of our favorites. You can never accuse us of resting on our laurels. We want to move quickly, renew ourselves, and show that we’re not stale. We’ve been doing this for generations.
What I love about bringing young designers into the equation is they face the challenge of envisioning new products that stay within Carl Hansen & Søn’s framework, yet are given the leeway to freely experiment within those parameters.
Their designs have to fit! Young designers pitch us collaborations almost every day. I can immediately tell when something isn’t quite right because normally it doesn’t match our desired quality. Most everyone who finds success with us is a craftsperson and understands how to work with raw materials inside and out. This is very important. We don’t want to make too many changes to their original ideas. Frost made the RF1903 Sideways Sofa for a competition over a three-week period and admitted to us that it wasn’t a finished product, so we worked together simply fine-tuning some details. Now her sofa is doing extremely well and we’ve been selling so many of them.
Carl Hansen & Søn has always struck me as a brand that’s deeply in tune with its heritage. Can we expect more collaborations with young architects and designers in the future?
That’s difficult to say because we’re not really looking for anything in particular. If we notice talent, though, we try to work together. We’re doubling down on heritage designers because they have some fantastic products in the vault that aren’t being developed. Kaare Klint, for example, had hundreds of drawings that we now own because we bought the company. Our librarian archived and categorized all his files, and now we have a collection of around 2,500 drawings. We could find so many different products to reissue if we wanted!
What does it take to reissue a product?
I don’t want to reveal exactly how the sausage is made, but it requires so much detail. Mass production didn’t exist in the early 20th century, so reissuing requires figuring out how to manufacture them in a “modern” way. It also needs to fit within our product portfolio. I love having these archives, but it also takes time to sift through it and identify what we can make.
It’s always very satisfying to see new discoveries resurface from the archives. One that immediately comes to mind is the T Chair by Ole Wanscher.
You know, his son recently told us that it’s fantastic how his grandchildren will make money from something his father made! Peter Jeppesen, who used to own Wasncher’s company, asked me to come see the factory and consider buying the company because they weren’t doing well. His wife managed all aspects of production and didn’t react well to the prospect. I didn’t buy it at that time, but left them with one piece of advice: make Wanscher’s Colonial Chair in oak because we noticed buyers gravitating toward that wood in particular.
Two years later, she approached me at the Stockholm Furniture Fair and said they were finally selling well again. They called again three years later and said they were interested in selling the company again. At that point, it took me only half an hour of negotiations to buy it. It’s been such a great buy, and working with Wanscher’s son is fantastic. He’s been very open to us modernizing the production, and now his grandchildren will be taken care of!
Besides the T Chair, which products in the flagship are you most excited about?
We can’t pass up Hans Wegner’s CH24 Wishbone Chair, which is 70 years old but still feels advanced. The CH78 Mama Bear Chair, also by Wegner, is doing extremely well here. And we just launched Børge Mogensen’s BM0555 Bed last year. Mogensen designed it for his own house basically by himself, and there’s a daybed in the same collection. Beds are enormous and it’s hard to get their design right, but this one is charming, beautifully made, comfortable, and discrete. We produced beds many years ago, but it still feels new for us.
You’ve been adamant that sight and touch are required to understand and fall in love with products that Carl Hansen & Søn makes, especially when it comes to durability and quality. How does the flagship respond to this notion?
In the European market, buyers know they need to pay more for quality furniture, and it lasts. That’s a big part of the environmental discussion we’re having. The reality is that if a product lasts for generations, it’s a major boon for sustainability. In the United States, we’re seeing the throwaway culture slowly dying out with the younger generation. That’s a huge advantage for both us and the environment. And that’s because buyers are coming to the store to see the products and the quality manufacturing for themselves.
Our generation has become more attuned to the misdoings of e-commerce giants like Amazon. We’re less interested in buying cheap furniture that we’re going to throw away within a year, even if it means paying a slightly higher price.
This is happening around the world. South Korea and China, especially, are both smashing markets for us. Chinese buyers used to furnish their expensive flats with copies, but caught on to the poor quality. Our Chinese market is developing very well for that reason.
Five years ago, we had 65,000 square feet of production space, but now we have more than 600,000 square feet in Denmark alone. We’ve been able to grow the company strategically and invest more in acquiring better, faster machines. More than 700 people are working the machines now, all without the brand making any concessions on quality.
We’ve also been finding new ways to reuse waste materials. Our accessories collection, for example, is made from wooden offcuts. We’ll cut out dinner plates from the same wood used to make our chairs. We make aprons from leftover leather, which would otherwise be crushed and thrown out. We compress 14 to 16 tons a day of shavings that go into burners that heat the factory and 700 houses around the city. They get heating independent of Putin’s gas and at a much lower price. It takes a lot of time and resources to invest in this, but always ends up coming back to benefit us in the long run.
It’s easy to see why there’s such a reverence for Danish craft traditions. You’re impacting so many different parts of their lives.
When we share how we run our business, they take well to it. It’s very fun for us. We experienced 37 percent growth last year alone, and during a pandemic when so many brands were struggling. It proves that we’re on the right track.