Sunday 4 March 2012

Danish Design, Then and Now

Legendary Danish design - think clean lines, bold colours and shapes, natural materials, functional beauty - is in evidence everywhere you go in Copenhagen ... from the Arne Jacobsen chairs in the airport arrivals hall, through hotels, shops and restaurants.

For shopping, Illums Bolighus, on Amagertorv 10, was Scandi-designer heaven in one store - three floors of modern and classical design in stunning layouts. I could have spent a day on each floor, so absorbed in fantasy house-design that I forgot to take a single photo.

Products from Illums Bolighus online store:

Were I to make a modest personal contribution to the Danish economy (ahem), these Danish designers would be high on my wish-list ...

1.  A piece of jewellery from Georg Jensen, whose iconic silver designs in organic shapes need no introduction. Perhaps a pair of moonlight grape earrings in silver with amethyst drops ... 

2.  An item of clothing from Malene Birger (of Day Birger & Mikkelsen) or, more affordably, perhaps a bright red coat from Bitte Kai Rand to lend a shot of colour to one's spring wardrobe after winter's monochromes ...

(and take a look here at Nordicbliss, for shots of Bitte's home in Denmark, which have me in a state of deep house-envy). 

3.  A pair of Ilse Jacobsen's trademark lace-up vulcanised rubber boots (these are coveted items by women in London for facing the rain in style combined with warm, functional Scandinavian practicality) ...
Image sources:,

4.  A stylish notebook from Ordning & Reda in bright, bold colours ...
(though technically Swedish in origin, O&R are now owned by Bodum, so I  consider them Danish!)

I wondered where it all began, if one could find traces of this distinctive style in earlier times. We set off to explore the homes of the Danish royal family (the Danes, incidentally, are proud to claim that their kingdom is the oldest in Europe). At Amalienborg, the four adjacent Rococo palaces and Frederik's church loomed hazily in fine mist and icy drizzle, the square almost empty of people ...

This is where the queen and her family actually live, though the absence of a flag suggested she was sensibly absent at this time of year, probably somewhere warmer. I loved the guards in their bearskin hats, smart greatcoats and bright blue trousers. Inside and out, these palaces were all understated, clean elegance, with the splashes of bright red that seem to pop up in old and new Denmark ... 

Below, the dome of Frederik's church, modelled after St Peter's in Rome, from the outside and in ...

Rosenborg castle was entirely different in style, rich colours in the landscapes and interiors. This was originally the summer palace, out in the country, though is now surrounded by Copenhagen city.

It still stands in the grounds of the beautiful Kongens Have park gardens, which in summer is a popular place for picnics ...

... and in winter had its own kind of beauty with bare trees and frozen lake.

The interior was all opulence, ornate gold and gilt, chandeliers, portraits and tapestries ...

Tapestry detail
Photo credit note: Most of these interior detail pics, including the jewellery below, were taken by Younger Daughter (aka BellaTM ), with my nifty little Canon Ixus.

Tiny in actual size, this elephant pendant is part of the jewellery collection.

Shiny gold and bold reds again in all these royal symbols ... 

And it's a long way indeed from these ornate thrones, guarded by three life-sized golden lions, to the simple clean shapes of the Arne Jacobsen Egg or Ant chair ...

A different sort of throne, the royal loo was a reminder that even kings and queens lacked conveniences we take for granted. Though look at the gorgeous tile design they gazed upon!

Photo credit: Bella

and in order not to end on a lavatorial note, a final view of lovely Copenhagen across the gardens from Rosenborg palace ...

PS: Re my thoughts in the previous post on spoken Danish, a comment from Judith led me to look up the pronunciation of  (a berry dessert). Go here and click on the pronunciation to find out just how difficult it might be to learn to speak Danish well!


  1. How I love to travel with you!
    The one red brolly pic is one gem of many...

    These Ilse Jacobsen's trademark lace-up vulcanised rubber boots are not all over NYC unless I am mistaken - but we are not having much rain either.
    Do I want to be the 1st? Hmmm
    Thanks Karen(pronounced the Danish way!)

  2. That was a lovely mix up of wonderful images Karen! Of course, I like the Loo, all those lovely hand painted tiles and such a lesson on how wonderful they look when all mixed up. Sometimes I wonder what my boxes of left over tiles ($2 each) that sell like hot cakes, end up looking like when they are installed.

  3. Just gorgeous. Breathtaking.
    Now a Karen Blixen novel by the fireplace and a cup of tea, and we are set, aren't we?

    I have a turquoise pencil case from Ordning & Reda (they have a store in Vienna, as does Bodum).

  4. Such fabulous photos! Congratulations to Bella as well as Momma.
    My reaction to Illums Bolighus years ago: I don't want to buy anything. EVERYTHING is perfect and gorgeous, how could I possibly choose? I couldn't! (The only time I've ever had this reaction.)

    Re: rodgrod med flode and Danish pronunciation (I can't say it the way it sounds on that website) --
    I once asked a ticket agent for a ticket to Humlebaek. I thought I was saying it pretty okay, but he just didn't understand! Finally I spelled it on paper for him. Oh! he said. HUMLEBAEK. I swear it sounded just the same way I'd said it, but obviously not to him! Godaften, Karen.

    1. Haha, I can picture this scene with the ticket agent. At least he didn't fall about laughing at your pronunciation, as some Danes did recently to me when I said I was a fan of Forbrydelsen (The Killing)!

  5. Karen - as always inspiring - LOVE the photo with the red brolly. Brava. Francesca

  6. Karen, you and the talented Bella are very fine photographers. I would love to wake up tomorrow morning in Copenhagen after seeing your posts.

    Which sorts of designs arise from various places always has fascinated me. To see how this evolves over centuries really makes one think.

    Sometime in the "last century" there was a bright Ordning & Reda shop nearby on Columbus Avenue. I think that I did buy some of their notebooks and regret their departure.

    My morning coffee is always brewed courtesy of Bodum.


  7. I love the pictures you show on Denmark, especially the last one. Unfortunately when we went there I did not have a digital camera just a film camera so looking at the photos on your blog is a treat. I also like your heading a lot.


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