Run your hands along the back of a Wishbone chair and you can instantly understand why Hans Wegner was known as the Master of the Chair. One of the most famous Danish designers (and let’s face it, there are a few to choose from), Wegner worked in a different way from all his contemporaries; when making a chair he sat in it.
It sounds obvious, but back in the 1950s, most designers worked to a strict set of rules when creating their furniture. They measured everything and stuck to a pre-agreed set of dimensions. Wegner actually sat in his pieces and decided if they were comfortable before moving onto the next stage.
Before Wegner, chairs tended to be very square, almost bombastic in style. Certainly male. Wegner made his chairs curved and feminine and, let’s be honest, more comfortable.
The top rail, which is steam curved making it comfortable to lean against, is just one of 100 stages in the manufacturing process. The seat is handwoven from 120m of paper cord and can last for up to 50 years, which basically justifies any questions you might have about the cost as a fake version won’t last anything like that long.
The son of a cobbler, Wegner designed around 500 chairs, many of which are regarded as design classics, but it is the CH24, popularly known as the Wishbone, or Y Chair that is his most famous.
It was the last in a series of chairs begun in 1944 inspired by a portrait of Danish merchants sitting in traditional Ming Chairs. It was designed in 1949 for Carl Hansen & Son and went into production the following year. Unlike many other design classics, it has never fallen out of fashion and production has continued uninterrupted since then.
Knud Erik Hansen, the son of Carl, says simply that Wegner was a connoisseur of wood.
“He really knew about wood and he didn’t use anything that wasn’t necessary to the piece,” he said. “His dimensions were optimum and if something wasn’t needed he cut it away. He was like a top chef, refining the design until all that was left was all that was completely necessary.”
As Wegner himself said of his work: “I have always wanted to make unexceptional things of an exceptionally high quality.”
I love the Wishbone chair because for me it sums up everything about Danish design in one piece. It is a chair in which form and function are both perfectly equal. There is no unnecessary embellishment and yet it is a beautiful object. Its simple outline belies the complicated procedures needed to make something so comfortable. It is classic yet contrives to look completely modern.