Regular readers will know that I am a big fan of Danish furniture and the Danes’ abiding principle that good design makes people happy. I wrote about it for The Financial Times about four years ago (the first piece I ever wrote for them and at about the same time that I set the blog up incidentally) and I believe just as firmly as they do in the power of good design. You only have to look at the surveys which constantly rank the Danes as the happiest people on the planet and wonder what’s contributing to their sense of wellbeing.
As we move away from a throwaway culture towards one where we buy less, buy smarter and buy what we truly love, I think the Danes have got it right. Which is why, today, I am happy to tell you that I am thrilled to be a brand ambassador for NORR11
I was one of the first to write about this Danish company when they arrived in the UK last year and I’m happy to introduce you to them over the next few months. Some of my clients have already bought their pieces and others have been keen to investigate this brand. That was one of the reasons why I have decided to work with them because I have already shown their furniture and lighting to some of you and the rest of you will know by now that I really only work with brands I like and I think you will too. Which hasn’t been very many to date.
But first, an introduction. In which we find out how the Danes invented our open plan kitchens, how their furniture companies inspired restaurants like Noma, nominated as the best restaurant in the world and why that good design does make all the difference to our lives.Last month I met Mads Moesgaard Ramm, their international sales manager, at their London showroom and, before you all start jumping up and down, I can tell you that in addition to the London showroom there is a shop (a real live shop) in Bury, not far from Manchester (the website is being redone but the shop has around 100sq ft of NORR11 products so you can see almost the entire collection) IRL as they say (*whispers*: in real life).
The first principle is the simplicity of the design and the products. In the same way that Italians make amazing food from simple, but brilliant, ingredients so the Danes excel at simple furniture with clean lines.
“We saw a gap in the market for furniture that was light and simple and that bridged the gap between the design classics (which are now so expensive) and the mainstream,” said Mads. “We like simple furniture in not too many colours to open the room up.
“In the UK people don’t spend as much time in their homes as we do, so we tend to spend more money on what goes in them. It’s not about the weather, as everyone always says, but about the fact that we meet friends at home and not in a bar after work for example. It’s a cultural difference. We spend a long time preparing for dinner parties and we present our home as part of ourselves.”
And talking of food, Mads says restaurants like Noma, famed for using only local ingredients, were inspired by the furniture industry which also uses only local materials and tries to minimise waste.
Mads, on behalf of Denmark, is also taking credit for the UK love of the open plan kitchen. Or, as he calls it, the conversation kitchen. “We used to have small kitchens in our houses, but in the 90s houses started to be built with fewer walls between the rooms so parents could cook while kids did homework and everyone was together. The island became a place where people could gather round and when the architects saw this was how people were living they started to design houses this way.”
Danish interiors are also famous for their monochrome palette. Natural materials rule: floors are wooden, walls are white and furniture is leather or fabric in muted colours. “We are proud of our furniture and our design heritage and we want it to look good in the space,” he said shaking his head in actual horror when I asked if he ever secretly yearned for an orange wall or a flash of neon pink.
Instead he points to the comfort of a simple leather chair. In fact, by this stage I have sat my way round the entire showroom and Mads has taken to standing in the middle and turning to face me as I move around. I want all the chairs. The coffee tables, where the top comes off to be a tray are fabulous and their outdoor furniture is properly weatherproof.
It’s not just NORR11 though. Mads points out that Fritz Hansen had its best year ever last year and the designs of Arne Jacobsen, Verner Panton and Poul Henningsen have been almost constantly in production since the 1950s.
Having now spent some time in the UK, Mads thinks we are ready to embrace that Scandinavian philosophy of buying less and buying pieces that we want to pass down through the family. And in the same spirit of respect for the furniture and the love of design, Mads says NORR11 doesn’t even have a design schedule.
“We make new products when we feel it, there is no target or production deadline. We do it when it feels right.”
And if that approach to design makes them happy, then I can definitely see how it might make us happy to have pieces crafted with skill and love in our own homes.
I hope you like this company as much as I do. I look forward to showing you some of the new ideas which they have been working on in a couple of months.