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Know Your Design: The Story of the Iconic Wishbone Chair by Hans Wegner

Ushering a new era of Danish design, Hans Wegner’s Wishbone Chair has cemented itself as a timeless classic

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By House & Garden | April 4, 2024 | Design

At the Copenhagen Cabinetmakers’ Guild exhibition in 1947, Holger Hansen, son of cabinetmaker Carl Hansen, met Hans Wegner, a young designer making radical new furnishings: sleek forms inspired by the minimal designs of China’s Ming dynasty. Hansen’s family-run company, hoping to segue into serial manufacturing, took a chance on the young Dane two years later, putting five of his pieces into production by 1950. The firm still makes all of them today.

One chair, which some say was commissioned to compete with the ubiquitous Thonet café chair, became a fan favorite: the CH24, a.k.a. the Wishbone Chair. With an ultra-simple hardwood silhouette that eliminated all nonessential material and a seat made from paper, spun to look like a rope (a Swedish invention during wartime, when sisal was scarce), it followed Wegner’s self-described “process of purification and of simplification.”

Danish customers, though, were not immediately convinced. “They didn’t fit into a 1950s home,” observes Knud Erik Hansen, the firm’s current CEO. “Even my granddad, used to heavy mahogany, thought they looked like garden furniture.” But the Wishbone found a warm welcome over in sunny California and soon gained favour in Germany. In a few years, Danes came around, too, embracing a chair that became a hallmark of Danish modernism the world over.

This month, in celebration of Hans J. Wegner’s 110th birthday, Carl Hansen & Son is launching its first-ever children’s Wishbone Chair. It's only natural that the obsession would eventually trickle down to the younger generation. Much like its predecessor, the child's wishbone chair is assembled in over 100 stages and is made entirely by hand. It will retail about about £437, and will provide an historic (and not to mention comfortable) place to perch for whichever children are lucky enough to own it.

Wegner, who said “a chair isn’t finished until someone sits in it,” prized comfort. And today’s Wishbone admirers vouch for his attention to detail: Commune Design’s Roman Alonso has 24 Wishbones in his L.A. studio and a red version that became his go-to perch while he worked from home this past spring. “It’s a no-brainer,” says Alonso. “A classic shape that’s so comfortable.” Designer Ilse Crawford also pledges her allegiance: “Rather like the Thonet café chair that it was commissioned to compete with, it’s so good, so refined, so well resolved that we will never be tired of it.”