CH25 chair designed by Hans Wegner for Carl Hansen, 1950. Photograph courtesy of Skandium.
In Midcentury issue 08, design historian and curator Lesley Jackson introduces us to some favourite pieces from her personal collection and explains how her continuing love of Danish design has been reflected in acquisitions for her own home. More recently, she’s turned her attention to Elmet Farmhouse, a Pennine hilltop holiday cottage near Hebden Bridge in Yorkshire. Although the farmhouse dates to the 18th century, it’s hardly surprising that it’s filled with pieces from her extensive collection of post-war furniture. We spoke to Lesley Jackson to find out more and to pick up a few tips.
Photograph courtesy of Lesley Jackson
From Danish design to Ercol: Why does furnishing with Danish mid-century appeal to you?
The attraction to Danish design lies in the combination of natural materials – wood, wool, leather and paper cord – and the subtlety of the designs. Danish post-war furniture isn’t showy on the whole (with the notable exception of Verner Panton), but it’s not bland either. There’s something deeply satisfying about how the Danes handle wood. They seem to know instinctively how to bring out its intrinsic qualities in terms of colour, texture and grain.
Furniture that you actually live with and use (as opposed to ogle at in shops or museums) has to be practical. All the Danish pieces in my home and in Elmet Farmhouse meet that basic criteria, so the settees are really comfortable and the sideboards provide excellent storage, as well as looking good. The Danes meticulously thought their designs through before putting them into production. And they’re made to last, so once you’ve made the investment, chances are you’ll never need to replace them again.
Perhaps this sounds boring! But the simple fact is that Danish furniture looks stunning and gives us (and our guests in Elmet Farmhouse) great pleasure to use.
From Danish design to Ercol: Were you drawn to certain designers when furnishing Elmet Farmhouse?
Yes, our house is the mother ship and Elmet Farmhouse is the satellite. When it came to choosing furniture for the farmhouse, it made sense to go for tried and tested pieces similar to those in our home. The Arild Sideboard designed by Nils Jonsson for the Swedish firm of Troeds in 1961 is a good example. It’s a classic long, low sideboard made of teak, the epitome of stylish, understated mid-century design. The version in the farmhouse is even longer than ours, with a drop-flap cupboard as well as four drawers and two sliding doors.
Photograph courtesy of Lesley Jackson
From Danish design to Ercol: What’s your favourite mid-century design in your collection?
Well, as readers of the issue 08 feature will have already gleaned, in terms of Danish design I love the Hans Wegner furniture in our house! In Elmet Farmhouse, my favourite piece is the Kadett Sofa by O&M Design, manufactured by Skipper. Normally the back of a settee is the least interesting part, but in this case it’s the opposite. The cushions are supported by a cradle-like stick-back frame made from pale untreated beech, so it’s a bit like a giant Windsor chair.
Although the Kadett Sofa dates from the 1990s, it pays homage to an earlier design by Børge Mogensen called the Spokeback Sofa, which was conceived in 1945 but not produced until 1963. Mogensen’s version has ‘hinged’ arms with adjustable leather straps, whereas the Kadett frame is fixed. With its loose down-filled seat cushions, it’s gloriously comfortable. I found some lovely hand-woven wool cushion covers in a charity shop in Hebden Bridge (made by a local weaver in the 1970s apparently), which complement the sofa really well.
Ercol 376 Dining Chair, 1957. Photograph courtesy of Richard Dennis publications
From Danish design to Ercol: What tips do you have for new collectors on a budget?
If you’re on a budget, it’s not so much what to buy as where to look. Some charity shops, such as the British Heart Foundation and Emmaus, now have large second-hand furniture outlets. You never know what you’ll find there but there’s plenty of mid-century furniture – both British and Danish design – to be snapped up for a very reasonable price.
New collectors can’t really go wrong with Ercol. Even though prices can be very high, you can still find some of their basic Windsor chairs for an affordable price if you’re lucky. There are loads on eBay and you regularly see them at flea markets.
From Danish design to Ercol: You’ve got an Ercol armchair in Elmet Farmhouse, does owning and using these pieces complement your research?
I do think that being able to physically handle pieces and use them on a day-to-day basis gives you extra insights – and an enhanced appreciation of – the designs. Take mid-century Poole Pottery tableware for example. Truda Carter’s beautiful hand-painted plates with their silky eggshell glaze are a real pleasure to eat off, as well as to hang on the wall. I do both! This, in turn, informs my work as a design historian as I understand their contemporary (and lasting) appeal.
I’ve always liked Midwinter Pottery and curated a big exhibition about this firm in 1994. My personal collection of vintage Midwinter tableware has now moved over to Elmet Farmhouse, including the service I used to set up home when it was new!
Textiles can also be much better appreciated when they are seen and handled in the flesh. It’s as much about the touch and texture of the cloth as about surface pattern. All the curtains in Elmet Farmhouse are made from vintage fabrics, including Edinburgh Weavers and Hull Traders, both subjects of books I’ve written.
In both my house and the farmhouse I’ve used original mid-century screen-printed textiles as wall hangings, as well as curtains and cushions. These fabrics look fabulous when displayed in long lengths. The farmhouse includes some gems from my collection, including striking pieces by Tibor, Sanderson and David Whitehead. Guests have told me they’re so bowled over by the textiles, they’re going to go copy the idea at home.
Photograph courtesy of Lesley Jackson.
From Danish design to Ercol: What contemporary designers do you collect?
Throughout my career I’ve curated exhibitions about contemporary craft and design and I really enjoy collaborating with designers. Sometimes at the end of a project I’ll treat myself by acquiring a lasting memento, such as a fabulous crystalline-glazed Mother Pumpkin by potter Kate Malone, with whom I co-wrote a book. I bought two large engraved glass bowls by the Swedish designer Ingegerd Råman for Orrefors which I bought from an exhibition I curated for the Crafts Council in 2004 called Beauty and the Beast: New Swedish Design.
Hannah Nunn – a designer whose lamps are extensively featured in Elmet Farmhouse – is a talented designer-maker based locally whose work I’d admired for many years. The delicate plant imagery (not dissimilar in aesthetic to the drawings of Lucienne Day) on her exquisite laminated cut-paper lamps perfectly complements the flowers in the garden and the grasses in the meadow beyond. Hannah has recently branched out into wallpaper so her Paper Meadow design appears twice in the farmhouse, first as a spectacular large lamp in the living room and then on the wall of an alcove in the attic bathroom.
Read more about Lesley Jackson’s love of Danish design in MidCentury 08
Find out more about Elmet Farmhouse here
Pick up some Ercol tips in Lesley Jackson’s Ercol: Furniture in the Making
Read our interview with Lesley Jackson about Ercol here