Ninety-three years old and still actively working; Danish furniture designer Kai Kristiansen remains motivated and engaged with his life-long occupation, designing sophisticated, functional and innovative furniture for the home. From his own home and studio in the middle of Denmark, a small town called Brædstrup in Jutland, Kristiansen reworks sixty-year-old drawings and models which continue to intrigue both the manufacturers and the users.
While visiting Milan for work during the yearly furniture fair, Salone del Mobile, in 2017, Kristiansen met the Danish writer, Sisse Bro, who at the time was also selling Danish modern furniture through a gallery in Brussels. On the initiative of Bro, the two of them decided to start a collaboration on a future monograph about Kristiansen’s seventy-year long career.
Written in English and released together with the German publisher, arnoldsche Art Publishers, the book is to be found in book and museum shops worldwide and is now also included in the book selection at Bautier. ‘It was crucial to me that the book would be accessible internationally as I realised that the furniture of Kristiansen has reached many corners of the world, especially in Europe, the US, Asia and Australia. Thanks to the Danish export efforts in the 1950s and 60s, his products gained a lot of appreciation when Danish design was experiencing the first big wave of popularity, and today, with the help of social media and the online furniture trade, even more people are living with his chairs, tables and shelving systems,’ says Sisse Bro.
Kai Kristiansen was born in 1929, in a small town in the north of Denmark, a region surrounded by water and well-preserved nature. Culturally, the mentality was dominated by the Lutheran church, encouraging a simple and frugal lifestyle. Kristiansen’s design approach has been, and still is, coloured by this environment and its outlook on life with his constant search of ‘getting as much as possible out of as little as possible’. Trained as a cabinet maker and taught by one of Danish design’s role models, Kaare Klint, Kristiansen understood from very early on in his career how to create functional furniture with refined details while carefully taking the production method and costs into consideration. In his first table design from 1951, he even designed the boxes in which the tables would be delivered for them to be returned and reused. ‘Economy, ecology and common sense’, a phrase he repeats to this day.
The furniture and design thinking of Kai Kristiansen was mainly developed during the post-war era, a highly different society than today, yet his approach remain relevant, not to mention, necessary. As opposed to many of the Danish designers of his generation who worked with cabinetmakers on exclusive and expensive products, Kristiansen collaborated closely with the furniture industry and understood that we cannot go back in time, we need to move forward with awareness and an innovative mindset, producing with as little material as possible and making beautiful furniture available for a larger public. In the 1950s and 60s one of his most famous chairs was sold through IKEA; that same chair is today manufactured in Japan by Miyazaki Chair Factory.
Kai Kristiansen is well known for his chair design, yet he spent as much energy and time on all other types of furniture for the home: tables, cabinets, desks, shelving systems and beds. Like Bautier, Kristiansen was intrigued by the idea of creating collections of furniture which would suit each other and carry some of the same elements, aesthetically as well as conceptually.
The book on Kai Kristiansen has been written and edited by Sisse Bro, a Danish Brussels-based design specialist, who’s written output most often relates to design and craftsmanship. The editorial design has been carried out by Brussels-based Studio Otamendi, who’s book designs on art and architecture have been awarded with numerous international prizes. For this book, the editor and designer went on a quest to create a format which would integrate the considerate design thinking of Kai Kristiansen and represent it both visually and conceptually.
‘Kai Kristiansen – An Industrious Designer’ is available in the store and online.
Photography: Anders Hviid