Jens Risom is acclaimed as one of the most influential furniture designers of the 20th century. He is recognized as one of the first designers to bring Scandinavian style and function to the United States.
Born in Demark in 1916, Risom was a furniture design student at the School for Arts and Crafts. Under the tutelage of master craftsmen like Kaare Klint and Ole Wanscher, Risom learnt the value of simplicity and utility. In 1939, he relocated to New York to study contemporary American furniture design. He began his career by designing mainly textiles, which led to his appointment as the Director of Interior Design for Dan Cooper Inc. In the same year, Risom and Hans Knoll joined forces to put up an exhibition for the New York World’s Fair. This exhibition won Risom an invitation to design the interior for the ‘House of Ideas’ established by Collier’s magazine in Rockefeller Center as an inspiration for customers.
In 1941, Risom and Knoll conducted a nation wide research in an attempt to understand the potential market for a new line of products that Risom would design and Knoll would market. Hans Knoll Furniture Company was born in 1942, with Risom providing the first fifteen pieces for the inaugural Knoll catalogue. These pieces included stools, armchairs and lounges. The chairs, made from cedar wood and other exotic materials, are considered classics. This work reinforced Risom’s identity as a combination of well-designed, simple Scandinavian style and smooth American angles and curves.
After returning from World War II, Risom rejoined Hans Knoll briefly before leaving to start his own establishment, Jens Risom, Inc. The firm established the brand name, Risom, as the answer to America’s quest for well crafted and well designed modern furniture. Risom gained fame by designing furniture for prominent clients such as Richard Avedon and George Jensen. In the 1940s, he fashioned cabinets for cottages being built by Levitt and Sons on Long Island.
Due to an overwhelming response, Jens Risom, Inc. was forced to expand its factory in 1954. In the 1960s, the company diversified into the production of office, library and hospital furniture. Risom sold his company to Dictaphone Corporation in 1970, and moved on to pursue new interests through his consulting company, Design Control in Connecticut.
In recognition of his achievements, Risom has been honored with a number of awards. In 1961, Playboy Magazine profiled him as a designer who was revolutionizing furniture in America. His chairs feature prominently in the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, the Museum of Art and Design in Yale, the Brooklyn Museum, the Modern Art Museum in New York and the R.I.S.D. Museum in Providence. In 1996, Denmark’s Queen Margrethe knighted Risom with the Danish Knight’s Cross.
Risom summarized his philosophy as follows, “Good design means that anything good will go well with other good things-contemporary or traditional. Furniture is not sculpture, nor is a particular design created only for visual appeal. Furniture should clearly satisfy the requirements. It should be respected, enjoyed and used.”
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Source by Charles Mburugu