As longtime Idealist readers will know, we’re fans of all things Scandi, so when we got the chance to interview Jonas Krüger of Brdr. Krüger, we jumped at it. Imagine inheriting a family business that has been at the heart of the Danish design and furniture industry for over 130 years. How do you keep the flame alive and nurture the craftsmanship and commitment to quality that’s the hallmark of all things Scandi and yet innovate enough to keep things modern and attractive in today’s global market?
We’re a company that comes from the workshop culture.
That’s the challenge that Jonas faces, but he approaches it with a huge passion, a great eye for detail and the ambition to grow the business. We caught up with Jonas to learn more about the business, its storied history and his vision for the future.
Once Upon A Time…
Back in 1886, Theodor and Ferdinand Krüger opened a woodturning workshop which over the last 100 years has produced beautifully understated pieces for a great many big names in Danish design including Hans Bølling, Kay Bojesen (the iconic wooden monkey you see in high end design stores) and more recently OEO Studio. All Krüger pieces share a commitment to well-thought out design and quality, beautiful wood and classic mid-century Danish modern design values. Recent work, such as with Wallpaper* and Rasmus Bækkel Fex adds a contemporary twist to the work, but still upholds their core DNA.
Working with OEO Studio, they’ve now opened a beautiful workshop and showroom: the first public showroom in the family company’s 130-year history. Integrated with the firm’s production facilities, visitors can follow the entire making process from raw materials to factory floor manufacturing, through to the finished design piece and, knowing Danish hospitality, can probably sit down and eat lunch with the owners and the workers on Krüger chairs.
Jonas takes up the story:
Jonas: Well, we actually we moved our production facility last year because we were running out of space. We bought a bigger place and there was room available for a showroom and it made sense for the first time in 130 years we actually got a leading role. We’re a company that comes from the workshop culture. So it’s a whole new level for us to actually show our products like this, talk about it and approach the world with our story. The showroom is where production is and you’ll be able to see the wood turning and everything.
You can see a video of the new workshop and showroom here.
We worked with OEO Studio on a couple of products and they’ve now done our showroom. We have a standing collaboration with them they are really almost part of the family now. They’re really nice people and real good at what they do.
We’ve also launched an update of a Hans Bølling glass-topped table originally from 1958. We launched three variations of the table but it’s based on his design from 1958. He designed it as a coffee table. At the time it was the standard height but today it’s too high so we talked with him and he actually designed the lower version and a dining version. So it’s kind of an old design but it’s also a new design. It had a wooden table top in his first prototype so it was my idea to put the glass top on it. The glass is fixed by magnets: you have the little glass part that is fixed to the glass itself and a dowel goes into a socket in the leg where there is a magnet. The magnet is stronger than the weight of the legs so you can lift it up shake it and it doesn’t fall off. That’s pretty clever.
Working Closely with Product Design
Idealist: So how did that come about? How closely are you involved in the product design?
Jonas: I’m very much involved. Hans is 85 years old now but he is very hands on too. He designed this very iconic tray table we have from ’63 and he’s just coming in and out of the workshop all the time and he’s also part of the family. He actually started working with my grandfather when they met each other so I’m the third generation of continuous collaboration that he’s doing. So I was looking into new designs and I was discussing with him if he had any ideas and he said: “Hey — hang on — I think I have something”. And he took this thing out of his shed and it’s been standing there for 50 years. It was a really crude prototype but he had the original sketches and everything so we just started using those and gave it a nice finish and nice curves. Everything is true to the original dimension but we just gave it that finish it needed to really come alive. The glass top, the metal solutions and he was deeply involved in every stage.
Thoughts on Danish & Scandi Styles
Idealist: Why do you think Danish and Scandi midcentury styles are still so popular?
Jonas: Well I think for Denmark I think it is their functionalism and the fact it’s very much based on some human need but it also has a poetry to it. It’s not only minimalism and clean-cut, there is something organic going on that I think makes it usable but also human and it’s a very, very fine balance between a minimalist expression and some poetic expression that just stands the test of time. The materials are critical too. We only work with the best materials both in terms of craftsmanship and it has to be durable, has to last.
Family Business Expectations
I think every generation should bring some new perspective and it shouldn’t be a revolution but a natural evolution.
Idealist: Was it always expected that you’d stay with the family business?
Jonas: No actually not. My father didn’t really have a choice but that was a different generation. They never pressured me to go into it nor my sister neither and we’ve been out doing our own thing. I felt like now coming back (from a career in motion graphics) I’ve experienced other work, I’ve learned something different which I feel I can contribute to the company now. I actually said no several times I wouldn’t go into the business but somehow within the last four/five years I came back and I feel like now my contribution is to evolve it in another way. I think every generation should bring some new perspective and it shouldn’t be a revolution but a natural evolution. I think our contribution is to bring it into our contemporary time with some new ideas and new perspectives.
Idealist: If you’re able to go back in time and take your latest collection back to the founders what do you think they would say?
Jonas: Well they would definitely love the wood turning from a craftsman’s point of view. It is well done and I believe that they would be pleased. I think also in a way they were also explorers they came from Germany and they went on an unknown path to Denmark to try to create a new company there. I think they weren’t afraid of adventures and trying out new things and I think they would be pleased with our little adventure that we’re doing now.
The Krüger DNA
Idealist: Would you say is there a recognizable thread through your products, where if you sit your current range alongside 20 years ago, 50 years ago, in addition to the craftsmanship are they recognizably similar somehow?
Jonas: Obviously there is the turned wood signature, but I think there is some kind of playfulness to it and some kind of adaptability. I think that playfulness or adaptability is hidden somewhere throughout our work. And a craftsmanship and respect for materials. Everything is very tactile. We have an appreciation of the material and the process that it doesn’t have to be shiny and fantastic … you can appreciate the round curve of something and it’s a basic human instinct somehow.
We want other people to appreciate the effort and the quality of our work and create a wider range.
Idealist: So what are your ambitions for the company?
Jonas: We want to enter into the global scene, but maintain our integrity.. and that is also a little bit what I meant about the adventure. We want other people to appreciate the effort and the quality of our work and create a wider range. We have the classic challenge of scaling and maintaining authenticity that we’re very aware of in terms of staff and the culture. We’re lucky that we’re able to look each other in the eye every day. There is no difference between us and the workforce in the company. It’s a very strong family culture. We eat lunch together at a long table. It’s very flat and democratic in that sense. Our showroom will be the same— if I invited you tomorrow you would see the furniture being styled and right next to it see the staff eating lunch. Everything is melding together so in that sense it’s a very living showroom it’s not a museum and we have a very democratic culture.
Journey of a Product
Idealist: So how long does the journey take for a new product or a new collection from inception through to delivery?
Jonas: We’re quite fast actually. We’ve just launched a new dining chair to coincide with the recent opening of our new showroom. I think in total, we’ve spent around six months on the F Chair from initial ideas and going back and forth, and then at some point when we’d got the general idea, we went in full steam ahead. It helps that the designer is also a trained woodworker so he would come to our workshop and instead of doing CAD drawings we actually can be physically there and build a prototype. We have seven prototypes mixed with each other, of different proportions and when we’re done with a chair we’re pleased with we’ll make it ready for production while developing it, so we’re very fast.
To find out more about Brdr. Krüger, visit their website.
Idealist readers with wanderlust can visit the new Brdr. Krüger showroom, headquarters and production facilities which are combined in a holistic space open to the public and just a short drive away from central Copenhagen:
Brdr. Krüger, Walgerholm 20, 3500 Værløse Denmark
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All images are courtesy of photographer Filippo Bamberghi or Brdr Krüger.