It’s not often you get to sit on chairs designed for the people behind Noma, voted for four years the world’s best restaurant. But with the new collection from Space Copenhagen, inspired by the chair they designed for Noma spin-off, Restaurant 108 in Copenhagen, you can have a slice of Noma for keeps.
There’s a lounge chair, dining chair, side chair, dining table and coffee table all with that trademark beautiful finish redolent of relaxed high-end living. But these aren’t just furniture pieces to be admired from a distance. Design duo Signe Bindslev Henriksen and Peter Bundgaard Rützou are passionate about functional furniture, designed for comfort, living and fitting in with the realities of family life — this is elegance with liveability.
We caught up with Peter and Signe to find out more about them and the story behind their Slow Collection. Their inspiration is a mix of mid-century Danish and classic Japanese design. The collection is a tribute to heritage and craft, while remaining modern and comfortable. The wood is rich walnut and ash, and seating features thick leather to maximise comfort. The style throughout is understated luxury.
IDEALIST: Can you tell us about how you came to work on the Slow Collection that you’re launching today?
Signe: Peter and I have known each other for more than twenty years dating back to our time at the Danish Academy’s School of Architecture. Not long after finishing school we started our businesses and in a small city such as Copenhagen, we became each other’s best competitor very fast. So ten years ago we decided to join forces and here we are today. That’s a very short version of the past twenty years!
Peter: I think one of the things that stood out was that our focus was on something in Copenhagen and Scandinavia that nobody else really did. You had a lot of architecture companies but none of them were handling the intermediate scale between design and architecture. It was a very mutual passion of ours: the place where crafts, the detail, the presentation of the textures meet. It was something we had as a mutual interest and we bonded on that from the very beginning. It became the basis and the focus of our practice and I think we were about the first that really focused in this way and applied such thinking to hotels and restaurants. There was almost no competition at the time. And since we were friends as well it made sense to team up. We also appreciated each other’s opinions and the dynamics of the dialogue itself and I think we benefitted tremendously from the duality of being two sexes and you could say about our work that the aspect of contrast is very important.
IDEALIST: So, when we met downstairs just now, it was the first time you’d seen the new finished furniture collection together. Is that right?
Signe: Yes. But it’s very often like that. It’s a very exciting moment. We originally did these chairs for a restaurant in Copenhagen that opened last summer so this has been going on for a while. We started with the dining chair and that’s how many of our furniture products originate: from a project with a certain intention of a space or a collaboration with a client.
When you see the first prototype chairs, you then you need to go through all these different tests because one thing is the beauty of the details, but it is also about functionality. Given their slender form, we need to ensure they are sturdy enough to be sold in the market for commercial projects.
Peter: In the past, Milan was used to showcase prototypes, but increasingly designers are showing their finished work, so there is additional pressure to show pieces that are truly ready and not just aesthetically ready.
IDEALIST: And you were showing me downstairs how you have a range of different woods in a range of different colours. How do you decide the woods and stains to use and how does it all come together?
Signe: It’s very much the way we’ve always worked. I think many of our projects look very different but there’s one consistent thread — and that’s the passion for material. For as long as we can remember we’ve worked with different treatments, such as different types of woods and different stains, different smokes, different lacquers, different oils, different ways of actually showing the beauty of the wood. And that also goes for the metal. In the dining table, you saw how the metal is inserted into the table top: it’s a darkened metal in a certain colour and tone. All these kinds of things we’ve always been extremely fascinated about.
We feel there is a certain luxury in that slowness, that intimacy which is connected to the slowness of a wonderful meal or the slowness of a chair changing its character over the years.
Peter: We also tend to go quite soft in terms of colours. The Slow idea is translated into the materials and the way they appear is that they’re not aggressive. It should be that you don’t grow tired of the colours and design. There are a lot of colours used that are fashionable but will not endure. For that reason we very often go with natural colours, with the qualities that a certain wood has and then we then complement that with the darker finishes. When we go into the leathers, we have a tendency to go for the complementary blacks, the browns and the grays. A certain aspect of our look is being neutral and at the same time being fun. So, I think that’s something we tend to go back to over and over again. When you buy a piece like ours, our intention is you should actually keep it for a long time and it withstand the challenges of everyday life and the changing rooms and fashions, living a very long life.
IDEALIST: So, everything is also very liveable?
Signe: One of the reasons why the collection is called Slow is because everything seems to go so fast around us in the modern world. We feel there is a certain luxury in that slowness, that intimacy which is connected to the slowness of a wonderful meal or the slowness of a chair changing its character over the years. In a market where everything is substituted very fast, we feel that there is a certain beauty in investing in something and keeping it for a long time, so the collection is also about celebrating slow in many ways.
IDEALIST: It seems every season there’s a new Scandi word that we should live by. Last year it was hygge and now it’s lagom, we’re told. Is the vogue for these things just crazy to you, just silly?
Peter: I don’t think we relate to that in particular. We’re quite aware that the world is certainly interested in Scandinavia at the moment but you have to remember growing up there is different because it has been our reality which means we don’t consciously enforce the values that become vogueish: they are just unavoidable for us. They’re part of our way of thinking. I think we just basically come in with our background and a certain upbringing and then apply it with the curiosity that has to do with everything else. I think it’s the infusion or the confrontation with different cultures into a very set and sturdy and heavy Scandinavian background. That’s where we get the work from: it’s that dialogue between different cultures from overseas and our home.
IDEALIST: Is there one designed object to see and think ‘I wish I’d made that’?
Signe: I think that’s probably a very difficult question to answer but I think the answer is that there’s a lot. I think we find that there’s so much beautiful especially actually historic pieces out there and we actually talk a lot about that when we look back at our Scandinavian heritage but also in general: there’s a lot of modern heritage furniture that was extremely daring.
There was something very playful about many of these iconic pieces but we are always relaxed about the origin of designs: we don’t see ourselves as Scandi, for instance. For us, coming from a small country we’ve always travelled abroad and all the pieces that you see now and also in our past are inspired by Africa or Japan or American industrial design, for example. We’ve always been influenced by different cultures and we still feel that’s a very important value: to take inspiration and curiosity instead of looking back at history. It’s about being open to the world and being constantly curious about what’s going on.
IDEALIST: You’re not going to name one favourite, are you?
Peter: No, but I think it’s because the whole idea of favourites is questionable. Even within your own range, your mood changes It’s not just about saying what I like, it’s just saying that the complexity is exactly what makes it worthwhile.
It also means that there’s a multitude of things that I might find fascinating but they do different things for me and I can’t compare them. There is something about Japanese design and architecture that works amazingly when you’re Scandinavian because there is a mirror effect but there is also that curiosity around difference. There is recognition somehow because we’ve seen it but then they do it so differently so there’s also that curiosity and that’s very interesting because you certainly find yourself into this kind of momentum where you’re both looking but you’re also thinking and that’s very stimulating.
IDEALIST: Both traditions have a really strong respect for natural materials and craftsmanship.
Signe: Yes, definitely and very often when we go to Japan we see they definitely have the feel and attraction to Danish design and they see that Danish furniture works very well within their very traditional buildings. But the funny thing is that many Danish designers were originally inspired by everything in Japan, so there is a dialogue somehow which has become a part of our mutual history. And there is a certain slowness, a certain filtering of detailing and very subtle ornamenting. So we have that, we share that belief or passion in these two very different countries.
Peter: What we hope for example with a chair is that once somebody acquires it it should be open for whatever happens to it and the life of the chair actually contributes to its beauty — that small dent that somebody makes, that stain that becomes part of it — and all of a sudden out of thirty years that chair has not only survived, it has history and at that point something amazing happens. That’s also what we feel when we visit classic cities such as here in Italy. There is an abundance of life and history in Italy: cities that show the traces of time and all of the life that’s been lived within them and that’s just something beautiful you cannot beat.
To find out more
You can see Space Copenhagen’s range, from design and furniture to architecture and interiors here.
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Photos are (c) and courtesy Joachim Wichmann (portrait and restaurant 108) and Slow collection by Space Copenhagen for Stellar Works.