Setting the tone
by Alan Ramsey

The human touch

The human touch

The colour process

The colour process

About a year ago we were invited to visit the Carl Hansen & Søn factory in Odense, a couple of hours drive from Copenhagen. We had specified their furniture in our interior design projects, and this was an opportunity, courtesy of Carl Hansen and TwentyTwentyOne, to get up close and personal with the brand. We were blown away by the experience. I myself, tend to geek out on factory visits. I can’t get enough of seeing something being made from scratch, especially when it’s a product I’ve known and enjoyed for years. It was a treat to see the iconic CH24 wishbone chair and the CH22 Lounge chair going through all their various processes, handled with finesse by both robots and humans. As we were shown around each room of the factory it was a wild mix of technology-driven production alongside slow and painstaking handcrafted intervention. I could have watched the hand weaving of the seats all day. All of the stages were mesmerising in their own way. But what impacted me more than seeing these iconic pieces of furniture come to life was the warm and positive atmosphere in which they were made. The staff seemed to exude a genuine sense of fulfilment in each of their roles at the factory. Even when we don’t speak the language, we can soon pick up on whether or not a workplace is a happy and energising one. The Carl Hansen factory is. And like most organisations the tone of the culture is set by those in charge so we were fortunate to spend time with the top man himself.

The day following our factory tour we were treated to brunch at the stylish showroom in the centre of Copenhagen and Knud Erik Hansen, CEO, owner and grandson of the founder, came to meet us. Knud has taken the brand to new heights since he became the third-generation leader of the business in 2002. For one thing, he has massively increased its global presence. There are now flagship stores and showrooms in New York, San Francisco, Tokyo, Osaka, London, Milan, Stockholm and Copenhagen. 

And yet, he rarely talked about any of this in the hour or so that he spent with us. He didn’t boast about the great success or commercial strategies of the business. And he talked very little about the furniture itself. Instead he spoke mainly about his staff. He talked with a genuine sense of pride, empathy and care about his workforce – some arriving unskilled or out of difficult circumstances - from all over the world. There was a humility in his language and a sense of great responsibility for those who help make the brand so popular. It somehow made sense of why there was such a positive vibe to the factory. We had been told previous day about the great parties that Knud regularly hosts for all his staff at his own home and how the door to his office is always open. 

I left with the feeling that this century-old family business is more than just about the Hansens. It’s like an extended family where the people really do matter as much as the product. For me, this is inspiring when so many organisations struggle to create a happy workplace for their staff. And it elevates my appreciation for those famous chairs to a whole new level.

Picasso: Ceramics from a lost period
by Peter Krause

The Picasso Medallion (‘Jacqueline’s Profile’)

The Picasso Medallion (‘Jacqueline’s Profile’)

My parents used to take us to a small village in the hills of Provence every year in summer during the school holidays. I realise now that what I witnessed there were the last echoes of the Côte d’Azur of the 1950s and 60s, the world of Françoise Sagan’s novel Bonjour Tristesse, a world of terracotta coloured canvas awnings over Café terraces where actors, writers and artists enjoyed a long aperitif - a jolly crowd having just escaped Paris by the Nationale 7 road.

The people in our quaint holiday haven were by then almost all retired, but they had been young adults during the bright years of the Côte d’Azur. Our next door neighbour was a secretive woman with whom I would eventually build a friendship that was to last over many years, once the geeky teenager had gotten past the defensive lines of her guarded self. I became her improbable confidant with whom she shared stories of her youth and of the people she had met. When she mentioned Picasso for the first time, she might as well have mentioned having met Gauguin, so remote did these figures seem to the fourteen year-old I was.

It was in 1946 in Vallauris that Pablo Picasso started experimenting with pottery and different techniches of glaze in the Madoura pottery workshop owned by Suzanne and Georges Ramié, whose work had much appealed to him whilst visiting a crafts fair. This was the start of a collaboration of 24 years during which Picasso created over six hundred pieces that were made in limited editions marked Édition Picasso and Madoura and would see an enormous international success. Every time I come across a piece of his ceramics these days, it conveys - beyond the admiration of the artistic skill - a sense of warmth, as if for a moment they take me back to scorching Provence afternoons spent in the rocky garden of my friend. She had, as a student, worked in the Madoura studio for several years. On the shaky garden table under the Mulberry tree she would lay out her relics of that time, notes, journals and other ephemera. For instance, the catalogue of a vernissage on which she had scribbled the names of famous people she had met that night. “Jacqueline (Picasso) always charming” she had jotted down, alongside a note saying that Picasso wore brown canvas trousers and that the poet Prévert was polite but not handsome. On that evening she was too shy to ask Picasso for a drawing or an autograph and much regretted it.

There is one piece in particular which is one of the most outstanding amongst Pablo Picasso’s ceramic works, which I think is due to its great simplicity. It is a convex medallion titled ‘Jacqueline’s Profile’, on which with a few simple strokes, Picasso makes her appear like a Grecian woman from Antiquity, the beauty of her features set in… clay! I was so very excited when one example in immaculate state joined our collection.