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Design Classics

Ant Chair, 1952

Designer: Arne Jacobsen
Manufacturer: Fritz Hansen

Architect Arne Jacobsen started his career as a bricklayer. A Danish Jew, Jacobsen became one of his country’s best known and most outspoken designers. He fled Denmark during the war, rowing in a small boat to safety in Sweden. Among his best works are those projects, such as the Royal Hotel in Copenhagen and St. Catherine’s College at Oxford University, where he designed every detail, from the building itself to the furniture, door handles, textiles, lighting, ashtrays and cutlery.

Like so many mid-century designers, Jacobsen was fascinated by the possibilities of bent plywood. At a time when plastics were far less ubiquitous and more expensive than they are today, moulded wood was a technique that allowed manufacturers to reduce costs through high-volume production and introduce sensuous organic forms. Stunning in its simplicity, the Ant chair consists of two parts, a form-moulded continuous wood seat and back attached by rubber connector to metal legs. Jacobsen’s original design called for three legs and he stubbornly resisted adding a fourth leg. Only after his death was this version made available.

WHEN The Ant Chair was created in 1952 for the canteen of the pharmaceutical manufacturer Novo Norsk and named by the artists Gunnar Aagaard Andersen, who thought it resembled an ant standing on its hind legs. Jacobsen used clay models to get the exact proportions and boasted that he “tormented the elasticity of wood to the extreme.” To complement it, he added a series of variations in the 1950s, including the Series 7 chair, which has been endlessly reproduced and copied.

The Ant Chair is among the most popular and versatile chairs of the 20th century. More than five million have been produced for use in houses, schools, museums and corporate interiors. Originally available only in natural wood finishes and black lacquer, it is now offered in a stunning array of bright colours from sunny yellow to iridescent turquoise. There is nothing extraneous in this chair. Despite its minimalist form and svelte profile, it is an extremely comfortable, stable and joyful addition to any interior.

National Post, March 2, 2006.