Trends come and go, but some design elements remain iconic. From subway tile to shiplap, there's a rich history behind your favorite décor ideas. Ever wonder how wishbone chairs started popping up in every dining room? Or want to know more about terrazzo tile? In our new series, we'll dig into our favorite design-world icons and uncover the surprising (and sometimes strange) history behind them.
Scandinavian design has been having a moment this decade, but some pieces from the style have achieved iconic fame. Take the wishbone chair, for example. While you may not know its name, you most certainly have seen the design grace dining tables across the country.
"Wishbone chairs have such a long and rich design history that it’s not surprising they are an evergreen styling choice," explains designer Aly Morford, one-half of the duo behind Pure Salt Interiors. "We love using them and know of so many other designers who design with them. They are truly a chameleon piece that suits every taste and space."
The Y-shaped back, curved arms, and woven seat have become popular with designers and can be seen everywhere from farmhouse kitchens to minimalist dining rooms.
"They are clean and simple, but not overly sleek," says designer Leigh Lincoln, the other half of Pure Salt Interiors. "They feel modern, yet classic, and because you can find this style in a variety of colors and finishes, they can feel totally unique and fresh despite them being a very popular chair."
They feel modern, yet classic, and because you can find this style in a variety of colors and finishes, they can feel totally unique and fresh despite them being a very popular chair.
So how did a chair from a Danish furniture manufacturer end up in the dining rooms of countless homeowners? Let's find out.
Where It All Began
A staple of Danish interior design, the wishbone chair was created in Denmark in 1950 by legendary Danish architect, Hans J. Wegner, and has been in continuous production by family-run furniture company Carl Hansen & Søn ever since. Knud Erik Hansen, the third-generation owner of Carl Hansen & Søn, which has been in business since 1908, said his father wanted to grow the business from a local furniture shop serving Odense, Denmark, to an international firm after World War II.
"To establish a series production and to create a collection of fine furniture, you will need a good architect," Hansen tells MyDomaine. "My father had heard of a young architect in Copenhagen that was designing some very different furniture—very modern for that time. His name was Hans J. Wegner. The two of them met for the first time in 1947 and had their love for wood and for top-quality carpentry in common."
After the initial meeting, Wegner visited the Hansen & Søn factory in 1949 and brought four designs, creating the prototypes alongside Hansen's father. Those included the CH22, CH23, CH24 (also known as the Wishbone Chair), and CH25, all of which are still in production, Hansen says.
The Design of the Wishbone Chair
Known as the driving force behind Danish modern, Wegner created almost 500 chairs in his lifetime, though the Wishbone Chair was probably his most iconic. Inspired by a Chinese chair from the Ming dynasty, Wegner worked on many iterations of the piece before reaching the final design, Hansen says.
"Many foreigners have asked me how we created the Danish style,” Wegner is quoted as saying. “And I’ve answered that it was a continuous process of purification and of simplification—to cut down to the simplest possible design of four legs, a seat, and a combined back—and armrest.”
Many foreigners have asked me how we created the Danish style, and I’ve answered that it was a continuous process of purification and of simplification—to cut down to the simplest possible design of four legs, a seat, and a combined back—and armrest.
With that kind of attention to detail in the design, it's natural that the manufacturing of the chair is equally as detail-oriented. It takes more than 100 steps to create each Wishbone Chair, most of which are done by hand, and a craftsman spends about an hour weaving each seat, according to Carl Hansen and Søn.
Though the chair is considered a stunning example of Danish modern design, the Danish public at the time was not convinced of the new style.
"The magazines and papers at that time wrote very positively about the new creations; however, the public found it all too modern," Hansen explains. "Therefore, in 1952, my father went to New York to try to push the sales of the new Hans J. Wegner products, and that worked. It all started 'over there'!"
Though it was initially a difficult launch in Denmark during the 1950s, Americans fell in love with the chair almost immediately, and Carl Hanson & Søn began exporting the product overseas and across Europe.
"Germany was still being re-built by the Americans in order to ensure a lasting peace and a buildup of an independent industry to ensure sufficient employment during the years to come," Hansen explains. "The Germans, too, liked the designs of Hans J. Wegner and the fantastic production quality of Carl Hansen & Søn. Thereafter, it caught the eyes of the Danes and the other Scandinavian people."
Wishbone Chairs Today
Today, it is still the most popular Wegner chair ever created and now comes in over 51 materials and colors. The piece has been in production every day since 1950and is exported to over 60 different countries, Hansen explains. He credits the enduring legacy of the chair to the quality of the manufacturing, which uses natural materials grown in controlled forests in Europe and zero artificial materials.
"It is made from the best wood available in Europe and produced only by skilled labor," Hansen says. "The finish and quality are unsurpassed. It is produced entirely by wood and the seat is spun from a very strong string made of paper. The waste and shavings from the production of the chair are used to heat the factory as well as approximately 450 houses in Gelsted. Every chair is produced under strict supervision and certified by FSC."
Designers love the chair for its clean lines and easygoing feeling.
“Because this chair is so classic and modern, it really lends itself to so many different styles," Lincoln says. "They are most often associated with Scandinavia for their streamlined build, but the woven seat can feel boho, and the wood frame can be farmhouse or coastal! It’s really all about layering this piece in with your existing style, and it will fit right in, we promise.”
Though these chairs may be seen most often in dining rooms, Morford believes they can be incorporated into any room.
“You can also find counter height wishbone stools and use them at your island for a casual, mixed-materials look, but we also love incorporating them throughout a home," Morford says. "Their forked back makes them so visually light and airy; they help any room flow."
Hans Wegner: Master of the Chair. Antique Trader. February 4, 2020
Hans J. Wegner. Carl Hansen & Søn.
Hans Wegner Dies at 92; Danish Furniture Designer. The New York Times. February 6, 2007
CH24 Wishbone Chair. Carl Hansen & Søn.