Modernism is not just an art movement that prevalent in the 1950s that was solely seen in galleries and magazines. It also crossed into home design and pop culture. Many will have heard of the famous Knoll furniture, but the teak chair overall became a more commonly seen fixture in American homes.
This Scandinavian school of design was first seen before the start of World War II, where models like the bent-plywood designs of Alvar Aalto were on display at the 1939 World Fair in New York. However, it was not until the end of the war, when formerly occupied Scandinavia was able to find an outlet for their hardship and optimism for the future that Scandinavian Modern really took flight. As a result of wartime shortages, artisans and craftsmen turned to the past for inspiration, drawing on the old arts of pottery, weaving, and glassblowing. A symbiotic blending of past traditions and modern design came to be the foundation for the movement, and it allowed Scandinavian artists a new opportunity to express themselves on a global scale. The carving of wood also became a popular pastime. Though in the beginning, artisans could only get such materials as oak, birch, linen and clay, eventually more exotic woods became available, and this is where the teak chair comes in. Though originally grown in Southeast Asia, teak wood had already achieved worldwide exposure by the late 19th century, and it was a common building material seen in furniture, in housing and on ship decks. Some of the prominent early leaders in this movement included the likes of Hans Wegner and Finn Juhl. Wagner was considered a master of detail and line, while Juhl was famous for his structures. Together, their avant garde but still approachable works solidified the new movement and gained it both acceptance and exposure.
When it was first introduced onto the American market, many people thought the modern style to be too austere and expensive. After all, a teak chair and other such high-end wares are not cheap to begin with, but paired with the “of the moment” art movement, many middle class citizens could simply not afford it. However, Danish Modern, a subset of the greater Scandinavian Modern movement found an elevated spike in sales for a few decades, and today that style is once more au courant and sought-after. At the same time, Edgar Kauffman, Jr., who worked at New York’s Museum of Modern Art, also helped to spread the movement. As the son of the owner of Frank Lloyd Wright’s “Falling Water,” Kauffman’s opinion held a special weight among the New York design scene, and his enthusiastic approval of Scandinavian Modern was of great benefit to the movement. So even while the rest of the country may have hesitated to buy the pricy furniture, stores in Manhattan, including Bonniers and Raymor, were selling items like hotcakes. From there, there was an a trickling outward effect where the postwar style became more accessible to the rest of the United States, especially among younger generations, and larger retailers began replicating the look and feel of the specially designed teak chair and other furniture stylings. In fact, Americans were more inclined to the exotic woods like teak, wenge and rosewood than were their Scandinavian peers.
By 1963, the movement had reached its apex, and Scandinavian Modern had permeated every niche of society. The style was becoming more experimental and avant garde by this point, but the important thing was that it was now available for every price point that people could afford. For the wealthy, there were designers like Wegner, Juhl, and Jacobsen, while the lower and middle classes could find the distinct furniture at Sears and Penney’s. Around 1966, the trend began to diminish as a new prominent Mediterranean style came to the forefront of popular taste. However, in recent years, Scandinavian Modern has come back into favor as a sort of retro chic style.