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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Alice Fisher

Sawdust toilets and chairs that crash cars: inside Copenhagen’s radical design festival

Take a seat … Takt’s exhibition to launch Bow Chair, designed by Industrial Facility
Take a seat … Takt’s exhibition to launch Bow Chair, designed by Industrial Facility. Photograph: Jonathan Damslund/Takt

At the Verpan showroom, a space dedicated to the work of Verner Panton, the renowned Danish designer’s daughter Carin Panton von Halem regaled a rapt audience with an anecdote. Apparently when Panton’s cone chair was displayed in a New York shop window in the late 1950s, it had to be removed by the police after drivers distracted by the tomato red seat got into a road accident. She also had stories about how the neighbours of the Pantons’ famous Hornbæk summer house started a petition to get him to change the bright green exterior of the holiday home.

Over at the Hem furniture shop, Finnish designer Yrjö Kukkapuro’s daughter Isa gave an equally personal speech at the launch of the new edition of Kukkapuro’s experiment chair. She explained how the original launch of the chair coincided with the birth of her daughter Ida. Two wonderful creations.

Panton and Kukkapuro may be two of the most esteemed names in the history of Nordic design, but at Copenhagen’s annual design festival 3daysofdesign this week, it quickly became apparent that most companies are family-owned and there is huge pride in this. Few furniture showrooms could be visited without hearing about the number of generations that worked there. Indeed, it was a rare presentation that started without a reference to the grandfather who started the business.

At a time when entrepreneurs, startups and business unicorns are valued, family businesses seem old-fashioned, but looking at the success of 3daysofdesign, it might be time to think again.

The festival started in 2013 with four Danish brands in an old warehouse in the harbour district of Nordhavn. In 2024, more than 400 exhibitors – mainly from the Nordic countries but also farther afield – were housed in 11 different districts situated throughout Copenhagen.

Henrik Ljung is CEO of Dux Beds, the fourth generation of his family to run the company, and puts a 30% increase in sales in the last year down in part to visitors to the design event. This year Dux released a completely sustainable, replaceable and recyclable component bed at the festival. At the dinner to celebrate, Ljung toasted 3daysofdesign as “the new epicentre of design”.

Nonetheless, the emphasis on family ties does not appear to exclude new talent from the business. The design hub DDcated was a great example of how this pride in heritage was also used to help the next generation. The Lapidarium of Kings is a museum showing an eclectic collection of statues in a 400-year-old building that was once the king’s brewhouse. This week the eccentric location was also a showroom for 56 designers, leading to the unforgettable juxtaposition of toilets constructed from sawdust and resin – by the company Woodio – and interiors brand Elvang’s recycled alpaca wool cushions with classical statues of Danish royalty such as King Frederik V alongside Roman deities and even a collection of statues carved by a Norwegian postman.

Peter Mørk, one of DDcated’s founders, said the location had been chosen because museums should be about looking forward as well as backwards. The venue could host individual designers as well as small companies because of the funding from Ege Carpets. In Copenhagen, it seems, even if your grandfather hasn’t set up a design business, an OG Danish company can fill that role for you. Mørk thinks the sense of lineage comes from the fact that the country is small so keeping things in the family is important. “We’re Danish, it’s a pride thing.”

Copenhagen certainly felt like a place of pride during the festival. The four-storey House of Design on Frederiksgade – where standout exhibitors included glassware from Orrefors and the ceramic show by Peach Corner – was as full and excited as a house party. Especially in the spaces by furniture brands Frame Studio and Saetter Copenhagen.

The mood was best summed at Muuto, a furniture shop on Østergade. Showing visitors around the showroom, PR manager Mikkel Friis Ovesen instructed the guests: “Please touch and feel free to make a mess – this is furniture, not art.”

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