Since Danish designers pioneered a new kind of down-to-earth design in the 1950s, “Danish” has been synonymous with “stylish”. Names like Arne Jacobsen, Børge Mogensen and Finn Juhl have long been uttered in reverence by industry savants, and Danish design has become instantly recognisable: natural and functional, simple but sophisticated. The Danish – and Scandinavian -- design movement also reflects the Nordic countries’ brand of social democracy: beautifully crafted things to make life better, not just for the wealthy elite, but democratically available to all.
Though Denmark has long been considered the leader of
Scandinavian architecture and design, the Swedes, Norwegians and Finns are not
far behind. Not to be outdone by the other stars of Pan-Nordic design
(Finland’s capital Helsinki, for example, is World Design
Capital for 2012), Copenhagen has been making strides to position itself as
Scandinavia’s thought leader in cutting-edge design.
Perhaps this is why Copenhagen is now host to the
world’s richest design award, the INDEX:Awards,
worth a glittering 500,000 euro; why since 2009, the capital has hosted the prestigious
Copenhagen Design Week; why
the city has three major architecture and design museums, plus myriad touring
exhibitions; and why the best Danish design houses and fashion outlets have
their flagship stores in Copenhagen.
Beautiful, thoughtful, pleasingly humanistic designs
are everywhere in the city. Here are some places to surround yourself with the
best of them:
Museums and design centres
The first stop for design-aficionados, or anyone
seeking to understand this national obsession, is the Danish Design Centre. Set on HC Andersens
Boulevard in Copenhagen’s heart, it is a knowledge hub for Danish design talent
where local designs are researched and promoted. There are exhibitions – from
retrospectives, to shows of new materials, to discussions of smart energy use –
there is a design shop, and there is beautifully presented food at the centre’s
hip Dansk Café.
Copenhagen’s Design Museum, housed in
one of Copenhagen’s finest rococo buildings, exhibits historical and
contemporary Danish and international designs, and explains the development of
design in Scandinavia. Even if you are not passionate about the subject, come
here just to gambol on the green lawns of beautiful Grønnegård, the museum’s
garden, and take tea and smørrebrød (a
Danish open sandwich) outdoors in summer.
Denmark published its first
architectural policy in 2007, making it possibly the only place in the
world with a country-wide architectural vision. The Danish
Architecture Centre on the waterfront in the Christianshavn area focuses on
design for the built environment and offers guided tours of changing
exhibitions, with an emphasis on environmentally-sustainable architecture.
There is also a browse-worthy bookshop with Scandinavia's largest selection of architecture,
design and urban planning publications.
Events and exhibitions
Copenhagen hosts the world’s biggest design awards,
the INDEX:Awards, billed as “Designs
to Improve Life”. The organization passionately believes that clever design is
a decisive factor in creating a better, fairer and more sustainable world --
not just in beautifully-designed Scandinavia, but globally. Recent
winning designs have included low-cost portable baby warmers for premature
infants, free eye glasses for hundreds of thousands of
school children and architecturally-designed
low-income housing. The biennial awards attract hundreds of international
entrants, and the winners are awarded at a black-tie event in the Copenhagen
Opera House, designed by Danish architect Henning Larsen.
The free exhibition is held outdoors at Copenhagen's new hip hang-out, Kvæsthusmolen
– then travels the world. The next awards ceremony will be in 2013.
The wider context for INDEX is Copenhagen Design Week, a major
trade show held biennially in September. At Kvæsthusmolen and other sites
across the city you can live and breathe design for seven days, with
exhibitions, seminars, workshops and discussions, plus wonderful designs purchase.
A highlight of the week is the prestigious Danish Design Prize, which pits
national designers against each other.
Ask locals where in Copenhagen to buy a piece of all
this Danish talent and they will likely direct you to Illums Bolighus.
This shop displays every item with museum-like reverence – and the artful
layout is simply inspiring. Pick up Danish design icons like the Henning
Koppel water pitcher, Arne
Jacobsen Ant chairs or a Mogens
Lasson candle holder. Similarly revered are furniture, design and
accessories shops like Hay – where even filing
systems and rubbish bins are made gorgeous – and Bodum,
where somehow the simplest kitchen and bathroom things have a magnetic pull.
It is quite a different feel at Designer Zoo where you get to see designers
creating in their workshops before you browse and buy. Another hip addition to shopping
in Copenhagen is Normann in
Østerbro, just north of Copenhagen’s centre, whose cavernous store stocks its
own award-winning brand of off-beat homewares, furniture and Danish-designed
Though they wear their style understatedly, people in
Copenhagen are said to be more fashionable than anywhere else in Scandinavia.
Think layering and clothes that are effortlessly chic as well as bike-riding
friendly. To pick up a few pieces, head to the fashion district in Indre By
(inner-city Copenhagen) and pop into Day
Birger Mikkelsen, a leading Danish brand with elegant, sexy, designs. The
classic women’s fashions at Designers
Remix is just as smart – and pricey. A firm men’s favourite is Mads Nørgaard – very Danish, smart, timeless
gear (now also for women and kids).
Add just the tiniest accessory by jeweller Georg Jensen and you will be set to
take on the best design in Scandinavia – in the best of Danish style.
The article 'The reigning king of Scandinavian design' was published in partnership with Lonely Planet.