By Theresa Valbæk
Danish designer furniture is world-famous for its modern styling and exquisite craftsmanship. Driving the success are entrepreneurial and visionary manufacturers such as legendary Erik Jørgensen Møbelfabrik.
The story of furniture manufacturer Erik Jørgensen Møbelfabrik, venerable proponent of fine craftsmanship and stark modernism, is the story of 50 years of Danish furniture design with its appetite for novel styling and innovative material technology.
Original and evocative design has been the core of the business since the company was founded in 1954 in the town of Svendborg, on southern Funen, by Erik Jørgensen (1928-1998). Drawing on a staff of highly skilled craftsmen and some of the nation’s leading furniture designers, Erik Jørgensen has created one of the greatest success stories of the industry.
Newfound demand for design
In the 1950s, following early post-war reconstruction in Europe, designers started to play a defining role in redefining the matrix of everyday life. Modern technology and new materials facilitated the design of an entirely new kind of consumer-friendly, functional modernism. Danes were experiencing increased buying power, which granted them the newfound privilege of expressing their personal taste in interior design – the pre-war reserve of the well-to-do.
Eyeing the business opportunity, Erik Jørgensen, a young upholsterer and saddler at the time, opened a furniture workshop in Svendborg. His knack for functional design and skills as a craftsman coupled with his business acumen soon made his workshop an industry frontrunner in Danish design.
Erik Jørgensen had an open-minded and friendly nature and was driven by a passion for innovation. He was unyielding in his insistence on quality design and craftsmanship and would often man the studio drawing boards himself. Many of his personal couch designs have over time become design classics.
Erik Jørgensen’s reputation as a designer-manufacturer enticed several of the great designers of the time to visit his workshop in Svendborg. One example is that of Danish designer Poul M. Volther, who for a while in the early 1960s exchanged his Copenhagen studio for that of Erik Jørgensens Møbelfabrik in provincial Svendborg. The fruit of their collaboration became apparent four years later when the legendary *Corona* chair went into production.
Poul M. Volther introduced an air of modern urban living, and in many ways their partnership came to symbolise Erik Jørgensen’s philosophy of design where the marriage of form, function and quality is the product of close dialogue and interaction with the designer.
Erik Jørgensen’s collaboration with Poul M. Volther was immensely influential. They were both equally ambitious and the company’s success benefited from the combination of Volther’s drive for perfection and Erik Jørgensen’s marketing talent. Other Danish designers associated with the company included Jørgen Gammelgaard, Verner Panton, Erik Ole Jørgensen and Hans J. Wegner. Today’s in-house designers include Anne-Mette Jensen and Morten Ernst.
Exports of Danish classics from Erik Jørgensens Møbelfabrik started in the 1970s; first to the Middle East and then the USA. The factory relocated in 1971 from the narrow streets of Svendborg to suburban Tved, where the company is still based.
In the 1980s, the company focused on furniture designs for businesses, capitalising on the emerging trend where interior design programmes became integral to corporate branding. More recently, the company has focused on developing total interior designs for the European corporate market in association with a number of different interior designers.
Celebrity has also opened its eyes to Erik Jørgensen products. International movies, music videos and fashion shoots all feature the company’s Danish classics. Pop icons such as George Michael and Ricky Martin have also embraced his quality designs.
In 1994, Erik Jørgensen’s eldest son, Niels Jørgensen, gradually took over management. Erik Jørgensen was, however, a very active and influential member of the board of directors until his death in 1998.
Every year since 1994, Erik Jørgensen Møbelfabrik has honoured a furniture designer with a unique award. The first award were given jointly to Anne-Mette Jensen and Morten Ernst for their double chaise longue design *Waves*, which is still available