Jens Risom (1916-2016)

Jens Risom (8 May 1916 – 9 December 2016) was a Danish American furniture designer. An exemplar ofMid-Century modern design, he was one of the first designers to introduce Scandinavian design to the United States.

Jens Risom
Jens Risom

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One of the first designers to bring thetraditional Scandinavian values of function and craftsmanshipto the United States, Jens Risom was part of a new vanguard that helped establish post-war America’s leadership role inmodern furniture designand manufacturing.

Education and Migration to the USA

Risom was born inCopenhagen, Denmark, on8 May 1916. His father was a prominent architect,Sven Risom, a member of the school ofNordic Classicism. Risom was trained as a designer at theCopenhagen School of Industrial Arts and Design, where he learnt the value of simplicity and utility from master craftsmenOle WanscherandKaare Klint.

Risom spent two years at Niels Brock Copenhagen Business College before beginning work with the architectural firm ofErnst Kuhnas a furniture developer and interior designer. He later relocated to Stockholm where he joined the design department ofNordiska Kompanietwhere he was introduced toAlvar AaltoandBruno Mathsson.

In1939, Risom traveled to New York City to studyAmerican design. However, he found it difficult to find work as a furniture designer in New York and was forced to accept a number oftextile designsthat ultimately secured him freelance work with designer Dan Cooper.

Jens Risom Summer home
Jens Risom Summer home.
Photo: Floto + Warner via Dwell Magazine

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Jens Risom Summer home.
Jens Risom Summer home.
Photo: Floto + Warner via Dwell Magazine

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The Meeting with Knoll, the War and the Jens Risom Design Firm

In1941, Risom teamed with entrepreneurHans Knolland in1942, they launched theHans Knoll Furniture Companywith 15 of the 20 pieces in the inaugural “600” line designed by Risom. These works includedstools,armchairsandlounges, made from cedar and surplus webbing—works which have since become design classics.

With the advent ofWorld War II, Risom was drafted into theUnited States Army in 1943. After completing his military service, he briefly returned to Knoll in New York before launching his own firm in1946, theJens Risom Design (JRD).

Risom的声誉作为一个家具设计师继续ed to grow, and he began to promoteScandinavian designin home furniture to the broader American public. In the1950s,JRDran a series of ads with the slogan “The Answer is Risom”. The advertisement campaign was such a success that in1954,JRDlaunched a major expansion of its production facilities. Eventually,JRDshifted its focus away from home furnishings and towardsoffice furniture, hospital furniture and library furniture,before selling the company toDictaphonein1970, after having run it for25 years.

Risom died at his home in New Canaan, Connecticut, at the age of 100.

A Style Developed Within the Constraints of Wartime

Though he was educated as a designer and is most widely known for his furniture, Risom also had a strong interest in architecture and was known for being anavid sketcher, always drawing and designing on the go.
Working ingeniously within the constraints of wartime
material shortages, Risom developed several chairs and tables using essentially scraps of wood and rejected nylon straps from parachute production. Despite these constraints, Risom was able to design innovative and truly modern pieces of furniture. In fact, after the first “600 series” and facing increasingly stringent wartime rationing, Hans Knoll was forced to change tack and put Risom to work onmore spartan designs, which became collectively referred to as the650 Line.

Upon release, Risom’s collection would be amongthe only modern furniture available. Deliberately designed for a wartime market, the collection wassimple in constructionandinexpensive to produce. Of the lot, theLounge Chairenjoyed particular success.

Jens Risom, Magazine Table, lacquered oak.
Jens Risom, Magazine Table, lacquered oak

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Masterpieces and Famous Works by Jens Risom

Jens’ production was marked by times of war and shortage of materials, however, he was able to design and realize a conspicuous amount of furnishings during his career. Two of his most popular designs surely are theLounge Chairand theA-Chair.

Jens Risom’s designs were the first pieces conceived for and manufactured by Knoll. Due to wartime material restrictions, theLounge Chairwas originally constructed of simple maple frames and discarded parachute webbing. Described as good, honest furniture design, the collection helped establish Knoll as an early source of modern design in America.

Lounge Chair, Model 654W. 1941.
Lounge Chair, Model 654W. 1941

Image source:,_Model_654W._1941..jpg

Similarly, the simplicity of theA-Chairperfectly captures the enduring integrity of Risom’s designs, which emphasize comfort and functionality without sacrificing the clean lines of Danish modernism. This model, conceived in the late1950s, is a particular favourite of Ralph Pucci, and is produced as part of the Jens Risom for Ralph Pucci line.

Jens Risom's A-Chair.
Jens Risom’s A-Chair.

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