Culture

Nanna Ditzel: a key figure in Scandinavian design

Lesser known than her Danish compatriots Arne Jacobsen and Finn Juhl, the architect and designer Nanna Ditzel (1923-2005) nevertheless occupies a place of choice in the pantheon of the great Scandinavian designers of the 20th century. Some of her creations have remained very popular in the minds of Danes and have acquired an iconic status in the history of post-war furniture. A look back at a career of exceptional longevity (1/2 century) marked by remarkable design pieces

Photo credit: IDEAT
Nanna Ditzel, portrait
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Nanna Ditzel studied at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts and graduated in 1943 with a degree in cabinetmaking. Kaare Klint (1888-1954) (https://www.design-market.fr/), considered the father of Danish design, was one of her teachers. In 1946, she finished her university studies and obtained a degree in architecture. However, it was in the world of furniture design that Nanna Ditzel spent her entire career.

This career spans almost 5 decades and can be divided into 3 main phases. It was at the Academy of Fine Arts that Nanna Ditzel met her first husband and collaborator, Jørgen Ditzel (1921-1961), an upholsterer. The couple established their design studio. During the 50’s and until the premature death of her husband, Nanna Ditzel will make a name for herself in the post-war design world.

Photo credit: Kettal
Nanna Ditzel & Jørgen Ditzel
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In the first part of her career, Nanna Ditzel with her husband designed furniture faithful to the DNA of modern Danish design: simplicity, comfort and quality, such as the “Ring” armchair that the couple created in 1958. The seats they designed are in the spirit of those created by Hans J. Wegner (1914-2007), another legendary Danish designer, armchairs with slightly curved backs.

Photo credit: Artcurial
Pair of “Ring” armchairs, design: Nanna & Jørgen Ditzel. A “wrapping” and comfortable design, just like the Danish design. The structure is made of oak, the seat and back are covered with sheepskin.
Photo credit: Design Market
Danish Nanna Ditzel style armchair, 1950s.

The Ditzel couple works with very different materials. As true Scandinavians, they work with wood, especially teak, but they also do not hesitate to work with other materials such as wicker or rattan. In 1959, they made an egg-shaped armchair suspended in rattan. Particularly noticed for this piece that has become an icon of vintage design, the couple reached notoriety.

Photo credit: Design Market
Danish vintage teak desk model ND93, design: Nanna & Jørgen Ditzel, 1950. The piece is made by Søren Willadsen in Denmark. It is a simple, elegant and functional piece of furniture.
Photo credit: Nanna Ditzel Design
Perlen” lounge chair, design by Nanna & Jørgen Ditzel for the Japanese publisher Kitani, 1951. The original prototype was made by Søren Willadsen. A beautiful teak piece!
Photo credit: Nanna Ditzel Design
“Perlen” lounge chair, design by Nanna & Jørgen Ditzel for Japanese publisher Kitani, 1951. Back view.
Photo credit: Nanna Ditzel Design
The famous “hanging egg” chair in rattan. Design: Nanna & Jørgen Ditzel, 1959.
Photo credit: IDEAT
Rattan armchair “Madame”, design: Nanna Ditzel, 1951. Danish style adapted to rattan, chic and elegant!
Photo credit: IDEATEevery piece of
furniture designed by the Ditzel couple in rattan. In the center is the “hanging egg” chair.

Together, Nanna & Jørgen Ditzel won various international awards – silver and gold medals at the Milan Triennale -. In 1956, they received the Lunning Award, the most prestigious annual award in Scandinavian design. A protean designer, Nanna Ditzel works with glass and rubber, and produces not only furniture, but also textile and jewelry pieces, not to mention tableware. In 1954, she began a collaboration with the Danish silverware company Georg Jensen. This collaboration shows the taste of the designer for an organic design that follows the lines of the body. Her jewelry is elegant, sleek, and made to last. The pieces she designed for Jensen are still in the Swedish silver house’s catalog today!

Photo credit: Georg Jensen
Sterling silver necklace, design: Nanna Ditzel for Georg Jensen. In 1956, Nanna Ditzel created the “Capsule” collection. A series of jewels with organic shapes that leave an impression of movement and ease. A timeless collection that the jeweler has relaunched.
Photo credit: Georg Jensen
A subtle and sophisticated bracelet made of a series of almost leaf-shaped pieces. Design: Nanna Ditzel for Georg Jensen. Elegance and discretion!
Photo credit: Georg Jensen
Bold, sculptural sterling silver ring that wraps around a finger. Design: Nanna Ditzel for Georg Jensen. The ring gives the finger a long and elegant look. Originally designed in 1955, the design is now being revived at the Danish jeweler.
Photo credit: Georg Jensen
Worn sterling silver ring, designed by Nanna Ditzel for Georg Jensen.
Photo credit: Georg Jensen
Sterling silver bracelet, design by Nanna Ditzel for Georg Jensen, 1955. The lock on the bracelet is not hidden but treated as an integral part of the design itself.
Photo credit: Georg Jensen
Worn sterling silver bracelet, design Nanna Ditzel for Georg Jensen, 1955.
Photo credit: Kvadrat
Halingdal fabric, Nanna Ditzel design, 1965, created for the Danish textile brand Kvadrat. A classic of home furnishing, composed of 70% wool and 30% viscose. Kvadrat now offers this fabric in a wide range of colors.
Photo credit: Design Market
Danish vintage rug “Unikaeteppe” in blue fabric, design Nanna & Jørgen Ditzel, 1960. This rug has many shades of blue squares, it is made of kvadrat fabric.
Photo credit: Design Market
Danish vintage rug “Unikaeteppe” in blue fabric, design Nanna & Jørgen Ditzel, pattern detail, 1960.

After the death of her husband in 1961, Nanna Ditzel continued her successful career in the 1960s. In particular, she created the famous “Toadstool” series of stools, which was an immediate success and marked its era

Photo credit: Artsy
Table and stools series “Toadstools”, design Nanna Ditzel, 1962. Playful pieces of furniture designed for boisterous children who can sit on them, but also use them as tables to draw, stack them, roll them, climb on them.
Photo credit: H. Gallery
Nanna Ditzel poses next to her “Toaadstools” stools. On the left, the wooden cradle “Lulu” created in 1963 and considered a great classic of Danish design.

In 1968, she married a second time, to German businessman Kurt Heide. The couple lived in London for almost 20 years. She continued to work for Danish and British companies. Together they set up an international design center and showroom called Interspace. This was a period during which the designer experimented with new materials, such as fiberglass

Photo credit: Core77
In the late 1960s, Nanan Ditzel experimented with synthetic materials, as seen here with a molded stool with arms and a back attached with bolts, 1969.

This second chapter of Nanna Ditzel’s life came to an end in 1985, when her second husband died. Nanna Ditzel returned to Copenhagen, set up her own studio and began a third and very active part of her life. During the 1980’s and into the 2000’s, the designer designed more daring and expressive furniture pieces. Her collaboration with the Danish publisher Fredericia Furniture (in existence since 1911) led to the creation of the Bench for two with its screen-printed finish, and the Trinidad chair, which instantly became a hit for the Danish furniture manufacturer, which at one point was producing a thousand chairs a month to meet demand!

Photo credit: H. Gallery
Bench for two” table and seat, designed by Nanna Ditzel, in collaboration with Fredericia Furniture, 1989. An incredible piece, a double-backed bench or chair on which the occupants sit at right angles and can converse. The bench and its quarter-circle table are made from one millimeter thick plywood, screen printed with a hypnotic circular pattern.
Photo credit: The Danish Store
“Trinidad” chair, design by Nanna Ditzel for Fredericia Furniture, 1993. The chair’s name comes from the facades of the Victorian houses on the island of Trinidad, which play with the daylight. The cutouts in the wood of the chair give it a fan-like appearance and filter the light in a playful way.
Photo credit: Design Market
Set of 6 “Trinidad” chairs, design Nanna Ditzel for Fredericia Stole, 1993. In 1995, this chair was awarded the ID prize, the highest design award in Denmark.

Nanna Ditzel has been creating furniture with a strong personality ever since. How about the extraordinary design of the Buttefly chair, which evokes a butterfly? Ninna Ditzel remained active until the end of her life. In 1999, for example, for the centenary of the Danish manufacturer Getama, she developed a series of furniture designed to redesign the interior of a sofa and an armchair. Internationally recognized, Nanna Ditzel symbolizes an elegant, distinctive and quality design. She remains one of Denmark’s most acclaimed designers

Photo credit: Core77
Pair of “Butterfly” chairs, design Nanna Ditzel, 1990. A stunning chair cut from a single panel of 2mm thick folded wood fiber and supported by 6 legs that resemble the legs of a butterfly!
Photo credit: Getama
Joy” mirror and dressing table, designed by Nanna Ditzel for Getama. The Joy make-up mirror and dressing table were designed to meet a practical requirement. A functional and timeless design.
Photo credit: Getama
Bench for the “Joy” interior collection, design Nanna Ditzel for Getama, 1999.
Photo credit: Getama
Armchairs “Mondial” series, design: Nanna Ditzel for Getama, 2000.

François Boutard