As 2014 fades, a nod to Wishbone and Wegner

Hans J. Wegner with two Wishbone Chairs.
Hans J. Wegner with two of his Wishbone Chairs. Photo courtesy Carl Hansen & Søn.

What a perfect time of year, and a perfect year, to celebrate the Wishbone Chair and its legendary designer, Hans Jørgen Wegner.

Wishbones, the kind found in turkeys, are playing featured roles on American tables right about now, having taken bows at Thanksgiving just weeks ago and waiting in the wings for curtain calls in weeks ahead.

And the Wishbone Chair, of course, gets its nickname from the distinctive Y-shaped rib at its back, echoing the shape of that lucky bone that for thousands of years has come with magic attached.

Wegner, who died in 2007, would have turned 100 this year, a number that calls out for reflection.

He grew up in a small town in southern Denmark, the son of a cobbler and apprentice to a local cabinetmaker. He developed a love of wood and a passion for making furniture, especially chairs.

“If only you could design just one good chair in your life,” he said in 1952. “But you simply cannot.”

Wegner designed hundreds of chairs in pursuit of that “one good chair,” but the Wishbone stands as his most celebrated and best-selling. It was among a group of four chairs he designed for Carl Hansen & Søn in the late 1940s, at the very beginning of what became a long-term collaboration. Identified simply as CH24, the Wishbone has been rolling out of Hansen’s factory continuously since its introduction and is cherished around the world for its elegance and craftsmanship, which includes the paper-cord seats, each woven one at a time by master artisans.

Wegner was a prolific designer and a master woodworker, an incorrigible perfectionist. We was among a group of designers who brought Danish modern design to the forefront of furniture fashion in the 1950s and ’60s. Others included Arne Jacobsen, Finn Juhl and Børge Mogenson.

“Many foreigners have asked me how we made the Danish style,” Wegner said, in a widely cited quote. “And I’ve answered that it … was rather a continuous process of purification, and for me of simplification, to cut down to the simplest possible elements of four legs, a seat and combined top rail and arm rest.”

Perhaps Wegner’s quest for simplification helps explain the success and wide appeal of the Wishbone, as satisfying to look at as it is to sit in. Today, it  comes in a range of colors and wood finishes, making it versatile enough to fit in dining rooms, dens or offices.

I don’t have a turkey wishbone drying on my kitchen windowsill, but if I did, you probably can guess my wish this holiday season.

Watch a beautiful video dedicated to the making of the Wishbone Chair from manufacturer Carl Hansen. & Søn

The following graphics tell the story of Wegner and his Wishbone Chair by the numbers.