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December 23, 2008

A 1949 Chair Returns in 2008.

“Are you a manufacturer now?” asked Jens Risom when we invited him to create something for Design Within Reach. Our reply was a simple yes, and the project was under way. We soon learned that Risom wasn’t so much asking us a question as he was stating a requirement. After he worked with Hans Knoll in the early 1940s, Risom created his own company, and for 25 years he designed, manufactured and sold furniture for the residential and commercial markets. He built his business and reputation by maintaining control of his work from concept to completion, and Risom wasn’t about to work with DWR if he couldn’t be sure that this would continue to be true.

DWR Design Studio works in collaboration with designers to fix problems that either haven’t been solved by other products or can be solved in smarter ways. Our work with Jens Risom had two components: first, to bring back a 1949 chair and ottoman that Risom designed for the Caribe Hilton Hotel in Puerto Rico and second, to expand the collection with a new bench. The challenge in bringing the chair back into production was how to keep its balance and light scale, but use modern production techniques to keep manufacturing costs in check.

Risom, at age 92, inspired us with his ideas through every step of the process, from reviewing prototypes to adjusting tiny details to advocating cost-effective changes in the manufacturing process. When he saw one of the first prototypes, he knocked on the wood, shook his head and said, “This is quarter-inch. Use three-eighths.” Changes like this not only improved the aesthetics and structure, they also gave us better board yield so we could make the most of the materials used.

The Jens Armchair and Ottoman look the same as the ones made in 1949, but thanks to Risom’s input, they are smarter solutions that take advantage of resources and tools that weren’t available 60 years ago. The addition of the new Bench makes the Jens Collection suitable for an entryway or waiting area, and by leaving a portion of the wood surface exposed, the Bench offers a seat and a side table in one streamlined piece.

The Jens Collection is made in the U.S. and, like all of the furniture by this iconic designer, has a subtle Scandinavian sensibility that works with modern and traditional settings. Or, as Risom puts it, “Good design means that anything good will go well with other equally good things.”

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