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How do you reinterpret a Scandinavian classic without losing any of its original character? That was the dilemma faced by London-based designer Ilse Crawford when she was tasked by Carl Hansen & Søn with developing a new palette of colours for Hans J. Wegner’s iconic CH24 ‘Wishbone’ chair.
One of five chairs created by the legendary architect when he began collaborating with Carl Hansen & Søn in 1949, the ‘Wishbone’ has been in continuous production for more than 70 years. It embodies Wegner’s fondness for natural materials and simple yet refined forms, with an instantly recognisable Y-shaped support, a hand-woven paper-cord seat, and back and armrests crafted from a single, steam-bent length of wood. It’s a much-loved piece that has appeared in homes around the world, and it’s just as stylish and relevant today as it was when it was first launched.
Ilse’s approach to adding a new twist to this most famous of Danish designs was to avoid anything trend-led, and instead focus on developing colours rooted in the Scandinavian landscape – colours with ‘an integrity and an elemental strength’, as she puts it. She also took inspiration from the paintings of Danish artist Per Kirkeby, whose work was shaped by a fascination with nature and geology.
The nine resulting colours make a nod to plants, minerals and raw materials found across the Nordic countries, with names that evoke a real sense of place. I got to see them in person at Carl Hansen & Søn’s London showroom back in February, when they were unveiled alongside displays of the various things that inspired them, and I loved their earthy, timeless quality. What’s more, the matt finish of the eco-friendly, water-based paint subtly changes tone with the light, creating a sense of depth and allowing the natural texture of the FSC-certified beech to shine through.
Me being me, I was immediately drawn to the more understated options such as ‘Seaweed’ green, ‘Slate’ grey and the gorgeously muddy, go-with-anything ‘Clay’. But I was also surprised by how much I liked the brighter shades, which include ‘Hollyhock’ yellow, ‘Falu’ red (inspired by the iron oxide paint that adorns buildings across Scandinavia) and silvery ‘Pewter’ blue. They’re all extremely versatile, and I can see them adding a splash of colour to neutral spaces without being overwhelming or jarring.
As well as attending the launch event, I was lucky enough to be able to choose one of the new colours for myself, and after a lot of deliberation I opted for ‘Barley’. This soft beige appealed not only because of its gentle warmth, but also because of its flexibility. As the ‘Wishbone’ is the kind of piece I’ll keep for decades to come, I wanted to ensure it can adapt to different spaces and decor schemes as my home and needs change.
My chair has now arrived after being handmade at Carl Hansen & Søn’s workshop on the Danish island of Funen, and I couldn’t be happier with it. The rooms in my house are all painted in various shades of white or grey and the colour works brilliantly with all of them, warming the paler hues and offsetting the darker ones. I’m also very taken by the way the beige highlights the beauty of the unbleached paper-cord seat and, as the chair is going to get used a lot, it’s good to know the finish is resilient to the occasional knock or scrape.
It’s great to watch a classic design like this evolving without losing its essence, and I’ll be intrigued to see how the new colours are used in different spaces. I’d also love to know which is your favourite, so let me know in the comments below. I have a feeling the greens and blues are going to be particularly popular…
The nine new CH24 ‘Wishbone’ chairs are available to buy now, with a recommended retail price of £509 / €483 (plus VAT) / $620. You can find details of Carl Hansen & Søn flagship stores and stockists worldwide here.
Image six via Carl Hansen & Søn; all other photography by Abi Dare