Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Richard Nissen

There were many companies producing teak housewares in the latter half of the 20th century, and the biggest by far was Dansk Designs. The originality and quality of the designs produced made them a sensation from their introduction in the 1950s well into the 1980s (and of course again today). The history of the company and the designer, Jens Quistgaard, is well-documented.

Less is written about the other companies that followed that trend. Companies such as Digsmed, Laurids Lonborg, Ernest Sohn and others all made interesting designs in teak over the years, but in my experience the company that really hit the mark on quality rivaling that of Dansk was Richard Nissen of Denmark. So I guess I shouldn't have been surprised to discover that they were, in manufacturing at least, the same company.

Nissen ice bucket and bowl, at the 2nd Hugh pop-up, 2010.



In the brief Dansk narrative I'd always heard,  Dansk founder Ted Nieremberg and designer Quistgaard saved a failing barrel-making company by using them to produce Dansk products. It was only recently I discovered that Nissen is that barrel-making company. From 1954 until 1971 Quistgaard worked with the craftsmen at Nissen in Lingaa, Denmark, to make the staved teak trays, salad bowls, ice buckets, pepper mills and more that have become sought after by fans of Danish modern design.


Dansk and Nissen stopped working together in 1971. I don't know why, but a few years later Dansk changed its official name to Dansk International Designs and production started coming out of other countries besides Denmark. One presumes efforts to ramp up production and/or cut costs. 


Richard Nissen himself had started producing his own designs sometime in the mid-1960s, with a focus on domestic Danish distribution, and by 1979 was the biggest producer of handcrafted goods in Denmark. Availability in the US was much smaller than Dansk, limited mostly to home goods specialty stores and design retailers.


The 1980s were not kind to Danish modern design in general and Nissen did not escape the change in tastes. In 1990 the company was sold to the Danish company Bodum. We really only think of Bodum for press coffee pots these days, but years ago a roommate had a fantastic wooden cutting board by them. Maybe it was made in the Lingaa factory.

I am a big fan of Nissen teak, even though it admittedly lacks some of the refinement of Jens Quistgaard's designs. Part of me likes that it is a bit less common, and part of me likes that the designs tend to feel a little thicker, and more substantial. My favorite personal find was a cylindrical ice bucket with a saddle leather strap that I kind of regret selling, Oh, and a handled salad bowl, that was really incredible. I've kept a cheese board or two, and several serving bowls that are smaller in scale and have these fantastic thick sides that I really love, and they look amazing stacked with lemons and limes when having a party.

The fateful Instagram, Nissen left and right.
By the way, the funny way I discovered the Nissen-Dansk connection was by following my own hashtag on Instagram. With the elevation of Dansk pieces to collector's status, auction houses and gallery shows have finally started attributing the manufacturer to the designs. Once again, a thrift store find becomes a history lesson.

No comments: