What do a three-seater sofa (designed in 1930) and dining room chairs with cane seats (designed in 1916) by Kaare Klint, Flemming Larsen’s ‘Third’ armchair covered in sheepskin (designed around 1935) and a desk by Peter Hvidt and Orla Molgarrd-Nielsen (designed in 1959) have in common?
On show for the recent auctions of modern and contemporary furniture and design at Phillips and Sotheby’s, these four modern pieces are all executed in Cuban mahogany. Indeed the Prime Minister’s office in Copenhagen itself had Cuban mahogany furniture, with Kaare Klint’s ‘Red’ armchair, designed in 1930, here available to bid for. Once one of the most celebrated timbers for cabinet and furniture-making, Cuba banned export of the wood in 1946 due to over-harvesting to meet demand, and other sources also dried up, such that it has not been available for some time, which reinforces the necessity for sustainable timber forestry.
Included in the auctions were furniture from the days when hotels, public buildings and ocean-going liners would commission furniture rather than pick from a catalogue, including Antti Nurmesniemi’s sauna stools for the Palace Hotel (1952) and Ilmari Tapiovaara’s armchairs for the Hotel Marski (1960/1), both in Helsinki, Gio Ponte’s chairs for the first class ballroom on the liner ‘Conte Biancamaro’ (c1949) and for the first class dining room of the ‘Africa’ (1953) and office furniture designed by Pierre Jeanneret for public office, court and library building.
Furniture and art came together in designs such as Robert Venturi’s ‘William & Mary’ bureau (c1984), Bruce McClean’s console tables (1987/8) and Ettore Sottsass Jr’s sculpture display cabinet (c1995).
It is astonishing to consider the age of some of these classic pieces which still look fresh and contemporary today and indeed remain exemplars for modern furniture designers.