The Wishbone Chair designed by Wegner for industrial production is his most commercially successful design. Also known as the Y Chair, the Wishbone Chair has been produced for over sixty years by its original manufacturer, Carl Hansen & Son.
Ref: Hans J. Wegner. A Nordic Design Icon from Tønder. Edited by Anne Blond.
In 1950, after having seen Wegner’s Round Chair at the Cabinetmaker Guild Exhibition in Copenhagen, sales representative Eivind Kold Christensen and the owner of Carl Hansen & Son, Holger Hansen, contacted Wegner. Hansen was interested in taking up the ‘Danish’ Chinese Chair that Wegner had designed for Fritz Hansen when the company stopped promoting it.
Wegner preferred to design a new chair when accepting the commission to work with the firm based on the island of Funen. So the assignment that originally motivated Wegner to work with the China Chair motif, evolved as Wegner originally envisaged into a popular, light, modern and relatively inexpensive dining room chair with a steam bent top rail of Danish beech.
The most famous piece of industrial furniture at the time, Michael Thonet’s Wiener Chair, was characterized by having been made of steam-bent wood, a technique Wegner had mastered in 1943 when designing his series of Chinese chairs for Fritz Hansen. Fritz Hansen had wanted to make a chair that contained steam bent wood like the Wiener Chair, but the lengths of wood had to be considerably shorter due to a scarcity of materials available during the war. The type of wood had to be Danish, a raw material that was close at hand. The expertise Wegner gained in the use of steam-bent wood he applied again in this first task for Carl Hansen & Son in creating the Wishbone Chair.
So the assignment that originally motivated Wegner to work with the China Chair motif, evolved as Wegner originally envisaged into a popular, light, modern and relatively inexpensive dining room chair with a steam bent top rail of Danish beech.
Attention to detail and artisanal proficiency were qualities that had always attracted Wegner Carl Hansen were fortunate that although employed by the firm to adopt an industrial approach in producing a chair, rather than designing along rectilinear lines that would have been more
machine-friendly Wegner decided on the free form solution for his Wishbone Chair.
Even though the chair is machine-produced, it is also a typical Wegner chair in that its fourteen parts and hundred production steps cannot avoid being subjected to the human touch. This applies particularly to the seat, which is hand-woven out of 120 metres of papercord a feature Wegner had used in the design of his earlier Chinese chairs. for Fritz Hansen. The papercord is made of three strips of twisted, long-fibre paper that are wound around each other. Its strong construction keeps the cord from stretching or giving way, which would make the seat slack. The technique was invented by a Swede during World War II, due to a scarcity of cord made from Central American sisal.
The seat’s wickerwork technique and the chair’s original types of wood – beech and oak – are inspired by rustic Nordic furniture, but unlike this furniture, the Wishbone Chair appears light, airy and elegant.
The Wishbone Chair is a signature chair for Wegner in that he was again was inspired by earlier types of furniture, so that at first – perhaps unconsciously – it was more recognisable to the consumer, but at the same time its effect was of something completely new that had never been seen before. This is truly an example of the art of furniture making, in that the chair achieves a balance between industry and artisanship, tradition and renewal.
Since being launched in 1950, the Wishbone Chair has been in continuous production. It is Wegner’s best selling design and Carl Hansen & Son’s most commercially successful.
As of 1998 the Wishbone Chair is produced in two sizes: the original model that still suits the slightly more diminutive Asian consumer, and one offered by ourselves that is two centimetres higher to give the generally taller European consumer better sitting comfort
Soon after the chair’s birth Wegner decided it should also be produced in colours, and today it is the Wegner chair available in the greatest variety of colours. Wegner himself chose 13 that he found suitable, and in 2010 Carl Hansen & Son decided to produce it in an additional 12 new colours. They have been singled out as being well suited to the light and modern Nordic home.