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Steen Østergaard's passion for good design:
"You have to do it properly!"

The well-known Danish furniture architect Steen Østergaard has shaped the international furniture market for more than 50 years. He elegantly balances unique design with well-thought-out production methods and materials for beautiful, functional furniture that will also be trendsetting for the next 50 years...

Steen Østergaard has had furniture in his blood ever since he was an apprentice as a cabinetmaker in the 1950s. His furniture has been exhibited in places as diverse as the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Technisches Museum in Munich, as well as used in one of the world's most notorious prisons, San Quentin. And to this day, Steen Østergaard's furniture fascinates new generations with their excellent comfort, timeless design and well-thought-out production.

Among his best-known works are the futuristic Modo290 series from 1966, which has had a renaissance in recent years, the unique Moon chair from 2002 and the Comet Recliner chair from 2011. Steen Østergaard himself describes the latter as his best idea - "where design, materials and production go together in a perfect unit".

His furniture has been exhibited in places as diverse as the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Technisches Museum in Munich

The balance between design and production

Steen Østergaard's focus on uniting design, materials and production has characterized his inspiring work throughout the years.

"Today, it is business rather than design that characterizes much of the furniture market. Roughly speaking, it will either be design at a high price or no design at a low price", he believes. "But you can develop furniture with a good design at a reasonable price if you go in depth with ideas, materials and production methods. I have worked with that for a good 50 years”.

One of his distinctive pieces of furniture, the Moon chair, which floats aesthetically on a steel bracket, visualizes this important balance – in a very concrete sense. But also in the organic look that makes everything look light and effortless.

"It looks optimal and is good to sit in. But it also works in terms of production", says Steen Østergaard. "The frame is laser-cut in stainless steel in alloy 18-8, which is used for ship screws. An excellent chair at a reasonable price with design and materials that last for more than 50 years, where many furniture and materials today only last a few years”.

Highest honors and grades

Steen Østergaard is one of the "grand old men" in Danish furniture architecture, but he has also worked with a multitude of other products - from coffee cans and household products to busstop shelters.

Steen Østergaard was born in 1935 at a time when the Danish golden age in furniture architecture started, and the demand for Danish quality furniture boomed to, among other things, a large German market. He therefore chose to train as a cabinetmaker in the early 1950s, where he, among other things, worked on the furniture for Varde Town Hall.

His teacher could see the passion and potential in Steen Østergaard and encouraged him to further his education as a furniture designer/architect at the famous Crafts School in Copenhagen.

He passed the education in 1957 with the highest distinction and grade in all subjects - without exception! He had even won 1st prize during the training in an international competition in furniture design, where his teacher had to settle for 3rd prize!

Finn Juhl - significant, in several areas

In the early 1960s, the world-famous furniture architect Finn Juhl called Steen Østergaard to offer him work.
"I didn't want to work for the other well-known furniture architects Wegner, Kærholm or Børge Mogensen, as I was afraid of drawing like them. Finn Juhl was simply the furniture designer from whom I could learn the most. And I wanted to create my own expression", he recalls.
At the same time as working for Finn Juhl, Steen Østergaard therefore had his own projects. He remembers with a smile an Italian design competition that he won - where Finn Juhl happened to be a judge.
Another significant benefit of the collaboration with Finn Juhl was the meeting with Ina, who was employed by the company. She is today his wife and sparring partner for 50 years.

Research into material, form and production

In the mid-1960s, Steen Østergaard established his own design company, and his furniture design began to experiment more with plastic and metal.
"Wood is an expensive material, and I wanted to develop well designed furniture that could be produced at a reasonable price", he continues.
This led, among other things, for selection as designer of "The Furniture of the Future" in 1965 as well as development of the completely unique 290 chair. Other furniture designers such as Poul Kjærholm had tried to make a chair in one piece, but it was only Steen Østergaard who succeeded with the futuristic 290's.
"Here it is the production methods and materials that 'determine' the design", says Steen Østergaard. "In the 1960s, it was too expensive to make handcrafted furniture in Denmark, and my goal was to make a chair that could be made quickly and industrially."
He found exactly the casting method that could create the chair in one piece in just 132 seconds. And through collaboration with the giant German chemical manufacturer BASF, also the art material that could combine modern design with long durability and optimal industrial production.
The chair created - and still creates - great attention all over the world, and was celebrated at the Museum of Modern Art in New York and countless other museums in art, industrial design and engineering.

Ascetic and aesthetic - with excellent seating comfort

But it was also a gigantic sales success, where the chairs were literally sprayed out of the factory in Norway. Every 132 seconds a new chair...
A single delivery could consist of ten train cars with 10,000 chairs to warehouses in most parts of the world. The chair ended up in thousands of homes, restaurants and conference venues around the world.
The futuristic design was a perfect fit for the NASA headquarters in Houston, and the chair is also seen in several sci-fi films from the 1960s and 70s such as Star Trek and James Bond. Among the more curious uses was San Quentin - known as one of the world's most notorious prisons - where the 290 was chosen as it was easy to clean and the legs could not be used as weapons.
At the opposite end of the scale, a monastery in Southern Italy, which chose the 290 chair for their premises due to the ascetic and aesthetic expression that suited the monastery. And of course it also has excellent seating comfort for conversations and contemplation.
"Design must be so good that you can sit in the same chair for a long time - and keep going", as Steen Østergaard puts it.

Success is created by doing it properly

"The success of the chair is linked to the choice of material, as it is made of glass fiber reinforced polyamide. It lasts for 50 years - and still looks beautiful! Many contemporary manufacturers choose cheaper materials and easier production methods, so plastic furniture has gained a bad reputation with a lifespan of just a few years. But you have to do it properly!” points out Steen Østergaard, who has never compromised with materials or quality.
The 290 series also consists of a high chair with armrests and a table. In the 2010s, new generations have opened their eyes to the unique properties and aesthetic expression of Modo290, and the original chairs from the 1960s are sold as collectors' items for high prices at auctions worldwide.
This renaissance for the 290 has meant that in 2014 the Danish furniture manufacturer Nielaus started manufacturing the chair in the original quality with sales all over most of the world. And it is still as unique as it was 50 years ago. An excellent example of good design being timeless.

Among his best-known works is the futuristic Modo290 series from 1966

Industrial design with an emphasis on "good design"

Steen Østergaard has designed many exciting pieces of furniture and products, which today are copied all over the world.
"It is too expensive to get a patent for designs in all countries, so my furniture and other design products are copied diligently".
This applies, for example, to for the Bramin chair from the early 1980s, which today is copied in more than 50 factories in Europe. Or a special coffee can with automatic dosing of one spoonful of coffee, of which Melitta has sold 90,000 units. of – only in Denmark.
He is also the mastermind behind the eye-catching busstop shelters from the 1970s with the organic shape and round windows in glass fiber reinforced polyester, which were actually the cheapest and best way to solve this task. Other busstop shelters typically had to be assembled by craftsmen and consisted, among other things, of of metal that rusted. Another example of how Steen Østergaard has focused on creating products that can be produced in Denmark with minimal labor costs.

Faithful to the original ideas

"If I have to briefly outline my philosophy, a piece of furniture must have the optimal function - you must sit well in it - it must be beautiful to look at - AND at the same time the materials and production method must be optimal. In this way, consumers get good design at a reasonable price. And then of course it is about getting the right product onto the market at the right time...", concludes furniture architect Steen Østergaard from his studio in the South of France, where the brain and drawing board are still overflowing with new ideas and projects.
Since 2013, the Danish furniture manufacturer Nielaus, in close collaboration with Steen Østergaard, has further developed his unique furniture designs with e.g. new colors and modern fabrics, so that even today they follow the trend of the times. And no doubt, the furniture will also be modern for the next 50 years.
Nielaus markets Steen Østergaard's unique furniture designs completely true to the furniture architect's original ideas. So even more people around the world can experience and enjoy his unique ideas and designs.

Photos and photo captions…..
© Profilers.dk / Claus Hebor, Feb 2015