I can’t rightfully claim the credit for discovering Jens H Quistgaard – because to do so would suggest that I had a refined sense of function and aesthetics in product design as a 5-year-old – when in fact at that age I believe LEGO was as far as my appreciation of design had developed.
I did however grow up surrounded by Jens Quistgaard’s beautiful tableware designs created for DANSK – the company he founded with American entrepreneur Ted Nierenberg in the mid 1950s. This coincidentally was also the company my dad worked for when I was a little girl -so as it turns out our formidable collection was down to company perks and my mother’s conviction that 16 of each is a reasonable starting point when acquiring any type of serving ware. This – as it turns out – is a family affliction.
Jens Quistgaard is well known for his mix of exotic wood and steel, which was an unusual combination at the time – coupled with his elegant functional design style. He found great inspiration in the shapes of old Scandinavian Viking ships and many of his better-known pieces have the distinctive curves and silhouette, which has become characteristic for much of his work. In particular some of his teak vessels such as the ever popular ice bucket, which is still actively sought after by collectors, and enthusiasts alike.
He also helped change the landscape of dinner tables in 1956 when he created the Kobenstyle line of steel enamel cook ware – a lighter and less expensive alternative to cast iron. Sturdy yet graceful they were produced in a range of mouth watering bright solid colors and considered beautiful enough to bring straight from the kitchen to the dinner table. To support this, their lids – featuring a characteristic cross-shaped handle were made to double as trivets.
As a testament to their timeless elegance they are still avidly traded in quality vintage shops, as well as on-line and continue to be fashionable accessories for the home – whether used for their original purpose or for the sheer pleasure of their appearance.
My favorite is the paella pan. The thoroughly elegant curve detail is beautifully balanced against the strength of the steel – while the tapered bottom makes it seem as though it’s almost floating on air. Of course others would argue it’s just a pot.
Jens H Quistgaard designed for DANSK from its inception up to the mid 1980s with over 2000 different designs behind him, including a large collection of teak pepper mills, that have since reached iconic collector status the world over. He has also put name to a range of cast iron and brass candle stick holders, table ware, flat ware, enamel ware, glasses, teak trays, serving and salad bowls. All rivalling anything produced today or since – and the vast majority remain vintage greats.
He was born on April 23rd 1919 in Denmark, where he developed an early interest in mastering materials and was largely self-taught with help from his well-known sculptor father Harald. He started out eager, whittling his own toys and quickly moved on to blacksmithing in his early teens. As a young man he trained as an apprentice at the prestigious Danish silver smith Georg Jensen. Unable to find any cutlery he would be happy to put on his own table, he designed and hand forged a steel knife and fork with teak handles earning him an exhibit in a Copenhagen museum in 1954. This was the same year American entrepreneur Ted Nierenberg was passing through town, with a keen interest in producing something more exciting than the steel nameplates his family business was known for back in New York. He saw and instantly took a liking to Quistgaard’s cutlery and promptly convinced Jens, that it could and should be mass-produced. Together they started Dansk International Designs and successfully brought affordable and functional Scandinavian design to the American public. His cutlery went on to be called ‘Fjord’ and is currently on permanent display in several locations including the Louvre in Paris and the Metropolitan Museum and the MOMA in New York.
Jens H Quistgaard passed away at the age of 88 on January 4th 2008 leaving behind an extraordinary collection of work. His remarkable natural talent for creating quality timeless design and his unique command and great understanding of his preferred materials, is what makes his work as beautiful and striking now, as the day he put pen to paper.