Design visionary and creator of the Egg™, the Swan™, the Series 7™, and the Drop™, among others.
As a child growing up in Copenhagen, it’s said that Arne Jacobsen painted over the Victorian wallpaper in his bedroom. Young Arne didn’t cover his walls with typical childish drawings or paint the ornate wallpaper boyish blue – he decided to paint his room entirely white.
This decision may seem typical today, but in the early twentieth century, white walls were not yet in fashion. From the very beginning, Arne Jacobsen was ahead of his time.
For more than half of the twentieth century, Arne Jacobsen’s ideas shaped the landscape of Danish design, rippling out from Scandinavia to influence architects and designers around the world.
The Bella Vista housing estate was built by Arne Jacobsen from 1931 to 1934. The name Bella vista stemmed from the Bella Vista villa which had previously stood on the site.
In design, Jacobsen rarely knew what he wanted ahead of time - despite the seemingly effortless line. Here, Jacobsen was far from the confident person he was seen to be with builders. Apart from the basic idea, conceived with a keen sense of proportion and an unusual talent for design and form, nothing was determined ahead of time. Hence, Jacobsen was often perceived as an insecure designer, when in fact he was rather on an intuitive search for the outer limits of the design idea, the technology, and the material.
These aspects of the design process, therefore, were never the basis of his designs, although there are strong indications that the limitations presented by the properties of materials gave Jacobsen a productive framework and brought a certain calm to the creative restlessness. The absence of these limitations, for example, when working in plastics instead of wood, fuelled this restlessness. Jacobsen worked endlessly with the design and, thus, found it difficult to let go and finish things. Frequent delays of the production stage are typical of the perfectionist.
He could be difficult, sarcastic and uncompromising towards working partners and manufacturers and required his staff to work more or less around the clock rather than tend to their families - or leave. His family was asked to select the proper white paint among several whites when the home was being redecorated, and then had to hold up picture frames for hours to get the composition right. The coffee cups were lined up in neat, geometrical rows, and the children’s toys put away when Jacobsen finally returned from the studio. The nature-loving botanist The other side of his personality shows a very different, rounder Jacobsen, who in Rousseau style was absorbed in watercolours, nature studies and tending to saplings. Jacobsen sometimes sought to escape the limitations and restrictions that he himself had helped create: ’I am choking on aesthetics,’ he might say in private, and he sometimes expressed great joy in seeking refuge in places where anti-design and anti-aesthetics ruled. ’This is great, here you can’t change a thing!’ He enjoyed devouring a delicious pastry. But the pastry still had to look nice to taste good, a sign of the difficult dilemma of flouting the aesthetics, if only for a moment. A warm sense of humour Arne Jacobsen’s humour and self-deprecation is evident, among other places, in his drafts and hand-drawn Christmas cards to close friends or in the way he worded his statements on subjects close to his heart (mostly professional in nature). Ever since he was a child, he liked to play the clown, and throughout his adult years, he continued the buffoonery and sometimes took on zany bets, like wearing a hollowed-out melon for a hat.
Jacobsen is not considered intellectual or analytical in a traditional sense. His verbal communication concerning the design universe has become legendary through expressions like ’As thin as possible, and never in the middle’. ’Today, we have to make a truly low/round project’ is another of Jacobsen’s precise, almost understated phrases, often heard by his staff or his students at the Academy, where Jacobsen was a professor. Arne Jacobsen might also ask how things had been ’behaving’ that day, as if they actually had a life of their own. He also compared his own buildings with identical matchboxes, simply placed in different positions.