The Backdrop to Life

Jens Risom Designs from the Collection of Stefan Plambeck

In 1995, Stefan Plambeck purchased his first design by Jens Risom, a lounge chair with canvas webbing woven tightly across a birch frame. Today, the lounge chair manufactured by Knoll is one of Risom’s most well-known forms, but at the time, it was Plambeck’s gateway into modern design; what started as a single chair, quickly grew into a much larger collection. Living in Minneapolis before American designers like Risom, Eames and Nelson became highly sought-after names, Plambeck was able to affordably source pieces and let curiosity be his guide. He studied Risom, gathering up what information was available about the Danish-born designer, and found himself aligned with his principles on well-crafted, no-nonsense design.

Stefan Plambeck and his son Liam with Jens Risom at his home in New Canaan, 2001.

When Plambeck wrote to Risom a few years later to inquire about reupholstering a set of dining chairs in historically accurate fabric, curiosity turned into friendship. In 2001, after years of corresponding as pen pals, Risom invited Plambeck and his family to his home in New Canaan. At lunch with the designer, his wife Henny, and Plambeck’s young son Liam, Risom spoke of his long career designing simple, well-crafted furniture and the sensible business model that made his company successful for so many years. At one point during the visit—likely sensing the restlessness that is inherent in young children—Risom warmly asked Liam if he knew of Pippi Longstocking and set him up to watch the freckled moppet on TV, making for a perfectly sweet, and very Scandinavian afternoon. For Stefan Plambeck and his family, this collection has served as the backdrop to their lives. Now at auction, it is an opportunity for Risom’s timeless designs to carry on as he intended, “furniture that is for people, to be used”.

Jens Risom

Often credited with bringing the Scandinavian look to America, Jens Risom crafted enduring, modern furnishings throughout his lengthy career as a designer. Born in Copenhagen in 1916, Risom’s father Sven was a prominent architect. As a young man, he attended the Copenhagen School of Industrial arts and Design where he studied under the Danish masters, Ole Wanscher and Kaare Klint. After graduation, Risom cut his teeth in the design department of Sweden’s Nordiska Kompaniet, before moving to the United States in 1939. In New York City, Risom found freelance work with Dan Cooper and became acquainted with a driven young immigrant from Germany named Hans Knoll. Looking to expand his small company, Knoll asked Risom if he would be interested in designing furniture and interiors for clients around the city. Risom agreed, and in 1942, the duo published the first catalog for the Hans Knoll Company showcasing fifteen pieces from Risom’s 600 line. The inaugural collection included chairs, stools and lounges expertly crafted from spare wood with webbed seats woven from surplus parachute straps (a result of wartime material shortages). Their ingenuity paid off and the venture effectively launched the careers of both men and ushered in a new era of American design.

Auction Results Jens Risom