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Better home. Better world.

Danish designers are creating a blueprint for a more sustainable future, says Nicola Capper. And it looks beautiful.

Published —
11.03.20
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We’ve all spent a LOT of time at home in 2020. For many, it’s made us rethink our relationship with the space around us; what we need from it and in it, how we use it. And how lucky we are to have a space of our own. We’ve decorated and decluttered, with many of us thinking about how we can do things better – a consumer study quoted in the Independent this summer reports that 81% of the adults it surveyed have become increasingly concerned about environment issues.

The United Nations’ 2030 agenda for sustainable development is the international communitys blueprint for a better, greener and more equal future. Each of its 17 goals requires a total rethink in how we, as customers, behave; and how government and business work together for the common good. 

Given the transformational nature of each goal, they require enormous effort to deliver. And while no country can yet lay claim to being totally on track to achieving them all by 2030, there are some countries that already stand out for the progress they’re making.

The Nordic countries are widely considered to be the most integrated and sustainable in the world. So, it should come as no surprise to learn that the top three spots in the international rankings for the 2030 goals have been shared between Sweden, Denmark and Finland for the last few years.

As of 2020, Sweden just about makes the top spot. (But it’s been a very close-run thing with Denmark ever since the goals were announced – the Danes were number one in 2019.)

 Its in Denmark that some of the most interesting changes are already being seen in the pursuit of achieving these ambitions. And this is particularly significant in probably its most famous export. No, not bacon, pastries or noir-ish thrillers: design.

Synonymous with restrained, timeless architecture, interiors and fashion, Denmarks design brands are creatively rethinking what they do and how they do it. They’re more aware than ever that the business decisions they make now will have far reaching consequences in the future.

 And their design-savvy customers are buying less, but buying better. Before taking a new purchase home, they want to know where it’s made and by whose hands; how far the material has travelled, and if the company values the makers, artisans and craftspeople creating the design.

From the middle of the last century, Danish design was driven by a deep-rooted desire to improve how people lived their everyday lives. Pioneers such as Finn Juhl, Hans Wegner and Arne Jacobsen worked to integrate good design into every aspect of society, including school desks, park benches – and even street lighting.

Creating what have now become some of the worlds most iconic and globally-recognised pieces of furniture and homeware, their work expertly strikes the perfect balance between craftsmanship, functionality and long-lasting quality.

We may now be facing very different societal challenges to the mid-20th century, yet these same principles are still at the heart of modern Danish furniture design today. But instead of working in beech, teak and oak, designers and brands are increasingly using new materials with the determination to design, build and sell products that are both beautiful as well as sustainable.

Along with a love of cycling, crime thrillers and foraged cuisine, the chair has become a symbol a Denmarks cultural identity. For designers it’s the ultimate test of their creativity and skill and for Danish consumers the perfect expression of their lifestyle choices and values.

Combining those much-loved mid-century details with a 21st century philosophy is the Ocean Collection from Mater. Taking an original design from 1955 by the prolific female designer, Nanna Ditzel, it worked in collaboration with the Danish Technological Institute to produce each reimagined slatted chair from 960 grams of recycled ocean plastic waste – instead of the original timber veneer.

Through their innovative production model, discarded fishing nets are washed, dried and shredded before being made into pellets at the worlds only fishing net recycling plant.

Another furniture company dedicated to reducing the industrys impact on the planet is TAKT, a company named after the Danish saying Takt or Tone, which means ‘doing things right’ and ‘behaving well’.

Recently awarded a Danish Design Award for its Soft Lounge Chair, the flat-packed, 100% eco-certified products can easily be assembled and disassembled into key materials for recycling and worn parts can be replaced so buyers know they’ll enjoy many years of use from their fairly-priced purchase. 

At TAKT we call our design direction, Danish Design with a global outlook. We are proud of our Scandinavian heritage, but we think of it in an inclusive way. What we call good design in Denmark is not a national thing, but a set of design qualities,” says Henrik Taudorf Lorensen, founder and CEO of TAKT. Those qualities, he says, are being “beautiful, functional and affordable”. He set up TAKT for two reasons: “the first was a heartfelt need to produce furniture more sustainably, and the other was a personal reflection of where Danish design had moved to. Over the past few decades, while a lot of good things have happened, classic Danish design has moved away from its initial vision of accessible quality for all to being one of luxury for the few. We wanted to revitalise this original idea, to look at the strong traditions of Danish design with fresh eyes and make it relevant again to a new audience.”

Yet its not just in furniture production where creative ideas are providing sustainable solutions. For over 20 years, Danes have been actively encouraged to deposit plastic bottles and cans for recycling thanks to the Dansk Retursystem. Last year alone, dedicated citizens handed in 1.4 billion items, saving 150,000 tonnes of CO2.

With the help of specialised weaving technology, one of Denmarks most popular homeware brands, Ferm Living, has created a collection of textiles made entirely from single-use plastic bottles. Featuring a large rug, runner, mat and cushion, the Way series provides additions to any home that are not only beautiful, but practical and easily cleaned; and in a material that feels just as soft as traditionally spun yarn.

And although relatively young in business terms, LIND DNA has spent the last six years developing OEKO-TEX certified recycled leather – that would otherwise be a surplus product of the furniture, bag and shoe industry – as the primary material for its range of stylish dinner, work and floor mats.

Selling to conscious consumers in over 50 countries, the leather is granulated into small pieces, which are then pressed together with natural rubber from trees. The result is a recycled leather quality, consisting of 80% core leather and 20% natural rubber, which is stained with a water-based colour.  

From the beginning, my ambition for LIND DNA was to inspire consumers and rethink interior design products from an ecological perspective,” says founder and designer, Preben Lind.

But what if you’re looking to sustainably upgrade a larger area of your home, and not wanting to waste time, resources, materials or money? Thankfully, the Danes have thought of that too.

For more than 120 years, Dinesen has been a leading manufacturer of bespoke wooden flooring. From exclusive private homes, must-visit galleries, Michelin starred restaurants and even royal palaces, it’s passed down a respect for nature over four generations.

 

Sourcing its wood by the principles of dauerwald” – an approach that sustainably manages and maintains the forest structure – means that every tree Dinesen uses is harvested at its optimum size, whilst smaller trees are left to grow to their full potential naturally.

But what about the offcuts? Well, you make a designer kitchen with it, of course.

Reform has led the way in contemporary kitchens for the last five years. Working with some of the worlds leading architects and designers, including Bjarke Ingels Group and Norm Architects, it create sensational spaces to cook, dine and live in, using Ikea cupboards and drawers as the framework on which to build. (And no, of course we couldn’t make it through a feature about Scandinavian furniture design without mention of Ikea. Thought not, perhaps, in the way you might think.)

As you would expect, Reform’s long-held wish to offer a sustainable kitchen saw it join forces with Dinesen and Lendager Group – one of the worlds top architecture firms, specialising in sustainable buildings and the circular economy – to create the UP kitchen.

Made from the high-quality surplus that is left over from the floors Dinesen has supplied, and inspired by classic Danish craftsmanship, the reclaimed Douglas Fir boards vary in width to ensure minimal waste. The fronts are then finished with either light or dark oil, bringing out the unique nature of the material. 

Todays pervasive throwaway culture isnt just deeply unethical; its painfully

illogical” says Reform’s founder and CEO, Jeppe Christensen. When you can choose to make the most of your materials, and use everything at your disposal, it makes no sense to throw away functioning items.

Ultimately, our aim is to make sustainability and business come together by integrating smart, sustainable practices into our production model.”

So, is this the start of a sustainable revolution? Lets hope so.

As positive role models for a brighter and more responsible future, Danish designers prove that new ways to furnish our homes are possible. Empowered by ideas and driven by a desire to create something special, good design that’s made to last can change the world.

After all, we shape our homes, but our homes also shape us and the world around us.