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THE HANSEN LEGACY VISITING THE HOME OF KNUD ERIK HANSEN Words: Lily Le Brun Photos: Anders Schønnemann Styling: Nathalie Schwer



he spacious interiors of Hellerup Manor House on the Danish island of Funen provide plenty of clues as to who lives here. In rooms painted ochre and red, or panelled with white painted wood, antiques and curios from East Asia and Africa are found side by side with some of the finest examples of Danish 20th century furniture. Most notable among the latter are the distinctively elegant designs that Hans J Wegner made in collaboration with cabinetmaker Carl Hansen and his son Holger: the Wishbone Chair, the Shell Chair, and the Woven Cord Lounge Chair. This late 17th century house is the home of Holger Hansen’s widely travelled son Knud Erik, the current CEO and owner of Carl Hansen & Son. As the third generation of his family to run the company, he occupies a position previously held by his grandfather, father, mother, and brother before him. He took up the reins of the family business in 2002, the same year he bought Hellerup Manor. As one might imagine, furnishing it has not been an entirely private project; the house has become a testing ground for new designs and a showroom for the company products. “I always see the furniture first in my own house,” Hansen says, “or visualise how it might fit, and whether I would like to have it here. So what we are producing is part of my own taste.” I ask him whether he believes this taste has been inherited or learned. “I think it has been sitting in the back of my mind for 107 years at least, perhaps even longer,” he replies jovially. “It’s part of the culture of our


family.” Knowledge of the company, which was founded in 1908, “came in with the mother’s milk,” he continues, remembering his parents’ conversations around the supper table. “My brother and I were involved in the business from birth.” Expectations for the two boys were very different, however. Tradition dictated that the eldest son, Jørgen Gerner, would take over the company. So, like his father and grandfather before him, he trained as a carpenter. When Jørgen Gerner eventually stepped into the role of CEO, succeeding his mother in 1988, his younger brother Knud Erik was on the other side of the world, busily climbing the rungs of a major international shipping company. Furniture was very far from his thoughts. During the course of a conversation which keeps veering back to profits and turnovers, it becomes clear that Knud Erik throve during this time abroad, enjoying the cut and thrust of international business, strategy, and sales. He was barely involved in the family company during the 21 years he was away, and never intended to take the company over. At the time Jørgen Gerner announced his intention to retire, Knud Erik was trying to sell all his shares in the family business. It was only at this point that he seriously considered the role. Knud Erik’s distance from the family business seems to have been its salvation, and not only because of his hard won business acumen. Living in Asia and South Africa had opened


his eyes to the Danish ability to furnish a house. “The houses there were so beautifully made, but inside, they were terrible,” he recalls. “They were not furnished at all in the way I would do it, so I brought my own furniture with me. People admired it.” He believes climate is instrumental in this difference. In Denmark, he points out, a good deal of time is spent indoors, “therefore our houses – the furniture, lighting, and everything – have to be special.” He believes it is vital to ensure that one’s interior environment isn’t too distanced from nature. This is one reason why Carl Hansen & Son’s furniture is all made from natural materials: wool, leather, paper yarn, wood. Many of the architectural designers that the company has worked with in the past, including Wegner, were trained principally in working with wood, and “wouldn’t dream of using any other material for furniture making.” The overall effect is vital to building a home: “Furniture, light, carpets, food, drinks, everything has to blend into each other. You have to take your time, not be moving around or jumping about, just sitting down, talking, enjoying your life, and spending time together.” When Knud Erik took over, the company employed 17 people, sold to a limited number of stores outside Denmark, and manufactured just the Wishbone Chair alongside a few other products designed by Hans J Wegner. Knowing that both the calibre of the wood and the simplicity of the designs would be appreciated in a broader marketplace, he prepared the company to start exporting internationally on a bigger scale. He acquired a larger factory, and modernised its machinery. Designs from the past were revived, including those by Mogens Koch, Kaare Klint, and Ole Wanscher, and the company began working on fresh new products with young designers and carpenters. Illustrating Knud Erik’s passion for the country’s woodworking heritage, he bought Rud. Rasmussen, the oldest furniture company in Denmark, in 2011. It’s a decision he later described as “ridiculous; bought by heart and not by brain.” As it turns out, this partnership between heart and businessman’s brain has worked well; Carl Hansen & Son now has nearly 300 employees, and exports across the world. A fourth generation seems poised to take over. Although Knud Erik has made sure that his four children have all had freedom in their career choices, the youngest two are showing interest in the company. The family home makes it easy to see why. CARLHANSEN.COM

Cereal vol 11 - Carl Hansen & Søn feature