NANNA DITZEL: The Traditional Design Rebel

Nanna Ditzel - Photo by Galerie Carole Decombe

Her Early Life

Ditzel posing with a stack of her child-friendly Toadstools and the Lulu cradle – Photo by Core77, Inc.

A name that soon became well known in the Danish furniture industry, Nanna Ditzel, the renowned Danish furniture designer was born in Copenhagen, Denmark in the year 1923. She got her education from the Danish School of Arts, Crafts and Design and the Royal Danish Academy of fine arts following, which she graduated in 1946 at the age of 23 years. While she schooled at the Danish Royal Academy, she met with the likes of Peter Hvit, Victor Isbrand, Kaare Klint and Orla Molgaard-Nielsen. While Nanna was still a student there, she was already showcasing her work using the medium of the annual cabinetmaker’s guild exhibits. It was also at the Royal Academy that she met Jorgen Ditzel who would later go on to become her first husband. Both Jorgen and Nanna started working together and showcasing their work together 2 years before graduation in 1944. They combined the best of cabinet making and upholstery, the former being the primary training of Nanna and the latter was where Jorgen was trained in. Their passion was similar in what they believed an ideal aesthetic design should be based on. They both desired to create a living environment that was simple and comfortable to live in with the aid of their furniture.

Her furniture

Allé Sofa or two-seater sofa by Nanna Ditzel – Photo by Decaso

As a pair, both Nanna and her husband started out in their furniture design career together and their goal was to produce furniture that could be used for dual purposes which would be the best kind for any small apartment. Furniture for example that could expand and be folded up such that it does not consume too much space every time in an apartment. The idea behind this was no doubt great and they did excel in it. This kind of furniture was not, however, the launching part of their career, seeing that they started out with furniture designs that were meant for kids but as time passed, they gradually evolved their designs to fit into almost every aspect of the modern home. Together, the couple had quite a number of notable furniture designs, among which was the tea table with a convertible top. The top of the table could be raised to be used as a tray and this was quite astonishing. The couple also designed home furniture which was a bed that narrowed as it got towards the foot, a design that ensured that the space taken up by the bed was reduced and this was done in the year 1951. Still in the same year, came the chaise lounge which she designed for Knud Willadsen. In 1949, however, Nanna designed what will eventually be termed a two-seat sofa which had a functional role as implied by its name and was also an attractive piece of furniture for the home as well.

Hanging egg shaped basket chair of woven cane – Photo by Artnet

Next was the famous basket chair in 1959. The idea was to have a chair that could hang up from the ceiling and this was one of their famous works with wicker. In the 1950s, Nanna Ditzel delved into kitchen utensils and jewelleries and it is fair to say that she did exceptionally well with both. The design for her kitchen utensils was used by the Ravnholm factory while her jewellery was rewarded by the Goldsmith’s Association with a prize. Nanna became the first woman to create a design for the famous Georg Jensen and this started in the year 1954. Among the collection of designs that were done for Georg Jensen includes both silver jewellery and wooden furniture and a host of other designs. It was around this time in 1961 that she lost her husband but that did not stop her; she would eventually create the famous toadstool the following year, which achieved great success for the diversity in its usage either as a stool for stacking things or a table that kids could use.

Her Venture in Jewellery

It is interesting to note that even though Nanna Ditzel is known for most of her jewellery works for Georg Jensen, designing jewellery for her did not start as a major focus of her work. As a matter of fact, her jewellery designing adventure started when she decided to venture into something while her kids were at home sleeping. But her designs quickly rose to fame when they came first at a jewellery competition that was organized by A. Michelsen. This was the beginning of what would eventually be a point of fame for the Ditzels as their jewellery designs would go on to win different prizes and awards.

Her Later Life

Trinidad chair by Nanna Ditzel – Photo by furnto

Following the death of her husband in 1961, Nanna Ditzel eventually remarried Kurt Heide in 1968 following which they both moved to London where their company, the Nanna Ditzel productions Ltd. was formed. Tragedy struck again in 1986 when her second husband passed away, which led Nanna to relocate back to Denmark to continue with her designs. She continued with both furniture and jewellery back in Denmark with the Trinidad chair which was very well received in 1993.

Main Works

‘Butterfly chair’, 1990 – Photo by Artsy

Nanna no doubt had a lot of major works in her lifetime of both furniture and jewellery designs but among these, some were most notable and led to her fame in the Danish design culture. The Trinidad chair, the butterfly chair, the children’s highchair, the bench for two, the toadstool and table, nanny rocking chair, the lulu cradle and the hanging egg chair where no doubt among some of her main works till date.

Her Awards

Nanna Ditzel designs won her a lot of national and international awards. This is such that her work still remains in different world exhibitions till date. In 1954 and 1960, she won silver and gold medals at the Milan Triennale and together with her first husband in 1954, she also won the Lunning Prize. Another notable award was in 1990, where she won the gold medal at the International Furniture Design Competition. She became a Knight after the Order of the Dannebrog, Honorable Royal Designer in 1996 and in 1999, she was rewarded with the Thorvald Bindesboll Medal.