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Nanna Ditzel - Danish Furniture Designer and Architect 1923-2005

Nanna Ditzel (1923-2005) was a Danish designer and architect. She has often been called, ‘The First Lady of Danish Furniture Design’, because there were so few women working as architects and furniture designers at the time, and she was without a doubt the most successful female Danish designer in the 20th century. Ditzel was born in Copenhagen (København) in 1923.

Nanna Ditzel grew up in a very art orientated home, with her two sisters. Her father worked in the manufacturing industry, and her mother was a stay at home mom, as were most women at the time. However, Ditzel’s mother was passionate about art and design and she helped stir that same passion in her daughter Nanna.

Ditzel graduated from High School in 1942, and from there she attended the Copenhagen School of Arts and Crafts where she graduated as a cabinetmaker in 1943. The following school year she studied at the prestigious Royal Academy of Fine Arts (Det Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi) in Copenhagen, under the famous professor Kaare Klint. Some of her other teachers at the Academy were the architects Peter Koch, Orla Mølgaard Nielsen, Peter Hvidt, and the painter V. Isbrand. Ditzel would graduate in 1946 with a degree in architecture. 

Nanna Ditzel was always known for her high energy level and great self-discipline, and she displayed these character traits at a very young age. As if studying to become an architect at the Royal Academy wasn’t enough of a challenge, Ditzel was also studying philosophy at the same time. She wanted to study art history later on in life, but her dedication and commitments to designing furniture meant that she never got around to it. It was at the Royal Academy where she met and fell in love with her future husband Jørgen Ditzel. Together they displayed some of their joint ventured furniture designs at the Copenhagen Cabinet Maker Exhibition in 1945, and won the silver medal.

In collaboration with her husband Jørgen Ditzel (1921-1961) they began designing silver jewellery in the 1950 for the famous Danish silversmith ‘Georg Jensen’. The jewellery they designed was very successful. Their jewellery designs were very modern and unique when they were released. It has been said that their jewellery designs would almost melt together with the curves of the human body, instead of standing out as something cold and metallic. In 1956 they jointly received the Lunning Prize (Lunningprisen) in recognition of their jewellery designs.

During this same period they were also designing furniture and textiles for the Danish company ‘Unikavæv’. The furniture they designed for ‘Unikavæv’ also received much success and they in 1951, 1954 and 1957 they won the silver medal at the Triennalerne furniture design competition in Milan, and a gold medal in 1960.

In 1961 Nanna was dealt a termendous blow when her husband Jørgen passed away a the young age of 40. She not only lost her husband and lover, she also lost her business and design partner. However, Nanna Ditzel was a very strong woman, and she continued designing on her own. She would go on to create many experimental and industrial manufactured furniture, textiles and artwork designs.

Ditzel was often inspired by nature, and she managed to fuse the natural shapes and colours into her fine architectural designs. She was never afraid to try different materials, and because of this her works have a wide range of appearances. Also, she experimented with very unconventional constructions, and she often used bright colours in her designs. Because of all these factors it is not always easy to identify a work by Nanna Ditzel. She was not one dimensional in her creativity.

During the 1960’s she received a great deal of attention for her furniture designs made out of polyester and fibreglass. In 1965 Ditzel designed a textile collection for the Halling-Koch Design Centre, called the Hallingdal. The collection is beautiful and it is still being produced today, however today it is being produced by the company ’Kvadrat’ in Ebeltoft Denmark.

In 1966 Ditzel met the German born furniture manufacture Kurt Heide. Heide was one of the owners of an enormous furniture store in London. Ditzel and Heide were marred in 1968 and the two moved to London. Together they started a company called ‘Interspace International Design Centre’.
Throughout the 1970’s Ditzel continued her work and she received much attention at the international level. In 1981 she was elected chairwoman for the Design and Industries Association in London. She held this position until her second husband’s death in 1985. She stepped down as chairwoman and moved back to Denmark to open her own design studio in Copenhagen. 
Upon her return to Denmark Ditzel became quite involved on many committees and boards. Perhaps she was feeling some loneliness after her second husband passed away or perhaps it was simply a new endeavour to feed her need for an energetic lifestyle. Whatever the motive Ditzel would invest much time and effort in several different forums throughout Denmark. She was a member of the board at the ‘The Furniture Foundation’ and the ‘Georg Jensen Foundation’ (1988-1990), a board member at the ‘Danish Design Centre’ (1992-1994), and finally she was the chairman of The National Arts Foundation’s committee for design and crafts (1989-1992).

Nanna Ditzel was one of Denmark’s most meaningful and innovative designers. She is known by the public for the colour combination of the textiles on the IC3 trains in Denmark. She was never afraid of walking down paths nobody else had walked before, and she was a big part of the most experimental phase within Danish furniture design.

Ditzel best known designs are the “Trinidad Chair” (Trinidad Stol) (1991). The Trinidad Chair is a combination of minimalist design, and functionality. The chair not only has a beautiful clean design it also a very comfortable chair.  Another famous design is her “Bench for Two” (Bænk For To) (1989) which would go on to win her the gold medal at the international Furniture Design Competition in Japan in 1990. Finally there is the “Ikon-Chair” (Ikon Stol) (2001), which won the Best Furniture Design Prize by Bo Bedre in 2002.

Ditzel has a permanent exhibition at the Traphold Museum in Kolding. She was very active in setting up the exhibit at the museum, and she used the museum as her refuge to experiment with different things. She painted the room displaying her designs midnight blue. She also designed several completely new pieces of furniture for the museum.

Nanna Ditzel’s designs have achieved much success throughout the world, however Japan is another story. For whatever reason Ditzel’s designs have struck a chord with the Japanese people, and her designs have been wildly successful in Japan. In Japan she is considered to be somewhat of a modern day design god. 

Nanna Ditzel won many awards throughout her career which encompassed a staggering six decades of design innovation. Her furniture, textile and jewellery designs have been praised throughout the world, and in Denmark she is somewhat of a cultural icon. In 1995 she was received the ‘Order of the Dannebrog’ (Dannebrogordenen) which is one of the highest honours a Danish citizen can receive. It is similar to being officially given the title ’Sir’ in the United Kingdom.

In 1996 she was given the title ‘Royal Designer’ by the ‘Royal Society of Arts’ in London. In 1998 she was honoured with lifelong Artists' Grant from the Danish Ministry of Culture. Finally, in 1999 she was awarded the Bindesbøll Medal in recognition of her enormous impact on Danish design in the 20th century.

In 2005 Nanna Ditzel passed away at the age of 82.

LastUpdate: 2015-04-18 17:28:49