Tuesday, January 08, 2008

Picasso in a Garage Sale

This is the story of my long relationship with a book case. Kind of like those stories (urban legends?) when a guy buys a relatively nondescript painting in a garage sale for 5 bucks and it turns out to be a long-lost Picasso or something. Except that my version doesn't involve a garage sale (I got it for free!) nor does it involve anything as potentially precious as a long-lost Picasso...

So, for years now (really, years) I have had my eye on this book case that sat in a classroom at my school. Every time I walked into the room I would look at this thing loaded up with moldering textbooks and outdated Life magazines and think, "Hey, that's nice" or "Cool bookcase."

Well, over the past year or so, as my interests in the world of modern design have expanded and my knowledge of the history of mid- to late-twentieth century design and designers has deepened I came to realize that my attraction to the aforementioned book case was due to the fact that it seemed to have that "mid-century modern" look to it. Recently I have been reading about the Danish school of design (with its emphasis on simple, honest designs, craftsmanship, and its predeliction for dark woods) and it clicked: this thing looks like a Danish designed book case from the mid- twentieth century!

Of course, I figured that this was just a cheap imitation, something that LOOKED modern but was just, well, junk. I knew the school shared this sentiment when upon returning from Winter Break I saw my book case sitting in the hallway awaiting transportation to the town dump. So, I grabbed it. As my friend Stewart and I were hoisting it on to my car the other day, I noticed a small sticker on the bottom of the book case with a large letter "R" and the name "Jens Risom". I didn't recognize the name, but it sure sounded northern European, say German or Belgian, Dutch, or...Danish?

As soon as I had the kids to bed that night I opened my laptop and googled "Jens Risom"... and this is what I read (Click herefor the entire text) -->

Score!!! As it turns out, Risom is not only an important figure in the world of 20th cent. modern design, he is the designer of one lounge chair I have greatly admired for some time now:

This is the piece for which Risom is probably best known. Liscenced reproductions of this chair are still built by Knoll and will run you about $750-$1000. (Great birthday idea for me...:-)

Here are some other examples of furniture designed by Risom:

Above and below: gorgeous examples of Risom's armchairs. Note the dark wood and smooth, rounded finish - typical of Danish modern.

This is a reproduction of two pages from the 1948 Risom catalog (via Risom.org. If you look closely at the pieces shown here, I think you will see the family resemblence to my book case. I have been unable to identify what year it is from exactly, and I would love to find it in an actual Risom catalog. The Risom.org site promises to keep posting catalogs, so hopefully in time I will get my wish.


Jen said...

Too cool for words....

Jennifer said...

Score! What a great find!

Jessica Kantrowitz said...

What a cool story, Ben! The book case IS very nice. What are you going to put on the little shelves?


Mark said...

Ben - On your Jens Risom bookcase, and your wish for additional catalog pages, let me know what you are looking for. We have not found anyone yet willing to size and then upload some of the hundreds of images we have scanned from Jens Risom's personal archives. But I can send you some of what we have if you can let me know what you are looking for.

Mark Jespersen
Boston, MA

Melody said...

This is great info to know.