My last short visit to London for the Design Festival was extremely interesting and full of nice objects and furniture. As I wrote in A Mid-Century Dutch Furniture Exhibition in London one of my discovery was the Rocket Gallery.
Although the current exhibition is about the post-war Dutch design I spotted few pieces that looked brand new even if with a clear mid-century inspiration, they were reissues of the Jens Risom 50s and 60s designs.
(U 431 Chair - Was not in production since 1959)
I didn’t know who Jens Risom was before meeting his furniture at Rocket but, now, I learnt that he was one of the most important Danish-born, American designers -as he likes to define himself- of the mid century.
I learnt about a story made of passion for good design and business, a story were the protagonists are the 95 years old -but still very active- Jens Risom and the Rocket Gallery owner Jonathan Stephenson.
Who Is Jens Risom…
Jens Risom was born in Copenhagen in 1916 and studied at the the School for Arts and Crafts where he become friend with Hans Wegner.
He had a very strong sense of business and decided to leave Denmark -where the market was too small and crowded- in 1938 for the U.S., hoping in more possibilities and a bigger market.
Unfortunately, the United States and the end of the 30s where not so open to modern design as Risom thought.
He, then, started to work for the interior designer Dan Cooper as textile designer. Thanks to him Jens Risom met many of the most important future American architects that appreciated and promoted his works.
Before starting his own company -the Jens Risom Design Inc. (JRD)- in 1946 Risom designed for many furniture manufacturers; including almost all the first Knoll’s collection in 1943, 15 on 20 pieces. The Jens Risom Design -between 50s and 60s- become the third largest furniture-maker in the United States.
…and How He Met The Rocket Gallery.
Jonathan saw for the first time Risom’s name on eBay. Looking at furniture, he stumbled upon a label under a chair: it was the logo of the Jens Risom Design.
While exploring about Risom’s work, Jonathan found out that he was a meticulous person in love with quality and functional design, like he is.
He also discovered how such a good manager Risom was, being involved in all the aspects of JRD; from the design to the production and the marketing campaigns he followed every aspect. He, then, decided to start collecting Jens Risom’s pieces.
In 2005 Jonathan contacted Risom to organize a retrospective at Rocket Gallery and he accepted saying: “England has always been very close to my heart, in part because there was always more acceptance of modern design there than here in my own country.”
The year after he flew to the U.S. to meet Risom and talk about the possibility of reissuing some of his furniture in the UK.
Although Risom received many offers to bring back in production his pieces he never found the company that could guarantee the quality that he used to offer to his customers. But he trusted Jonathan: “I am very impressed with Jonathan’s courage; he is very knowledgeable and understands good design. It is a very warm affair when you find the right people.” Risom said.
Looking for the perfect manufacturer Jonathan found the Terence Conran’s Benchmark Furniture company that he said: “It became clear this was perhaps the only company in England capable of making Risom’s furniture to the required standards, in solid sustainable woods.”
Later, Risom’s son went to the UK to check in person how Benchmark was, and he found it as the old JRD factory, just smaller.
Benchmark offered the mix of modern technologies and handcraft manufacturing that Jonathan and Risom were looking for.
In June 2010, after the 2007 retrospective, a collection of nine Jens Risom’s iconic pieces was showed at Rocket Gallery.
The collection includes an easy chair, a side chair, a desk, various coffee tables, two magazine tables and the famous Risom’s bench; made in oak or walnut. You can check the entire collection here.
I’m really glad I found the Rocket gallery and this amazing story made of love for good mid-century design. Which is your favorite Jens Risom reissued piece? Let it me know in the comments!
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Images © Paul Tucker / Courtesy Rocket Gallery, London
Quotes via MidCenturyModernist
Thanks for reading and ciao.