The timeless midcentury modern designs of Torben Ørskov
The unifying element in the classic midcentury modern design items produced through the 1950s, 60s and 70s by Danish manufacturer Torben Ørskov is their exceptionally high quality. The company's mission in these decades seems to have been to bring the best available designers together with the best available materials and production processes, and to see how far forward the boundaries of quality in manufactured goods could be pushed.
The former head of Copenhagen's design museum, the Kunstindustrimuseet (Museum of Industrial Art), Erik Zahle, wrote about Herbert Krenchel's seminal Krenit range, designed in 1953 for Torben Ørskov, in his 1963 book Scandinavian Domestic Design. Zahle said, "After a vast amount of experiment, the civil engineer Krenchel... made it possible to produce such bowls from millimetre-thick steel plate.
They are machine-pressed cold, and subsequently enamelled in black and colours. They... are acid-resisting, and can be put direct onto a fire. These bowls have no rival in mass-produced ware."
As well as the enamelled bowls, a jug, and dishes including the example pictured above left (Krenit dish, diameter 20cm), Krenchel's Krenit range encompassed a pair of salad servers (Krenit salad forks pictured above right in red and black). In designing the salad servers, Krenchel and Ørskov explored what could be achieved with the new material melamine plastic, and showed that it could be used to produce finely sculpted items of very high quality.
Torben Ørskov continued its pioneering investigations into plastics with a series of inspired design projects, including a commission for Denmark's top silversmith Henning Koppel. Koppel designed for Ørskov a jug and a bowl (the latter pictured right, this example with a diameter of 27cm and height of 14cm) of typically understated elegance. Again, the plastic was of a quality rarely seen from other producers, and even today its superiority is evident to anyone who handles it.
The same can be said of another Ørskov creation, Kristian Vedel's tactile stackable melamine dishes (pictured left), which were designed in 1953 and produced from 1960 in a number of sizes and depths, the examples here having diameters of 19.5cm, 9.5cm and 9.5cm, and heights of 5cm, 5cm and 2cm respectively. Vedel's dishes, on display today in the Kunstindustrimuseet's 20th century gallery, incorporate an exploration of the texture effects that can be achieved in melamine. While the exterior surfaces of the dishes have a dry, matte surface which resembles spun or brushed aluminium to the touch, the interiors shine like and feel like glass. The dishes' walls are thick and chunky at the base, tapering to a paper-thin lip as the interior rises in a glassy arc.
Also designed by Kristian Vedel was Ørskov's Gourmet range. This included the black melamine eggcup pictured above right, diameter 11cm, which again makes use of texture effects, and in which again the lines taper to reach a rim so fine it is almost sharp.
Later, Torben Ørskov experimented with lighter-weight plastics in Ole Hansen's futuristic Darth Vader-like Brøste salt and pepper mills (pictured left), which stand 13cm tall. But plastics were not the only material Ørskov was working with through these decades. Their painted wooden candleholders (pictured right, design Hans Bølling) have heights of 15cm and 20cm and a diameter of 7cm.
And in their metalware range, Ørskov worked with architect Max Brüel, designer of Denmark's tallest building, the Herlev hospital in Copenhagen, to produce a trio of tulip-footed brass candlesticks in 1960 (pictured left). The candlesticks, entitled Hi-Fi, have a base diameter of 9cm and their heights are 8.5cm, 13.5cm and 26.5cm respectively.
The candlesticks are very heavy at approximately 500g, 540g and 570g, which gives them great stability despite their narrow profile, and they are yet again made to the highest quality standards. The head and foot of each candlestick can be unscrewed from the stem.
The abovementioned designers constitute only a small sample of those commissioned by Torben Ørskov over these decades. Among the roll call of many other illustrious architects and designers who worked with the company through the 50s, 60s and 70s can be found Arne Jacobsen, Finn Juhl, Erik Magnussen, Jørn Utzon and Rolf Middelboe.
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