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A designer breaking the rules

Fondly known as the “grande dame of Danish Design”, Nanna Ditzel (1923–2005) is considered one of the most influential Danish designers of the 20th century, whose style never stopped evolving throughout her more than 60-year career. Celebrating the 100th anniversary of Ditzel’s birth, Fredericia pays tribute to this pioneering woman and our former main designer, honouring her collected oeuvre and showing a remarkable world citizen. A woman who challenged the comme il faut of design and succeeded in leaving an enduring dash of poetic lightness and artistic innovation in the Danish design tradition.

Nanna Ditzel has deservedly positioned herself in the history of design due to her many striking and innovative designs across centuries and disciplines.

Being a generation after legendary architects and designers like Børge Mogensen and Hans J. Wegner, Ditzel also studied under the master architect and designer Kaare Klint at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts after graduating as a cabinetmaker and while studying as a furniture architect at the School of Arts and Craft. Even though schooled by Klint and his modern functionalism, Ditzel quickly broke out of the strict and formal design rules going for poetic and sculptural shapes rejecting the “masculine” ideals in favour of softness and rounded shapes. Experimenting with intense colours, new materials and the norms of space and design, she was challenging traditional thinking with her prolific output throughout decades. Leaving a clear mark on both private homes and public spaces and making her a distinctive voice and one of the most accomplished Danish designers spanning over 60 years as a designer from furniture and jewellery to silverware, glass and textiles being the first woman to design for Fredericia, Kvadrat and Georg Jensen.

In a strongly male-dominated furniture industry, Ditzel claimed her place. Together with her fellow student and later husband, Jørgen Ditzel, she already participated in the Carpenters Guild’s annual exhibitions during her studies as a furniture architect at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts. After graduating in 1946, they establish their own design studio. Ditzel challenged the design orthodoxy and became a leading figure in the renewal of Danish design and the functionalist design traditions in the 1960s. As part of the new generation, including her husband and Verner Panton, they all distanced themselves from the general perception of good taste in Danish design, creating avant-garde furniture as space-forming architectural elements. Demanding imagination and vision, Ditzel’s designs were sculptural, experimental, and organic, with nature being a continuous source of inspiration.

When Nanna’s long-time husband and design partner, Jørgen Ditzel, passed away, she reinvented herself as a solo designer exploring new materials and designs. In 1968 Ditzel diversified again when she moved to London. While running her design studio, she also ran the acclaimed Hampstead store Interspace gallery with her second husband, furniture dealer Kurt Heide, owner of the eponymous design shop Oscar Woollens on Finchley Road. Being a first mover importing international design, Interspace was a gathering place for global design names.

After almost 20 years of living in London, Ditzel moved back to Copenhagen in 1987 after the death of her second husband. In 1989 Ditzel began working with Fredericia entering a new chapter of her career with technically sophisticated furniture. Her openness to experimentation and uncompromising design led to various innovative pieces as designer at Fredericia. Several pieces, such as the Bench for Two, Butterfly Chair and the Trinidad Chair, quickly received global recognition due to their visually unconventional look, poetic sense and highly technical solutions, opening new shapes in wood and plywood, leading her to become a massive inspiration for the new generation of Danish designers.

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