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Verner Panton - Danish Designer Extraordinaire

Updated on September 18, 2010

I love design in general, and Scandinavian design in particular. For the past century, countless classics that are still as popular and stylish today as the day they were created have come out of Sweden, Finland, and Denmark. Just look at items like Bruno Mathsson's Jetson chair, Maija Isola's Marimekko fabrics, the Egg chair by Arne Jacobsen (1958), and Eero Saarinen's white pedestal table (1955).

Verner Panton  Photo courtesy of Danish Design Centre
Verner Panton Photo courtesy of Danish Design Centre

One of my personal favorites, Danish design's "enfant terrible" Verner Panton, was born in the small village of Brahesborg-Gamtofte in 1926 and had aspirations to become an artist even as a child. He was eventually accepted to the technical college in Odense where he studied technical engineering (with a break to join the resistance during the German occupation of Denmark in 1944). When the war was over, he completed his studies and moved to Copenhagen.

 Here, Panton studied architecture at the Royal Danish Academy of Art and met Pøul Henningsen who became one of his greatest mentors (and also his father-in-law for a short time).

 After graduating in 1951, he worked for Arne Jacobsen for a couple of years. Panton said that he "learned more from him than anyone else", but he eventually grew restless and decided it was time for a change. He set off to explore the rest of continental Europe in his VW minivan, seeking inspiration and hoping to find manufacturers and investors interested in his work.

Design by Verner Panton
Design by Verner Panton

His furniture, lamps and interiors all had that fluid, futuristic style associated with the 1960s, but his creations were very different from other Scandinavian designs. Unlike the others, he rarely used natural materials and neutral colors, but instead plastics in bold hues and vibrant color schemes.

His favorite color was red, and he has been quoted as saying "I am not fond of white. White is no colour, but rather the absence of colour. The world would be a more beautiful place without it. There should be a tax on white paint.” Unusual for a Scandinavian, for sure.

The Cone chair
The Cone chair

He returned to Denmark, and in 1955, Fritz Hansen (a famous Danish furniture manufacturer) began production of two of Panton's designs: the Bachelor chair and the Tivoli chair. But it was the Cone chair that became his big break and really propelled him into fame. He designed it for his parents' new restaurant on Fünen, and at the opening, it was spotted by businessman Percy von Halling-Koch who offered to put it into production. The chair became immensely popular and even caused scandal and controversy: Panton draped naked models over it for a photo shoot for a Danish design magazine, and in New York, it had to be removed from a shop window because of the large crowds that were forming outside.

"Fun" wall sconce
"Fun" wall sconce

Verner left Denmark in 1962 and settled in Basel, Germany, where he continued his furniture design. He was also commissioned to create interiors for several hotels and restaurants. The results were unusual, to say the least: mirror lighting wall decor, walls and ceilings covered in large, vividly colored spheres, and for two exhibits, the psychedelic cave-like "Fantasy Landscape" made out of foam rubber (see video below), wood and wool, and the "Hay Stack" room, a living room filled with bales of hay.

During this time, he also created classics such as the Amoeba chairs, the Cone chair, the single-piece Panton chair, the C1 chair and the "Fun" mother-of-pearl lamp, a style which is being reproduced as everything from table lamps to wall sconces to huge pendants everywhere today.

But by the mid-70s, his popularity started to fade and things were quiet for many years. Then, in the mid 1990s, mid-century modernism became hip again and Panton's designs were once again in vogue. Several of his designs from the 60s were put back into production. He received many design prizes in the 90s, and in 1998 the Queen of Denmark awarded Panton the knight's cross of the Dannebrog order. He was also asked to design an exhibit at the Trapholt Museum in Kolding celebrating his work - "Verner Panton: Light and Colour". The exhibit opened on September 17, 1998, but sadly, Verner Panton had passed away 12 days earlier.


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    • Cattie C profile image

      Cattie C 7 years ago from Boston

      Thank you! :-)

    • Iris Lebow profile image

      Iris Lebow 7 years ago

      Love to read about mid-century and Danish designers. Your article is quite detailed and very enjoyable.