Crossing borders

Universal appreciation is a rare thing, but when it comes to Danish underdog Morten Georgsen, Designer at BoConcept and founder of Valencia-based Futhark Designs, it’s more of a common pattern.

The Danish furniture maker has come a long way from his birthplace Odense, Denmark. From being picked up at the age of 20 by Bang & Olufsen, to his decades-long relationship with BoConcept, to starting his own furniture design line, this is a story worth going back in time to understand. Fortunately, CID had the opportunity to take a moment with the designer and talk about all things from beginning to present.

“Actually when I was a kid, I think I was more interested in furniture and in design than most kids actually are. And I was also more interested in sound, and this combination of interests led me to be taken on by Bang & Olufsen when I was only 20 years old.

It was there that I worked with some of the best designers in the world like Jacob Jenson. I worked very closely with these designers, and they taught me about design. It wasn’t about just making something nice; it was also about making it functional.”

The experience Georgsen had as a young, budding designer would essentially form the basis of his design philosophy and approach. To the designer, design isn’t function or aesthetics — it isn’t one or the other — rather, design is the clever way of combining the two necessary elements.

Having worked at Bang & Olufsen for nearly nine years, Georgsen thought it was time to move on. Though he loved working with sound, he felt it was time to move towards something else, something more furniture related.

“I thought Bang & Olufsen was something very close to furniture, so it was quite natural to move into the furniture industry,” Georgsen explained.

“I got a job in a small furniture manufactory, and when it’s a small company, you need to combine a bunch of talents into one, and it showed me that I had a very good understanding of design and proportion.” After two years, the designer left his second post and founded his furniture company Futhark Designs. Simultaneously, he approached BoConcept for a potential collaboration.

“I called upon [the CEO of BoConcept] when I had my own company and he said he needed a children’s collection. And I had my son at the time that was young, so I had some idea of what children were looking for. I think this was about 20 years ago, and it was called ‘Colour 4 Kids’.”

In 1988, Georgsen and BoConcept unveiled Colour 4 Kids, which included the Xilo drawer chests and a number of other furniture pieces. It was a successful collaboration that approached children’s furniture design in a Scandinavian way, says Georgsen.

Previously, designers were creating very obvious furniture pieces for children: chairs and desks were brightly coloured with shades of pink and blue, so as not to offend socially accepted gender norms. So, the Danish designer decided to go a different route, one that appealed to a more highbrow crowd.

Georgsen explains: “It was a very Scandinavian way of looking at children; before, everything was very girlish or boyish. So I made [the collection] in Lego colours and built it with a unisex approach. Whether they’re boys or girls, the toys they’re playing with can be unisex, which is why I think it became such a success around the world, especially among intellectuals.”

While Colour 4 Kids was garnering widespread recognition, Georgsen was also building up his company with a number of pieces that illustrated his tendency towards functionality. Such pieces include a table with a handle- mechanism that allowed an extension of the table to be positioned upward or downward.

For the past 20 years, Georgsen has balanced working with BoConcept while managing Futhark Designs. Going back and forth between the two may sound exhausting, but Georgsen is adamant that this set-up has given him the pleasure of designing for a variety of clients, which broadens his scope rather than tenses the boundary between Futhark’s work and his work for other companies.

Georgsen says: “I had never tried to do something that was true to my company—I always try to do something that is true to my customers’ clients. So I have my philosophy about design, and how function should always be related to design, but that doesn’t mean it should be totally minimalistic…I don’t make something for the sake of the ornament—I do something for the sake of the function and design, and I design based on my customers. If I’m working for BoConcept, for example, I’m looking at how their customers are, and what we can do to make them understand more about design.”

For Georgsen, this element that combines leadership with teaching is an important step in designing for clients. His creative process doesn’t include total self-compromise to satisfy the client — Georgsen throws himself out there and tries to show the client a thing or two about what he thinks might be best for them.

”I would like to move people toward a better understanding of design, and what you can get out of it. [Good design makes for] a better life and I’m religious about that.”

Recently, Georgsen visited Dubai to speak at the emirate’s international design exhibition INDEX 2013 about upcoming trends and the significance of Scandinavian philosophy concerning modern interior design. To Georgsen, the Scandinavian approach is relevant to today’s global citizen, as it provides simple and sophisticated solutions for living in compact, urban spaces.

According to Georgsen, many of us live in heavily populated cities and are thus forced to squeeze our lives into small apartments. Hence, the need to suit such living conditions is a driving factor behind the designer’s creations.

And while Georgsen loves “nice” looking things, he’s also something of a problem-solver, as he’s always coming up with ways to make clients’ lives easier. Whether it’s a table with a disguised storage unit or a couch that is cleverly designed so as to maximise a room’s open space, Georgsen is a firm believer in not “converting” clients, but rather analysing their lifestyles and coming up with creative solutions that enhance and compliment their spaces.

“Scandinavian furniture is usually minimalistic with a lot of functions…When you live in a small space you have to think of all the small details like tables that can open and close, how to make room for your friends, using a sofa bed…all these things are very functional but at the same time very minimalistic. They come from Scandinavia where the living has always been simple without much room for ornaments and extras.”

In addition to speaking about the influences of Scandinavian design, Georgsen also discussed the new furniture pieces he’s recently created with BoConcept. From inspired shelving units to elegant tables, the new collection has sparked quite a lot of intrigue.

While the designer would ideally like to find new material, he admits that at the end of the day, natural materials like wood and leather are most attractive, because when you’re living the fast-paced life of the concrete jungle, it’s comforting to come home and surround yourself with a bit of earth.

As a furniture designer that has been internationally recognised and praised, Georgsen has a surprisingly humble attitude in conversation. And it’s most apparent in the way he discusses his favourite Danish children’s story known as “Clumsy Hans”.

The tale traces the journey of an underdog’s rise to royalty. Hans, who uses wit, manages to turn his life around by cleverly beating his well-educated brothers in a bid for the Princess’s hand in marriage.

“I liked the story because he is the underdog that didn’t really have any education, but he is so much smarter than his brothers. He’s very optimistic about what he is doing. He picks up the old shoe, and his brothers ask ‘what can you do with the shoe?’, but he does something with it and this process is what we should use as designers. How can we make something out of nothing?

“What Clumsy Hans is able to do is take something out of the drawer and give it to the princess, conquering the princess and beating his brothers by applying his creativity,” Georgsen passionately explains.

And it’s perhaps this connection with and sympathy for the underdog, that allows Georgsen to make brilliantly crafted furniture pieces for the global Joe who lives in a tight space, but has yet to relinquish his creativity or sacrifice his true style.