IN CONVERSATION WITH HENRIK PEDERSEN

IN MY OPINION, A GOOD LIVING CHAIR NEEDS TO BE COMFORTABLE. I WANT IT TO BE A PLACE OF RELAXATION.

Walking into Henrik Pedersen’s home confirms everything you have heard about the celebrated designer. It sits in an exclusive location to the south of Denmark’s second capital, Aarhus. And yes, it’s beautifully designed, decorated and furnished – as you would expect. But grand and pretentious it’s not. This isn’t a space designed for asserting status. Nor is it a homage to the owner’s aesthetic prowess. The space is a warm and welcoming home, made for living.

No surprise then to learn that “down to earth” is a phrase often used to describe the 51-year-old identity, graphic, packaging, furniture and lighting designer. Henrik Pedersen designs for clients all over the world, and has conceived some of BoConcept’s most-popular products, including the Adelaide collection, Monza table and the iconic Imola chair.

Henrik’s designs offer a warm minimalism; a luxury that calls to you without the needless lexicon of ornamentation and glitz. His design language is a blend of comfort, natural curves, clean lines and honest materials – honesty being one of his mantras.

“It’s where I always start. If you take on a brief that you truly hate, there are likely to be two outcomes: you will either fail utterly. Or you will succeed because you have no inhibiting emotion. But neither is fun, because then it’s just a job – the passion has gone.”

A life in design

After a few minutes with Henrik, you’re aware that the no-stress-can-do attitude that fuelled his segue into furniture design is intrinsic to his life and work. “I’m on the back of a horse, and I have absolutely no control [laughs].” He talks about the importance of not over-thinking the design process and even separates himself from his creativity. “My process is to just start. I simply sit down at my desk, pencil in hand, and the little guy inside me says, don’t worry, I’ll figure this out.” It’s clear that Henrik is applying liberal doabs of humility over the prep and theory that must underpin such a successful career. Later, he peels some of it away.
“Mind, pencil and paper and then computer. That’s my approach. The computer is the acid test, because everything can be made to look amazing on paper. The computer is where the design asks, “You drew me there, but do I really work?” and that’s a key stage in the process.”

“Compromise is invariably involved. Not that compromise or resistance is a bad thing. It helps you find the best solution. You can often encounter ten, twenty or a hundred obstacles to making a functional product at a decent price. I must always consider functionality, price, the target in the market, trends, my feelings, which I guess is a big part of what the client is paying for, plus input from engineers and craftsman. Which is why I say that design is the opposite of art. An artist is about expressing him or herself – no compromise. A designer is a facilitator – a midwife to a concept you could say.”

When asked about inspiration you get the same no-frills response that is by now expected and satisfying in equal measure. “It’s never a landscape or the colour of snow. It’s generally everyday objects: the side of a mouse mat, the fabric of a cushion. I used to write down those moments of inspiration, but now I just leave them and trust that my mind will recall it when required.”

Destined to be made

Delving into the process of designing Imola, reveals an unknown fact: “It actually wasn’t to brief. [laughs] BoConcept wanted a completely different product, a very classic living chair, which I showed them. But I took the liberty to show Imola as well, and they instantly wanted it instead. We all loved the design but I don’t think anyone could have predicted its success.” The chair has gone on to become both a high selling product and an icon piece for the brand.

“I think the success of a living chair is in the eye of the beholder. If you want an icon chair that isn’t so much for sitting, but rather a showpiece, then you will choose it for its looks. I sit in some chairs, and you can tell that comfort wasn’t high on the designer’s list of priorities.”

When asked about the life impact of designing such an iconic piece only a year into his furniture and lighting career, Henrik laughs. “There was no impact. I don’t do this for money and fame. I need to pay the bills, but my passion is creating products that can be manufactured for the right price and used by customers around the world. I don’t look back. I just want to continue creating good products.” Hearing those words from the mouths of others would have aroused scepticism. In Henrik Pedersen’s case, you can’t help but believe them to be true.