Bambi Armchair by Raastad & Relling, Norway
Bambi Armchair by Raastad & Relling, Norway
Armchair model 56/2 Bambi by Rolf Raastad & Adolf Relling for Gustav Bahus, Norway. 1954. Teak wood and natural patinated leather.
Although the name references an entire geographical region, Scandinavian modern furniture is most closely associated with Denmark. Finland’s mid-century furniture designers have also received recognition--Alvar Aalto and Eero Saarinen in particular--and Bruno Mathsson of Sweden has made a few “top ten” lists. But there is another Nordic country whose design history has gone largely unnoticed: Norway. While not as renowned as its neighbors, Norway has a proud design legacy that we will look at here, through the works of Fredrik Kayser and the firm Rastad & Relling.
Norway, Funkis, and the Struggle to Be Noticed
Like the other Scandinavian countries, Norway embraced the modernist movement that took hold in Europe after World War I. In that era, a need for the “rationalization of space” was recognized, creating a demand for simpler and more efficient housing and furnishings. A functionalistic design movement, also known as Funkis, was born, but not in Denmark as one might expect. Rather, it first began in Norway and Sweden. (Quinn, Scandinavian Style, p. 26.)
Elizabeth Wilhide, author of Scandinavian Modern Home, defines the Funkis look as “streamlined, efficient, economical and practical ” and notes that it applied to architecture, furniture, and interior design. The Funkis movement survived the Second World War, but evolved and “mutated into a softer, more individually Nordic style without losing its essential clarity or simplicity.” (Wilhide, p. 14)
By the 1950s, North Americans had taken notice of Scandinavian design, but the distinctions between the various Nordic countries had become blurred. In 1954, an exhibition called “Design in Scandinavia” toured North America. It included pieces from all Nordic countries but lumped everything under the rubric of “Scandinavian” design. In so doing, the exhibition established the notion of a singular, generic Scandinavian style “to the bewilderment of the designers” who believed each country possessed its own, unique design aesthetic. As Bradley Quinn writes:
“...the aesthetic principles of minimalism, clarity, understated stylistic features and naturalistic beauty are generally present in most of the Nordic decorative traditions, but the treatment of materials and the artistic élan vary widely from country to country.” (Quinn, p. 9)
The "Design in Scandinavia" exhibit proved very popular and, through heavy media coverage, influenced Americans looking for something new and fresh for their homes. Demand for “Scandinavian” decor increased, and department stores responded. Quinn notes, however, that stores followed the “tastes of the exhibition curators more than the design output of the Nordic nations.” (Quinn, p. 122) As far as furniture, the exhibition featured mostly Danish designers, causing “Danish” and “Scandinavian” to become synonymous in the minds of North American furniture shoppers. As a result, Danish furniture experienced an explosion in popularity that did not extend beyond its borders.
Danish designers certainly earned their stellar reputation and had not sought to outshine their neighbors. But, for a long time, furniture with the “Made in Denmark” label had a much broader appeal than anything produced in the other Scandinavian countries.
Norway, whose industries had struggled mightily after the war, became something of an afterthought during this period, known more for handicrafts and metalwork than furniture. Yet there were many award-winning furniture makers working in the country in the mid-century era. They have been highlighted in recent years by Oslo-based vintage furniture dealer Peppe Trulsen who, along with his partners, created a traveling exhibition and website of Norwegian design icons. Speaking with The Japan Times, Trulsen noted that his exhibition of vintage items includes 34 that won international gold medals, from designers who were contemporaries of Danish legends like Arne Jacobsen and Hans Wegner. In short, Norwegian designers could hold their own. Among these designers are Fredrik Kayser and Rastad & Relling, who serve as excellent examples of the country’s rich design legacy.
Rastad & Relling
Rastad & Relling, a firm that still exists today, opened in 1943. Founded by architects Rolf Rastad and Adolf Relling, the company was known for hiring young graduates of Norway’s National Academy of Craft & Art Industry and serving as an incubator for the country’s postwar furniture designers.
One of the firm’s most well-known designs is the Bambi series of chairs. Manufactured by Gustav Bahus Eftf., the chair came in many variations.