Borge Mogensen, the “Grand Old Man” of Danish furniture design, was born in Aalborg, Denmark, in 1914. His first occupation was that of a cabinet maker. He continued with this job until 1936, at which time he enrolled at Copenhagen’s College of Arts and Crafts. Mogensen also studied at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts from 1938-41.
It was during the latter part of his education that he met and became apprenticed to Kaare Klint. Klint was known for the simple, yet ergonomic designs of h
is furnishings. He emphasized quality materials and functionality coupled with exemplary craftsmanship. His works were thought to have been influenced by American Shaker furniture.
Klint’s fascination with utilitarian furniture had a heavy influence on Mogensen’s own designs. The two worked together until 1950, when Mogensen struck out to found his own art studio. Many of his pieces could be seen each year at Copenhagen’s annual Cabinetmaker's Guild Exhibitions.
Because global appreciation for modern design had not yet taken hold, Mogensen kept his early designs simple. Taking a cue from Klint, Mogensen preferred to let the furniture’s fine materials and craftsmanship speak for themselves. Over the years, he slowly moved toward new revisitations of classic themes. For example, a leather sofa that he designed in 1945 incorporated leather ties that could be loosed to drop the sofa’s sides. Four years later, he produced an ergonomic and slightly futuristic chair whose gently curved back was accented by a teardrop-shaped cutout. In 1951-53, he designed innovative interiors that challenged viewers to look at family rooms in a different way.
In his effort to solve every conceivable storage problem that a modern home might face, Mogensen undertook the ambitious Boligens Byggeskabe project in 1954. He had a vision of changing the way households viewed their shelving units. Instead of simply placing shelves in a room, he wanted to create shelving as part of the room itself. Mogensen went so far as to estimate the number of shirts and pants that a couple might need to store, and built his units accordingly.
Mogensen had the soul of an artist, but his mind was very analytical. He began to thoroughly study modern households so that he could design useful furniture for them. His analyses included measuring the dimensions of common household items and tallying how many such items the average household might own. Mogensen did this in order to design the dimensions of his storage units. The culmination of his efforts was a manual that detailed the number and dimensions of drawers and shelves that a modern family would need in order to store their most common belongings.
Between 1955 and 1967, Mogensen developed the Oresund shelving collection. This series of free-standing and wall shelving units combined the clean styles of his earlier pieces with his passion for convenient storage. The functional Oresund collection remains in heavy demand to this day.
In 1959, Mogensen produced two classic pieces: a redesigned “Spanish” chair and a set of sturdy seaside cottage furniture. His later designs revisited the utilitarian nature of his initial offerings. He won many awards during his lifetime, including the Eckersberg Medaillen in 1950 and the C.F. Hansen medal in 1972.
Borg Mogensen died in Gentofte, Denmark, in 1972. He was 58 years old.