The island of Funen in Denmark is, perhaps, best known internationally for being where author Hans Christian Andersen was born and raised. Another native of Funen who made his mark on the world was Carl Hansen, who in 1908 founded the furniture company that still bears his name.
The company’s products have a solid reputation for matching quality craftsmanship with the tasteful practicality that Scandinavian consumer goods are famous for.
“Mr. Hansen was a carpenter,” explains Henning v.G. Rosted, president of Carl Hansen & Søn Japan. “He started his own shop, making furniture for local people — nothing fancy, very utilitarian.”
Rosted says the years just after the Second World War were crucial for the firm.
“After the war, there was renewed optimism in society — a renewed desire to explore life,” he says. At that time, the company began working with architect Hans J. Wegner, who was then young and unknown, but later became one of the world’s most well-known chair designers. Holger Hansen, who had taken over the business from his father, saw great potential in working with Wegner, says Rosted, also noting that Wegner designed the now iconic Wishbone chair for Carl Hansen & Søn.
“It’s still one of the most revered chairs in the furniture business,” says Rosted, adding that the Wishbone chair has been in continuous production since 1950.
Rosted says that what makes Carl Hansen & Søn distinct among furniture makers is that its products are not only designed in Denmark, but they are made there as well. “That’s quite rare nowadays,” Rosted points out.
Carl Hansen & Søn sells some 100 unique products. “We tailor the finishing of our products to meet customers’ needs,” Rosted remarks, “but we stay with the original core design.”
The company is now active in 40 countries. Carl Hansen & Søn entered the Japanese market 25 years ago with a wholly owned subsidiary. Japan is the firm’s biggest export market.
Like many foreign business people in Japan, Rosted says it can be hard to make inroads into this very conservative market. “It takes time to develop trust with consumers,” he observes, adding that the firm now has a very strong presence in Japan, with annual double-digit sales growth. Most of those sales come from the residential market via 160 furniture dealers, although Rosted says Carl Hansen & Søn has been putting more effort into promoting its products to the “professional” market in the last couple of years. Last year the company began an e-commerce operation, and it has a flagship retail outlet of its own in Tokyo’s upscale Aoyama district.
While the furniture that Carl Hansen & Søn makes is a bit pricey, Rosted says the company doesn’t see itself catering to the high-end of the market exclusively. “There are a lot of people who save up to buy our furniture,” he notes. “That makes sense if your aim is to have something that will last for decades.”
Carl Hansen & Søn’s profile in Japan got a major boost when the firm asked famed architect Tadao Ando to design a chair (see page 12). “We launched the chair three years ago,” Rosted says, “and the response was phenomenal. It’s now being sold worldwide as a niche product.”
In a similar vein, Rosted says that this year Carl Hansen & Søn is introducing a chair designed back in 1950 by Wegner that has never been produced before, and the firm is also launching a rug collection designed by Naja Utzon, the granddaughter of Sydney Opera House designer Jørn Utzon.
On a personal note, Rosted has lived in Japan for a total of 13 years, with his second stint in this country beginning three years ago. He says he appreciates the Japanese people’s sense of correctness and punctuality.
To stay in shape, Rosted says he and his wife make a habit of getting up early and going for a run. Although he says he’s quite comfortable living in Japan, Rosted admits that he misses Danish bread and cheese.© Japan Today