Dansk Designs - sounds pretty Danish, right? Dansk literally means "Danish" in Denmark's native language. Plus, most of the Dansk Designs collection ( a staggering 4,000+ pieces by some estimates) were created by a Danish designer: Jens Quistgaard. Yet the company's origin was firmly rooted in the United States. Danish creativity and design paired with American production and marketing created one of the most iconic mid-century modern brands in the world.
Source: The Austin American, Feb. 28th, 1960)
Jens Harald Quistgaard was born in Copenhagen in 1919. Right in his mother's kitchen, Quistgaard honed his artistic talents. As a boy, he crafted knives, ceramic pieces and even jewelry. He learned from his father, a carpenter, as well as local craftsmen. By the age of 15, a set of Quistgaard's hand-forged knives were on display at the Charlottenborg Palace Museum in Copenhagen.
Quistgaard still had a way to go before crafting his now-iconic pepper mills and wooden trays. He studied under the famed silversmith Georg Jensen and then the silversmith Just Anderson. His work became increasingly sculptural, transforming everyday items into works of art.
(Side note for the history enthusiasts: Quistgaard's training seems to stop altogether in the early 1940s. While there are few details, this is when he was active with the Danish Resistance during World War II.)
Following World War II and into the early 1950s, Jens Quistgaard won several awards for his work. Most notable was being awarded the gold medal at the Milan Triennial, an international exhibition of art.
(Dansk Designs Exhibit at Herning Museum of Contemporary Art. Source: Artsy.net)
In 1954, an American businessman named Ted Nierenberg toured the Danish Museum of Art and Design with his wife Martha. They saw some of Quistgaard's work on display in the museum: A cutlery set made from stainless steel with teak handles. They got in touch with Quistgaard right away with an interest in mass production. Initially, Quistgaard refused. He believed that his work could only be hand forged, not mass produced - although he was quickly convinced otherwise.
Together, Nierenberg and Quistgaard formed Dansk Designs. By 1956, the now-famous Fjord Flatware line was being sold in American stores. The success of Fjord Flatware was followed by Quistgaard's Kobenstyle range of enameled steel saucepans.
Source: Lansing State Journal (August 14th, 1958)
Dansk Designs grew rapidly, offering countless products for the home. Just like the name intended, Dansk Designs became ubiquitous examples of Danish Modern Design in mid-century America. Quistgaard was the head designer for three decades, creating thousands of designs ranging from brass candlesticks to silver cutlery and staved teak serving utensils.
Quistgaard, and Dansk Designs, are best known today for their wooden kitchen, dining and serving items. If you spot a wooden Dansk ice bucket in the wild, snatch it up! While most run around a few hundred dollars, they are incredibly popular around the world. The same is true for Dansk wooden trays, serving bowls, utensils and iconic pepper mills.
Pepper mills, in particular, are serious collector's items. There is even a book written about them called Danish Pepper: Jens Quistgaard's Teak Pepper Mills. At an average of $70+, a vintage Quistgaard pepper mill might be pricey, but it's also a relatively inexpensive way to bring mid-century modern and Danish design into a prime position in the home. What other MCM pieces do you use multiple times per day? Practical and beautiful - that's the perfect combination. Just, as it seems, was the Danish/American duo that created Dansk Designs to begin with.