The Seven Chair’s Sisters
Arne Jacobsen’s Seven chair recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary, and manufacturer Fritz Hansen launched several new colors, finishes, and styles to commemorate the occasion. But what may be less well known is the Seven—also known as the Sevener, Butterfly, and just plain 3107—has scads more descendents.
Jacobsen himself made a number of one-piece laminates—chairs made of thin sheets of laminated wood—after he finished the Seven and its predecessor, the Ant. The designer continued to refine the organic aesthetic of the Seven, applying the look to many chairs he designed during the remainder of his career. Practical issues of manufacturing, compounded with an interest in natural shapes, translated to this aesthetic shift in the mid- to late-1950s.
“Jacobsen gave the Ant a narrow waist to prevent the veneers from curling when the shell is bent during production,” says architect Michael Sheridan, the author of Room 606: The Sas House and the Work of Arne Jacobsen. “And that sort of lead him to this organic shape for the Seven, which let’s face it, was in the air in those days, from Eames and Saarinen to Henry Moore and Noguchi. It was all coming out of the Surrealist painting of the 1940s.”
The abstractly biomorphic Ant chair (1952), with its pinched waist and three legs, was followed by the butterfly shape of the four-legged Seven (1955). Then, the 3102 Tongue chair (1955) arrived: a smooth curve without a defined waist. The 3105, or Mosquito chair (1955), whose top is similar to the Seven’s but narrows sharply to a long waist, was developed for the Munkegård Elementary School in Gentofte, Denmark. Jacobsen’s 3103 T-back chair (1957) was like a square-backed Mosquito with a more angular seat. And the 3130 Seagull, or Grand Prix, chair (so called because it won the Grand Prix award at the Milan XI Triennial in 1957, when it debuted) was a bentwood-legged version of 3103, with splayed wings for the seat back instead of a T shape. The 3108, which arrived in 1968, looks perhaps the most like the Seven, with its sharp curvilinear shell.
In 1965, Jacobsen stretched his laminate into a tall rectangular back with the Oxford series. The one-piece laminate for Oxford University’s St. Catherine’s College takes a cue from its intended setting: the campus’s architecture, which is marked with parallel lines. The great height of the chairs also reflects the stature of the college dons and fellows who sat in them.
Jacobsen’s easy chairs evidence his interest in organic sculptural forms as well. The 3320 Swan, debuted in 1957–58, was in planning stages at roughly the same time as the Seven. Jacobsen and his assistants, Sheridan explains, conceived of a one-piece shell for a low armchair “but it was just beyond the structural limits of laminated wood. That little 1:10 model became the basis for the Swan.” The elliptical Egg chair (1958) is a more resolved single-piece shell that does away with cutouts, rounding out Jacobsen’s aesthetic.
Few of Jacobsen’s chairs achieved the resolution and success of the Seven, whose influence on Jacobsen’s successive designs is unmistakable. “Its voluptuously austere shape is followed by the Swan and Egg, which really had no precedent in Modern furniture,” says Sheridan. “Saarinen’s Womb chair didn’t come close.”
The Ant and Oxford are the only other laminate chairs by Jacobsen still in production, says Fritz Hansen’s Jan Helleskov, and the Seven is by far the most popular: five million have been sold and 150,000 are produced annually.
“[The Seven] is certainly the seminal piece of Jacobsen’s furniture,” says Sheridan. “It combines his embrace of advanced technology with an attention to comfort and the well-being of the user that is typical of his work and of Danish design in general.”