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Episode 9

My only sad memory about Denmark. The cupboard I ended up bidding on twice.

Kaare Klint
Cupboard for six people, 1930.

Published in 1927 and manufactured three years later as the world’s first storage furniture based on the “concept of analysis.” Designed in two versions for a family of four and a family of six, it was developed by closely studying and analyzing the types, sizes, and quantities of tableware used by families. When the sliding doors are opened, trays fit into finely pitched grooves, allowing adjustment to the exact height of the tableware, eliminating wasted space. Only a few units of the six-person model were produced, making it extremely rare.

An exceptional piece in the history of modern design, which I won at a Danish auction around 1985.

The first piece I acquired around 1985 was the four-person version of this cupboard. Only about 70 pieces of the six-person model were made in 1930, making it very rare. Additionally, its excellent functionality based on the unprecedented “concept of analysis” was why I felt I had to have it. It was designed to accommodate all everyday tableware, such as bread plates, dinner plates, and wine glasses, in the minimum space possible. The deep trays come with partition boards that allow dishes to be stored without gaps. Consequently, it had about twice the storage capacity of ordinary cupboards of the same external dimensions at that time. This concept became the foundation of functional Danish furniture thereafter. It is noteworthy in the history of modern design, and its influence spread both domestically and internationally, as evidenced by Adolf Schneck in Germany adopting the same idea in 1932.

The cupboard I won, along with seven chairs I acquired at the same time, was stored with the usual local transport company. I had an agreement to send everything I purchased to this company, which would ship them once a 20-foot container was full. The shipping cost, including fees, was about 1 million yen at the exchange rate at the time, adding significantly to the purchase cost. After I managed to send the money, the container arrived. When I opened it to check the contents, the cupboard and the seven chairs were missing.

The structure allows trays to be lowered onto a sliding table below for easy access to tableware.

Despite my best efforts, they were never found.
They were probably stolen.

I was shocked and immediately contacted the company, but they said, “We don’t know.” Even when I directly asked President Peter, who I have known for a long time, he only replied, “I don’t know.” How could this happen with a company that many Japanese vintage shops also used? I then went to the Danish embassy in Tokyo and explained the situation, but they said, “As an embassy, we can’t intervene in private businesses.” Friends in Denmark also couldn’t help. I had heard that some employees at the transport company, upon seeing my stored furniture, remarked, “Please get rid of this junk,” so they likely viewed even valuable research items in poor condition as mere trash. The company perhaps lacked a cultural appreciation. Naturally, I ceased dealings with them after this incident.

Among the chairs that disappeared with the cupboard were an armchair by Ole Gjerløv Knudsen and a chair by Kaare Klint, which served as the prototype for the church chair he designed for the Grundtvig Church. These items have never appeared at auction since. Encounters with items are once-in-a-lifetime; there’s no guarantee they will be listed again. Even mass-produced items are lucky to be caught by my extensive network, and once missed, they rarely come back. That’s why I’ve insisted on acquiring items at the moment, even though layaway or installments. Denmark is my main research focus, and despite a long relationship with the country, this incident remains my only sad memory.

While crying myself to sleep,
“Let’s look for it again” in my mind.

Such painful experiences occasionally occur in a long collecting and research career. Most of the time, there’s no choice but to accept them. “Accept” is a unique term, implying crying oneself to sleep while soaking the pillow (laughs). My only solution to such anguish is “time.” Common stress relief methods don’t help me at all. Incidentally, I almost never go to bed thinking, “Today was fun!” (laughs). I always fall asleep pondering difficult problems. Even then, despite the grief, I resolved to search again.

My second chance to bid came quite soon. This time, the items was six-person model, likely produced in only about five units. The material was Cuban mahogany, now banned under the Washington Convention. I immediately joined the auction and won it on my second attempt. I wonder if I should consider myself lucky to have acquired an even rarer piece (laughs). It was made by Rud Rasmussen, Denmark’s oldest furniture manufacturer (now acquired and no longer exists). The guestbook in their showroom included the names of American presidents and Japanese prime ministers. Their brochure boasted, “Danish Furniture Classics,” proclaiming their furniture as the best in Denmark.

The cupboard reflects the influence of “Japanism,” the craze for Japanese art and design in late 19th-century Europe, evident in the handles on the sliding doors and side panels. At the exhibition where it was presented, Japanese lanterns were used in the display. It’s now in my home dining room, adorned with a Hakata doll, creating a Japanese-style ambiance. I appreciate its slightly classical elements. As I age, I’m drawn to timeless, modern yet classic items, rather than chasing trends.

Left: The only Japanese-style corner in the Oda residence. Next to it is the dining set PK54 and PK9 by Pour Kjarholm. / Right: This chest has a handle that is very similar to Japanese costume chests.

Kaare Klint’s other significant research contributions.

In 1927, the furniture course was established in the Department of Architecture at the Royal Danish Academy. Klint became the head and conducted numerous studies, such as “functional beauty,” combining functionality and aesthetics. For example, he established the concept of “redesign,” combining functionality and aesthetics. For example, he established the concept of “redesign,” simplifying overly ornate custom-made chairs to fit modern life by stripping unnecessary decorations. Previously, Denmark mainly imitated France and Britain, but Klint emphasized the importance of adopting good aspects and improving them. This movement introduced enduring aesthetics into Danish design. This is why he is called the father of modern Danish furniture.

Borge Mogensen, his devoted disciple, integrated Klint’s “concept of analysis” into his furniture designs. Mogensen became the head of the Danish Consumers Cooperative Society (FDB), which focused on making everyday furniture more beautiful, robust, and affordable. Many products developed there reflected Klint’s philosophy, producing excellent items. The Shaker Chair “J39,” designed based on ergonomic principles, is a prime example. Even today, when asked to name the most respected designer, many product and furniture designers cite Kaare Klint.

With over 20,000 pieces of furniture, daily items, and materials,
there are damages and losses.

Unfortunately, this wasn’t the only loss. There’s a chair that has been missing for years in the storage in Asahikawa. It was damaged when a shutter came down while moving it, breaking the armrest, and although I was compensated with a new one, it’s nowhere to be found. It’s a Jorgen Gammelgaard armchair, and I’m determined to buy it if it ever comes up at auction again. Do I keep track of all my over 20,000 collection items and materials? Absolutely. My brain is exceptionally developed only in that area. Everything else, I forget completely (laughs).

Collecting needs continuous additions and enrichment. Despite having rare pieces like chairs and sofas by Kaare Klint, I’ve had to give up on many more. There are still countless items out there that must be preserved. Although I feel I’ve done everything I could as an individual, it’s just a drop in the bucket compared to institutions like the Museum of Modern Art in New York. From here on, it’s up to the next generation to continue. The public ownership by Higashikawa is just the beginning. The significance lies in expanding the collection, utilizing it, and spreading awareness.

Left: Mr. Oda writing a 20,000-word manuscript for an exhibition catalog. With a mechanical pencil, eraser, and dictionary. / Right: It was a sunny day. “The furniture might fade,” said Mr. Oda, drawing the curtains and using the lights.

March 18th, 2024 Mr. Oda’s residence (Higashikagura)
Interviewer: Kano Nishikawa

After the interview

This interview took place at Mr. Oda’s residence because the cupboard is there. Upon getting out of my car, I saw birdhouses and feeders in the trees, with birds constantly pecking at the food. Visiting Mr. Oda’s study after a long time, it seemed more cluttered (laughs), but it remained beautiful, cozy, and quiet. All the plants looked vibrant and happy. His life, caring for both living beings and objects, feels like an integral part of the Oda Collection. After the interview, Mr. Oda saw me off, immediately surrounded by birds. I remembered his words, “Time decreases, while physical ailments increase,” with a slightly bittersweet feeling as I drove away.

Copywriter Kano Nishikawa
After working at a design office in Tokyo and Sapporo, I started working as a freelancer in Asahikawa in 2001. Until now, I have been involved in the production of advertisements for local companies and organizations, including Asahikawa Furniture. I have known Mr. Oda for about 30 years through my work.

When Mr. Oda whistles, chickadees and great tits gather and peck sunflower seeds from his hand.

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Life at Oda’s Residence — 織田邸の暮らし

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織田憲嗣氏に聞く思い出のコレクション12

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Life at Oda’s Residence

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A collection of memories by Mr. Noritsugu Oda 12

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