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Master Class

Elle Decor June 2005

Master Class

Midcentury designer Jens Risom puts his signature stamp - functionalism, clean lines,and rich woods - on a furniture collective for a new generation.

'I came to this country to study contemporary American design,' says Jens Risom, 'but when I got here I realized there was no such thing.' That was about to change, in no small part because of the Danish-born designer himself, who quickly hooked up with Hans Knoll and created 15 pieces for the struggling young furniture manufacturer's first catalogue in 1942.

The armchairs and lounges, made under wartime restrictions, were constructed of maple and cedar and surplus webbing but evinced the same craftsmanship and Scandinavian purity Risom had learned as a student of Ole Wanscher in Denmark. Risom formed his own company in 1946 and eventually shifted his focus to corporate design, which he found to be more open to modernity and new ideas. Now, at the age of 88 - with his original pieces, and those of his peers, sought after by collectors willing to pay thousands of dollars - Risom has returned to domestic furniture, thanks to a partnership with Ralph Pucci. 'I met him almost three years ago at the modernism show in New York,' says Pucci, who commissioned a collection of more than 20 pieces, including a surprisingly comfortable sofa, nesting tables, an upholstered bench, and a dining table that ingeniously stores two levels, allowing it to seat 12.

The furniture is distinctly Risom but is even more refined and elegant than his designs of the '40s and '50s. 'They're not the same pieces, but they follow the same principles,' says Risom. 'For me, a contemporary design can be fully as creative as anything Mr. Chippendale created.'

By Michael Boodro