Creating a Legend - How the Papa Bear Chair Rose to Fame

Creating a Legend - How the Papa Bear Chair Rose to Fame

As Wegner moved from wooden to upholstered chairs, he needed a partner who could meet his exceptionally high standard

Hans Wegner was an exceptional furniture designer all his life, but between 1949 and 1951 he had an incredible run. Virtually everything he touched turned to gold. In the space of just 24 months, he designed a whole series of furniture pieces that are now icons and made him the undisputed star of the design scene in Denmark and abroad. In addition to the Chair (1949), the Wishbone Chair (1949), the CH-25 (1949) and the Flag Halyard Chair (1950), these designs included one of the most glorious armchair designs of Danish Modernism, the Papa Bear.

 

Architectural Structure Provides Great Comfort

The Papa Bear is a remarkable chair in every respect. Like most of Wegner's chairs, it's a sculpture with almost ideal forms, lines and curves. At the same time it looks very light for a chair of its size and type - we're talking a classic wing chair, with a difference. Its upholstery is remarkably thin, yet so comfortable that you can spend hours in it. A striking feature are the armrests, which cantilever freely into the air and have wooden paws for you to rest your hands on. Papa Bear is one of the most exclusive designs of the Danish Modern period, which is why some call it the Rolls Royce of designer chairs.

Wegner began developing it in 1951 out of necessity. His business partner Eivind Kold Christensen was in the process of setting up a sales organisation for him, later known as Salesco, and signed contracts with no less than five companies, all of which were to produce different Wegner designs.

The upholstery was to be produced by the young company A. P. Stolen. It had only been founded a year earlier and as such had little experience. For Wegner, whose quality standards were already legendary, this could have been a stumbling block. But the owner, Anker Petersen, was an accomplished upholsterer in his own right. He had run a furniture shop in Copenhagen for a number of years and had built up an excellent reputation. It was therefore agreed that A.P. Stolen would be chosen as Wegner's manufacturer and would concentrate primarily on the production of upholstered models. But to do this, Petersen needed designs - and he needed them fast.

 

From Wood to Upholstery via Plasticine

Wegner, who had hardly ever designed upholstered furniture before, set to work with his usual precision. He modelled a miniature version of the Papa Bear in plasticine. By the time he was finished, he had thought through every aspect of the chair down to the last detail.

The cantilevered armrests, for example, make the chair as comfortable as an old-fashioned wing chair, but with a much more airy feel. The space created under the armrests also made the chair much more comfortable to use. The user was free to adopt different sitting positions. They could put their legs over the armrest or through the side.

To ensure the stability of the armrest, Wegner developed a complex frame construction in solid wood in which the rear legs merged directly into the armrest. For the upholstery, which was attached to this frame, he insisted on traditional craftsmanship. Natural materials such as cotton, palm leaves, flax fibres and horsehair gave the chair its shape and feel. Metal springs were used for the back. They had to be sewn into linen bags and attached to jute straps. Finally, the fabric was secured and tightened with twelve buttons on the backrest. These buttons not only give the backrest a visual structure, but also ensure its ergonomic shape.
However, due to the complexity of the manufacturing process, it took a whole week just to upholster a single chair. The entire production of a chair took more than two weeks, which was reflected in the price.

Nevertheless, the Papa Bear - a name given to the chair by a journalist - quickly became a trademark and a bestseller for AP Stolen and Wegner. Master cabinetmaker Ejnar Pedersen, whose company PP Møbler supplied the frames from 1953, writes in his memoirs that PP had to deliver several hundred pieces per quarter to AP Stolen's workshop in the 1950s. It was not until the 1970s that interest in the Papa Bear chair waned - which eventually led to the closure of A.P. Stolen in 1977.

Since 2003, the Papa Bear has been manufactured entirely by PP Møbler in Allerød. The production method is still exactly the same as that specified by Wegner. To this day, foam is only used in the seat cushion.

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