Jens Risom designed the first Knoll chair in 1941 and is credited with blending traditional Scandinavian values and flair post-war America's furniture design. With beautiful curves and strikingly well-defined angles, Risom set the standard for the Knoll chair we all know today as a classic example of beauty and utility.
An remarkable designer whose work is now an icon, Jens Risom officially became Sir Jens Risom, in 1996, when he was knighted by Queen Margrethe of Denmark.
Born in Denmark in 1916, Risom received his education in his homeland at the Krebs' School, St. Anne Vester School, University of Copenhagen and Copenhagen’s Kunståndvaerkerskolen, where he studied furniture design under the esteemed craftsman, Kaare Klint . Largely influenced by his father, an accomplished architect himself, Risom set out to find his own path as a designer.
In 1938, Risom immigrated to the United States to further his studies of furniture and design.
Unfortunately, like many immigrants, he soon found there was no real potential in his field. Instead, Risom was set on the path of textile design through a meeting with Dan Cooper, the fabric and interior designer at the Museum of Modern Art. Perhaps eager to find a steady occupation or perhaps purely by inspiration, Mr. Risom created his own textile design solely for presentation to Cooper.
It is here that he found his first freelance work as a textile designer.
Risom's career gained speed from there – work became steady. He was asked to design furniture for a model house built on a terrace at Rockefeller Center overlooking Fifth Avenue. Collier’s House of Ideas featured Risom’s furniture, and transformed him into a professional in the eyes of the design world.
In 1941, Risom made a move to transform his career forever – he met with Hans Knoll. Hans Knoll was more than a furniture manufacturer in need of an innovative designer – he, too, was ambitious and looking to find his niche. Together they set out on what became a three month road trip in search of inspiration; seeking out modern architects and designers to establish an identity and market for their future product line. Risom, credited with designing the first Knoll chair, created 15 out of 20 chairs of the first product line.
Soon after this success, war followed and pulled Risom away from his career. He served overseas through the remainder of the war, returning to his wife, daughter, and a freelance career when he returned to America. By this time, Knoll had changed its name, and Risom was determined to strike out on his own, forming Jens Risom Design (JRD) on May 1, 1946.
JRD quickly became a well-known name in furniture, relying solely on its reputation and branding. Not only was his furniture modern and bold, but his advertising efforts and the quality of his furnishings were well-known and drove expansion for his furniture line. JRD quickly began to sell overseas with trusted manufacturers.
In the 1960's, JRD was big; and Risom was no longer interested in overseeing the operations, intending on returning back to working and guiding design and collaborating with architects. He sold to Dictaphone, who ended up discontinuing production shortly after. Fortunately, he continued working as a freelance designer, working for Howe Furniture Company, Do-More, Ralph Pucci, and Gaylord.
Throughout his career, he has received many architecture and design awards, including his Knightship. His chairs are in permanent collections of museums across the United States, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York.