Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Danish Modern Mid Century Modern Teak Bowls and Home Decor - Design, Care, History and Shopping Tips

Vintage Teak Bowls Trays and Housewares

A Profile of Vintage Danish Modern


Mid-Century Modern Offerings

Want to begin accumulating vintage Danish Modern and Mid Century teak for your home?  Or perhaps you are an avid collector seeking information?  While vintage Danish Modern Teak furniture costs are soaring, vintage teak wooden serveware and housewares, such as salad bowls, cheese boards, salt and pepper grinders and sets, trays, as well as candlesticks remain affordable.  Some vintage offerings are down-right inexpensive.  If you are willing to put a little time and effort into refurbishing many vintage Danish Modern pieces can be picked up for a song.

These vintage "touches" will help transform your contemporary modern minimalist pieces and deliver the authentic vintage vibe you seek.  For beginning collectors, I recommend creating a purchasing plan which includes creating a wish list of items you would like to use daily and those which you want to purchase as an investment.  Learning a little history, design principals, and understanding the vintage market prior to making purchases will ensure you get the most value for your money.

A little Danish Modern History

From a design aspect the Danish Modern movement began in the 1920's; but really took hold in the early 1930's continuing through World War II.  It has been said during the depression years and World War II into the post war era, European and Scandinavian designers took to their roots in both design principals as well as materials.  These new designs, born of frugality, honored the past but perhaps more importantly displayed an awakening spirit of hope for the future.

In Danish Modern furniture design, prior to using teak, many Scandinavian designs were made of local woods such as pine.  An American aesthetic for darker woods influenced Danish Modern designers.   Additionally, the advent of new post war glues and technologies such as bent plywood (which made for a stronger union of wood and metal) opened the door to exciting new affordable designs.  Once Danish Modern designers discovered teak, known for it's attributes of being a hard, lightweight and water resistant wood,  Denmark quickly became the largest worldwide importer of teak in the 1950's.

High consumption combined with poor forestry and plantation conservation practices, during the thirty year period between 1950 and 1980, accounted for the decline of teak resources worldwide and the consequential spiraling cost.  In the early 1980's many countries instituted policies to improve and maintain teak conservation practices.  Exports became regulated and plantations were governed to assure teak remained as a sustainable resource.  Why is this important?

Availability impacted both price and design.  As you will learn the age of teak importers, not coincidentally, ended in the 1980's. During that 30 year period of time not only product design but also manufacturing practices changed in order to remain competitive in the market.  Many Danish modern designs which heretofore were executed in Denmark with imported teak, were now manufactured in the country of origin.  Indeed, designs were changed to provide a more economical use of wood.  A good example of this is evidenced with the evolution of the country of manufacture of Dansk bowls; early bowls were manufactured in Denmark but quickly began being produced countries like Thailand and Malaysia. Indeed, even now, global teak availability and prices are impacted by the practices during this thirty year time period. Hence, making  the purchase of vintage teak products is not only fun but also affordable and a "green" practice.

When considering mid century teak salad bowls, serveware, candlesticks, toys and trays for purchase you owe it to yourself to 1.) know a little history, 2.) define your budget and, 3.) understand basic construction and design in order to maximize your options.

A Bit of History - Vintage Teak Serveware and Housewares Mass Market Manufacturers - Importers

Resourcing information for Danish Modern name designers such as Kay Bojesen, Hans Bolling, Jens Quistgaard, Richard Nissen and their piers on the internet is a fun ride and you will find rich information. Conversely, there is much less information available for mass market manufacturers and importers.  The latter being my main focus, because their products are reasonably priced and readily found online.  Take a moment to discover the mass market manufacturers/importers in the mid-century tableware and housewares game.  Knowing the names and a bit of the history will afford you many design and price options.

Mass Market Teak Housewares Manufacturers

Dansk Designs - 1954 - 1991 Formed in 1954 by Ted Nierenberg with designer Jens Quistgaard.  In 1974 Dansk removed all designer references and changed their back-stamp to Dansk International Designs LTD. Dansk was purchased in 1985 by Dansk Acquisition Corp and was later purchased by Brown-Forman Corporation, under it's Lenox brand umbrella.  In March of 2009 Clarion Capital Partners LLC purchased all the assets of Lenox from the Brown-Forman Corporation renaming the company Lenox Corporation which has kept the Dansk product name.[1]  There is abundant information about both Dansk and Jens Quistgaard online which I will not further duplicate here.

Dansk Trademarks over the years.

Dansk Teak Package Care Instructions 

The following care instructions came with each wood item from Dansk Designs.
"Dansk Designs advises you to treat your wood pieces tenderly.  Wood is sensitive to extremes of temperature, humidity and dryness.  So store it in a well ventilated area away from radiators and strong sunlight."
"To keep this piece lustrous, clean it by wiping with mild soap and warm water.  Dry thoroughly.  And give it an occasional beauty rub with ordinary mineral oil."

*I would only note that today it is recommended you use food grade mineral oil.  Which can easily be found at most big box stores, as well as hardware and home improvement centers.

Buying Tip:  While Dansk was sold only first quality in the finer Department Stores, they also sold seconds and closeouts through a network of Factory Outlet Stores.  Look for tags which may show the item was a second.  Further, make there aren't unsightly knots and be sure all staves and inlay work are tight and sound.  Aging glues and exposure to water can compromise the joints and the structural integrity of your piece.

Digsmed - I spent quite a bit of time researching Digsmed as there is very little information online about this popular manufacturer.  Through researching the US Trademark records it is known Digsmed, manufactured in Denmark, was imported by The Millard Norman Company, 4688 Paddock Road, Cincinnati, OH 45229.  The Trademark available for research was the stylized Vikings helmet.

The Digsmed Vikings Helmet Trademark was filed in the United States by The Millard Norman Company on 12/30/68 and was registered on 01/20/1970, it was not renewed and expired 11/4/1992.  As listed on the trademark application the first in use anywhere and commerce date according to the records is 11/10/66.[2]

Digsmed 1964 logo.

I have seen one piece of Digsmed with a Trademark older than the Vikings Helmet which I believe was brought to the US not imported.  The information on the US Trademark application is in direct conflict with some with this as well as Digsmed products showing a 1964 copyright, ergo, one could assume the 1964 reference would have a Danish Trademark copyright.  I attempted to search the Danish copyright information, however, it can not be confirmed because their online records begin with the year 1982. Assuming those records would include active 1982 trademarks, one can conclude Digsmed was no longer in business in Denmark at that time but just what year they began producing product and ceased doing business is not known.

The designer or designers of the Digsmed line of housewares is unaccredited and not listed in the Trademark application and no further information could be found.  I should note that the designs incorporated the use of metal not only in function but also as a design element, very similar to those of Laurids Lonborg who also worked with Kastrup Holmegaard Glassworks to provide glassware for his teak condiment and serving trays.

It may be helpful for those who are attempting to date their Digsmed products where glass was used, to know the glass was produced by then Kastrup Holmegaard glass manufacturers.  The Holmegaard and the Kastrup Glassworks merged in July 1965, hereafter it was called Kastrup & Holmegaard Glassworks many glass items were marked KH.  In 1977 the Kastrup Glassworks closed and the company changed it name to Holmegaard Glassworks.

Buying Tip:  The Digsmed vintage spice wheels are a very popular, because of the high demand and relative rarity they are highly prized and priced.  Make sure the glass jars are original and not replacements when paying a premium price.

Goodwood - Trademark was owned by Julie Pomerantz, Inc., located on Madison Ave., New York, New York, the Julie Pomerantz company was a housewares - wholesale importer.  The US Trademark application shows the first use in the US as 1949. The trademark was deemed to be "dead" due to abandonment by the owner in 2001.

The Trademark was a Rooster contained within a square that was partially shaded.  Goodwood teak products were/are high quality utilizing modern shapes and design.  Packaging was designed to compete against named designers and in the gifts market.  While they were not of Danish or Scandinavian in origin, they certainly were truly born in the Eames Era which was reflected in their designs.  Goodwood was sold through fine gift shops as well as department stores.

Kalmar - 1959 - 1981 Kalmar, which may have been named after the city of Kalmar in Sweden, is another true Eames Era importer.  According to Corporation records in the state of  New York, Kalmar Designs was incorporated 05/24/1965, the corporation was dissolved on   03/25/1981 by Dissolution by Proclamation. In 1968 they also incorporated as Kalmar Imports, Inc. and again in 1979 as 5521221, Inc.

Housewares and serveware which were executed in teak and imported from Thailand; also known as Kalmar Designs Inc., the company was located in Wantagh, New York.  Although well designed and constructed, using high quality teak, Kalmar's, products were manufactured with uncredited designers. A true Mid Century modern profile sold primarily in finer gift shops.  Their audience was primarily middle class Americans who were the backbone of the housing, furniture and housewares industry during the 1950's, 1960's and 1970's.  Designs were sleek and modern influenced by both Danish and the Mid Century modern aesthetic.

Dolphin - This trade mark was owned by Lipper International, Inc. the original filing date was 05/10/1965 first use anywhere 07/03/64, first use in commerce date 07/03/64.  The Trademark was renewed as of 01/24/1987 the current status is "Expired" as of 10/27/2007 .  At this writing, Lipper International is still in business selling wood housewares to Walmart.

When looking at the date range of companies, it becomes clear that the heyday of teakwood imports ended in the late 1970's early 1980's.  Dansk Designs, Goodwood and Kalmar being the oldest importers/manufactures.  Eventually all companies succumbed in one way or another,  like the short lived Digsmed, to the overwhelming increasing costs of materials, production and shipping (keep in mind the impact of the 1970's oil embargo) combined with America's changing tastes in home decor.  

Construction and Design 101 - Wooden Bowls and Trays Basics

Knowing construction basics will not only help you make sound purchases, it will also help you understand condition issues and why care is so important to ensure your mid-century cool finds last for years.  Know, solid wood construction will out perform all others.  Once you've read this you may never look at a wooden bowl the same way again.

There are basic types of lathe turned bowl construction:  1.) Solid Wood and 2.) Staved and 3.) Segmented.

  • Solid Wood

Lathe turned from a solid piece of wood.  This is the most expensive method because it has the most waste. The best durability.

  • Staved

Pieces of teak are bevel cut glued together side by side sometimes with a solid round base (the grain of the wood goes vertically) then turned/shaped on a lathe.  Similar to barrel construction it is an economical use of wood. Good durability because the bevel creates structural support for the overall piece.

  • Segmented

Pieces of wood are miter-cut glued together making a "ring".  The grain of the wood is horizontal.  The layers of rings are glued together, creating stacks of rings which are turned/shaped on a lathe.  This is the least structurally sound and is usually only seen in ornamental bowls not intended to withstand daily use and washing.  It is the most economical use of wood as very small pieces can be utilized in the design process.

  • Marquetry - Used in Trays and Serveware such as Trays, Cutting Boards and Cheese Boards

An inlaid pattern and/or design.  It is important to know these are small pieces often thin veneers which are glued to each other and inset in a usually solid wood (not teak) base.

Condition - Condition - Condition

The enemy of wood, especially staved or segmented wood, is age combined with exposure to environmental  stress, sunlight, temperature, humidity and worse water mistreatment (exposure to the dishwasher and or immersion washing in the sink), and dryness (lack of proper oiling to keep the wood moist).

While teak is well known for it's resistance to water damage, aging glue can be easily compromised.  The more glue, the increased opportunity for damage.  Teak which has not be adequately oiled ages and takes on a grey ash appearance, easily seen in outdoor furniture which hasn't been properly maintained.  Indoors teak serveware and  housewares will also suffer from not being oiled on a regular basis.  As the wood dries it places stress on the glued joints, add too much water to the mix and you have a piece which is structurally compromised.  Joints and seams are either at risk or have split.  This causes more than mere aesthetic concerns, they can cause health concerns also.  Cracks and checks can harbor bacteria, causing food born illness.  Proper care and handling will help ensure your wood serveware is not only beautiful but also safe.

Purchasing Tips

Defining your needs and expected use for your teak finds will help you determine the best value for your money. Beginning collectors should define and list the products they would like to purchase and perhaps set a budget.  Further, deciding in advance whether you want to use a particular piece as a working element in your home or as an investment and primarily used as display, will allow you to narrow acceptable condition issues of goods on the market.

If you are willing to recondition vintage teak, there are many exceptional finds for $20.00 and under including shipping.  Reconditioning is easier than you may think.  If you are interested in learning just how easy it is to recondition teak take a look at a post I've written (as a guest blogger for another blog) outlining all information and basic techniques you'll need:  Do It Yourself - Refinishing Wooden Serveware .  Keeping costs down for everyday items will allow you to spend more for those rare and designer goodies you want!  Remember purchasing vintage is affordable, fun, green and supports small business!

Here are some of the finest vintage teak offerings for your home from my shop and other fine shops on Etsy who have all taken the Vintage Integrity Pledge!

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