Above Photo: Nanna Ditzel in one of her foam form chairs, 1966. Photo: Trapperum.
Considered by many to be the ‘first lady of Danish design’, Nanna Ditzel was born in Copenhagen in 1923. Growing up in a creative environment, nurtured by a mother who was passionate about art and design, lead Nanna Ditzel as a teen to the Copenhagen School of Arts and Crafts. It was here she studied in the traditional art of cabinetmaking and was the first, and for a long while, the only woman to study at the school.
After graduating from the Copenhagen School of the Arts and Crafts Ditzel entered the Royal Academy to study architecture where she was well known for her high energy but also self-discipline. While studying to become an architect she was also earning a degree in philosophy with plans to study art history later on in life but her dedication to her design kept her too busy to pursue that path. It was at the Royal Academy Ditzel met her future husband Jorgen Ditzel who was studying textiles and upholstery and soon after Nanna and Jorgen began showing at the Annual Cabinetmakers Guild exhibits together.
After the war the Ditzels established their own studio in Copenhagen and were prolific in their output, ranging from interiors, furniture, fabrics, and jewelry while utilizing a variety of materials in their works such as rattan, fiberglass, foam, and textiles. Of this period they produced works for silversmith Georg Jensen, a series of children’s furniture but their most famous designs were the rattan and wicker pieces of which the ‘Hanging Chair’ is perhaps the best known. The Ditzels had several children and had a unique understanding on designing to their smaller scale. Believing that functional design could benefit all ages, the Ditzels created multipurpose pieces that could grow with the child, like a small bed that became a couch for later use. In 1957 the Ditzels won the silver medal at the prestigious Triennale furniture design competition in Milan and the gold medal in 1960.
Sadly, in 1961, Nanna’s husband and design partner Jorgen died suddenly at the age of 40. After taking several months off from producing new works Ditzel returned in 1962 with the successful ‘Toadstool’ series, a multi-purpose, stacking stool and table for children. In 1968 Ditzel married her second husband German-born Kurt Heide and relocated to London where she and Heide created the showroom and meeting place for international design called Interspace. It was also during this period Ditzel also created her own studio, Nanna Ditzel Productions, Ltd, to sell her jewelry, textiles, and furniture. It was with this company she would create internationally successful designs that would define her later career works like the ‘Tema’ chair and ‘City Bench’, as well as several other pieces manufactured by Fredericia Stolefabrik.
Throughout the 1970’s Nanna Ditzel continued working and gaining attention internationally. In 1981 she was elected chairwoman for the Design and Industries Association in London, a position she held until her second husband’s death in 1985 when she stepped down and moved back to Denmark to open her own design studio in Copenhagen. Upon her return to Denmark Ditzel became active in design, academic, and manufacturing guilds and boards, further edifying her position as a designer of note and person of influence.
Throughout her career Nanna Ditzel earned numerous awards. In 1995 she received the ‘Order of the Dannebrog’, one of the highest honors a Danish citizen can receive. In 1996 Ditzel was bestowed the title ‘Royal Designer’ by the ‘Royal Society of Arts’ in London. In 1998 she received the lifelong Artists’ Grant from the Danish Ministry of Culture. And in 1999 she was awarded the Bindesbøll Medal in recognition of her enormous impact on Danish design in the 20th century.
Nanna Ditzel was one of Denmark’s most meaningful and innovative designers. Known for her bold use of colors as well as embracing the quality of natural materials she was fearless in both her work and in the pursuit of her craft, travelling roads unwalked previously. In 2005, after nearly 60 years of working, Nanna Ditzel passed away at the age of 82.