By ADRIAN TAHOURDIN
We’ve all become familiar with the concept of Scandi noir. But let’s not forget Scandi design, something else for which the Nordic countries seem to have an especial talent – and I’m not just talking of the crowd-pleasers Ikea.
The Times earlier this week ran an obituary of Jacob Jensen (below), who has died at the age of eighty-nine. Jensen was a designer who worked for the Danish firm of upmarket manufacturers of music systems, Bang & Olufsen – “By appointment to the Royal Danish Court”. The obituarist described Jensen as “arguably the greatest exponent of Scandinavian slick-tech”, which is nicely put.
Speaking as one who inherited a 1970s Bang & Olufsen music system I can concur. They are things of beauty (and I regret that I simply don’t have the space at home to set it up; there it sits in the loft, unused, for me to occasionally go and gaze at and purr with pleasure). The combination of wood with a black metal front (dazzlingly lit up when switched on) is striking in its simplicity; minimalism as an art form (as in the image at the top of this post).
But Jensen didn’t just design hi-fi systems. “Over half a century, [he] would design more than 500 products in his Jutland retreat, including the first touch-button telephone . . . which has been cited as a timeless, and much plagiarised, design classic.” I’m thinking also of his alarm clocks – simple, utilitarian objects, but beautiful too.
An interesting fact Jensen’s obit revealed was that the Nazis burnt down the Bang & Olufsen factory “in an act of revenge because of its refusal to co-operate with the occupiers”. The factory was rebuilt after the war, initially producing electric razors before moving on to more sophisticated products.
I sense that the hi-fi systems the firm brings out now are too minimalist and space-age to please the eye to the same extent, as well as no doubt being eye-wateringly expensive – I've only looked briefly. Maybe the 70s were Bang & Olufsen’s heyday. Either way, I feel very fortunate to have one.