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Kay Bojesen 1886 - 1958

Kay Bojesen 1886 - 1958

 “Great design is something that everyone is entitled to”. 

This was the philosophy of one of Denmark’s favourite sons.

Kay Bojesen (1886 - 1958) was a Danish designer known and loved for his functional, simple and aesthetic designs. He grew up in a creative home and this shaped his thinking- he considered himself a craftsman, not a designer. Bojesen believed that things weren’t supposed to be drawn; they were shaped in order to work and perform, to hold and to last.

Young Kay started his training in a grocery shop, but was offered an apprenticeship at Georg Jensen’s newly established silversmith. He graduated after completing his apprenticeship at a time when fashion called for Art Nouveau designs with hammered surfaces. However, Bojesen’s eye for form and function made him responsive to new trends. He was fascinated by the clean, smooth surfaces of the silver, where the material and its reflections were decoration in themselves. 

In 1938, Kay Bojesen launched the ultimate cutlery series in silver, crafted out of the belief that cutlery was a tool that shouldn’t steal the scene at a table setting. All his pieces of cutlery were created with soft and harmonious shapes, designed to fit the human hand and mouth. In 1951, this silverware took the first prize at the world exhibition in Milan, and was therefore named “Grand Prix”.

In 1952, Kay Bojesen was appointed Purveyor to His Majesty the King of Denmark ‘for long and regular trade with the Court’. His Grand Prix cutlery was used to set the tables in Danish Embassy residences around the world, and therefore prides itself with the rare title “Embassy-Cutlery”.

Kay Bojesen’s legendary shop and workshop in Bredgade  

From 1932 until 1990, Kay Bojesen had his shop and workshop in the basement at Bredgade 47 in central Copenhagen, with a view of The Marble Church. The shop was a mecca of figurines, wood, silverware and  toys, and often you would find Kay’s wife Erna behind the counter. Meanwhile, Kay was in the back room coming up with new ideas and products or playing with the grandchildren on the shop floor. He was innovative and having mastered silver, steel and wood, he progressed onto lesser used materials such as bamboo, melamine, porcelain and tin. The offering in his shop was a jumble of polished silverware, wooden monkeys, rocking horses and royal guards, bamboo prams and Finn Juhl’s teak bowls, spun at Magnus Monsen’s carpentry shop across the street. 

Kay Bojesen’s famous design icon, the monkey, made its debut in 1951. Bojesen was asked to make a coat hanger for an exhibition of children’s furniture, and delighted in creating this cheeky chap. Its long arms bring the hanger down to a reachable height, and the short legs leave room for cap and scarf. 

“Don’t be timid,” Kay Bojesen said of the creative process. “There’s got to be a bit of circus in it.”

Kay Bojesen was constantly reworking his craftsmanship. He was a true pioneer of what we today know as Danish Design, always rethinking shapes, materials, and the use of objects; astonishingly he managed to put more than 2000 objects into production in his career. Despite the fact that he passed away many years ago, his designs are hugely popular today, dearly loved as iconic symbols of Danish Design.

Thankfully, the legacy of this national treasure doesn’t end there. Kay Bojesen’s youngest grandchild, Sus Bojesen Rosenqvist, born in 1963, had a natural interest in her grandfather’s craftsmanship from an early age. As a young girl, Sus worked in her grandfather’s shop, and later on she helped her father, Otto Bojesen, with the quality control of Kay Bojesen’s wooden animals and steel products. 

When Grand Prix cutlery was taken off the market in 2009, Sus Bojesen Rosenqvist decided to return to the design roots of her grandfather. Continuing his legacy, in 2011 she founded the company Kay Bojesen and relaunched her grandfather’s silver and Grand Prix cutlery in matte and polished steel. 

Little could that trainee grocer have predicted the effect he would have on the world. Unfortunately, there is no complete index covering his designs- many of them were commissioned works and therefore only made in a few copies. Unknown designs keep on emerging – designs that even Kay Bojesen’s family knows nothing of. Can you imagine discovering a long lost masterpiece in your attic?

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