Ian Schrager and Phillippe Starck are often credited as the forefathers of the boutique hotel movement, but the first design-driven hotel was actually the fruit of a different collaboration, between the Danish designer and architect Arne Jacobsen and the furniture manufacturer Fritz Hansen, who were tasked between 1956 and 1960 with the creation of the SAS Royal Hotel in Copenhagen. Commissioned by Scandinavian Airlines to create a Danish design showcase to welcome foreign visitors, Jacobsen designed every aspect of the hotel, from the grey glass façade down to the stainless-steel cutlery in the restaurant.
“The act of creation is equally exhilarating, whether one is working on a teaspoon or a national bank.”
But the aspect of the hotel that made arguably the biggest global impact were the chairs in the lobby—the Egg™, the Swan™, and the Drop™ chairs, designed by Jacobsen for Fritz Hansen in 1958. Influenced by the designs of Charles and Ray Eames, the rounded, minimalist steel-frame-and-fabric designs came to exemplify not only Danish Modernism, but the international modernist aesthetic more broadly. Today, the Egg™, the Swan™, and the Drop™ and their innumerable knockoffs and imposters are ubiquitous in boutique hotels and other design-driven environments throughout the world.
So who was Arne Jacobsen? The son of a Jewish safety pin seller, he was born in Copenhagen in 1902. While studying at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Jacobsen was exposed to the work of Le Corbusier and, on a trip to Germany, he encountered the rationalist architecture of Bauhaus pioneers Mies van der Rohe and Walter Gropius. Their work heavily influenced Jacobsen’s early career, in functionalist constructions like the Rothenborg House, a modernist private home in Klampenborg, just north of Copenhagen, and the geometric kiosks and blue-striped lifeguard towers at Bellevue Beach.
During the interwar years, Jacobsen established himself as a leading proponent of the International Modern Style. It was also during this period that he began a lifelong collaboration with Fritz Hansen. Forced to enter exile after the rise of Naziism, Jacobsen returned to Denmark after the war and entered his most experimental phase with projects such as the Rødovre Town Hall, noted for its central staircase, suspended from the roof on orange-red steel rods, and the Munkegaard School, consisting of pavilions arranged in a grid system connected by glass corridors.
Then came the SAS Royal Hotel commission, which Jacobsen and Fritz Hansen completed in 1960. It was one of Jacobsen’s last projects before he died unexpectedly in 1971. The SAS Royal has since been renamed the Radisson Blu Royal Hotel and in all but one room—number 606, aka The Arne Jacobsen Suite—his work has been replaced with mass-produced fabrics and furniture (hence the hotel is frequently referred to as his “Lost Gesamtkunstwerk”). But Jacobsen’s furniture designs live on.
Now, in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Egg™, the Swan™, and the Drop™ chairs, an exhibition titled Timeless Design: A Fritz Hansen 60th Anniversary Collection in Partnership with Design Hotels™ will take place from March 12 to April 4 in three cities throughout Asia—Tokyo, Bangkok, and Singapore—where Fritz Hansen will debut a new exclusive, limited-edition collection of the Egg™, the Swan™, and the Drop™ in Pure leather, Sera fabric, and 23-karat plating.
The Tokyo event will take place at Trunk Hotel and include an installation in collaboration with Nicolai Bergmann, a floral artist who revolutionized Tokyo’s flower world with his impossibly pretty and original Flower Boxes. For the Bangkok event, The Sukhothai will showcase a design concept by innovative architect and founder of VaSLab Bangkok, Vasu Virajsil, while the Singapore show will take place at The Warehouse Hotel under the direction of Chris Lee, a multidisciplinary designer and the creative director of Asylum selected by Design Hotels as one of this year’s Influencers (more on that forthcoming). Click here to find out more or visit our registration page to RSVP.