Denmark: where I lost my colors
(This article is part of “Searching for Design” series)
People sometimes make fun of me always wearing black. They mistakenly claim it to be a “Berlin” thing. But no-one knows how to handle black as the Danes do. I got to live in Copenhagen firstly as an intern in a cool design studio. I arrived with all my colors (yes, I had that phase) but after a few “jokes” from my colleagues, I realized I have to drop the colors if I ever want to fit in.
You think you dress somewhat stylish, are somewhat “ok” looking and live in a pretty apartment? Go to Copenhagen and you will feel like you need a detox diet, a lot of hair straightener and a magical fashion makeover.
Some people claim that Copenhagen is too polished, too perfect but I love it. It makes you step up the game.
I moved back to Copenhagen after graduating from the Design Academy (NL) and would possibly move there again if I would have enough money to not feel robbed each time I buy a coffee :)
The esthetics of Scandinavian design is well known around the world and the fame is well deserved. Already in the 40ties, the leaders of Denmark understood the importance of design and made sure that it is taught in public schools and integrated in public spaces. The education of design originated from craftsmen workshops. They understood the connection between the well-being of their citizens and the comfort of their surroundings. For many years, Danes have been ranked as the happiest people in the world. I would like to think that the design has contributed to their happiness.
After half a century of design education and its presence in public spaces, Danes really have it all. The design is in their DNA and it comes so effortlessly, that even an ordinary grandma seems to have the best eye for design.
The design in Denmark was born in the craftsmen workshops and even nowadays these two practices are very closely connected. The Danes never lost their soul during industrialization and have always seen the importance of passing on the knowledge of craftsmanship. Danish design is often smartly crafted products for home with elegant lines, using natural materials and soft colors. The most commonly used materials are wood and ceramics, making sure that their natural color is maintained.
Danes can not only be proud of many renown designers who are remembered in design books, but also nowadays there are passionate, young guys & girls doing amazing work with the same design qualities in mind. Like our dear friends Fem, WOUD, Margrethe Odgaard, GamFratesie and so many more.
I believe that product design is the most dominant design sphere in Denmark making the interior a beautiful background or a display for the iconic Danish furniture and products. Danish keep their interiors very light with wood plank floors, wooden furniture with grey textiles. They are functional, minimal yet very cozy. A Danish interior is a silent support for the humans living there instead of a bright reflection of their personalities.
Copenhagen is a small city (considering it is a capital) but that makes it feel cozy and very humanistic. I believe its streets have the right ratio of the height of buildings vs the width of the streets. For example Londons streets are too wide (and crowded) for the short buildings, while some Dutch streets are too narrow for you to feel comfortable.
Copenhagen is lucky to have a beautiful historic center that didn’t suffer during the wars allowing the people to enjoy architecture from mixed times. As any modern city, it is taking care of expansion and modern developments in the outskirts of the city. A good example of Danes attention to detail is the Cirkelbroen Bridge. Imagine this situation- there is a few meters gap between two sides of a little channel. Danes wanted to connect it to have their beautiful water-side stroll expanded. In Germany they would just pop up a highly functional but “nothing more” bridge. Danes invites a well known sculpture and installations artist (Olafur Eliasson) to make these few meters into something specatular. The 40-metre-long footbridge is made from five interconnected circular platforms. Each of the irregularly sized circles features a tall mast in reference to the boats that sail Copenhagen’s waterways. The artist himself said: “The bridge’s zigzag design allows users to slow down and change their focus. It calls for a renegotiation of the public space.” I think this is a beautiful example of design thinking.
Same as in the Netherlands, you are the king of the road if you ride a bicycle. Although the traffic is slightly more hectic, with sometimes (rarely) the need to drive with the cars, bikes are the most common transportation used by all generations. The countries infrastructure is well made for bikes and the only troubles getting around Copenhagen on bike would be in the old city because of the historic stone pavement.
The public transport is a bit pricey (as everything else in Denmark) but well cared for. The metro is neat but still under development with only 1–2 routs available. It brings you to the airport from the city center within 15 minutes and literally drives inside the airport so you wouldn’t have to worry how to get to the check in tables with all your suitcases. This is such a nice extra. Also, going to the airport with metro means that you can count on arriving on time.
If you would travel to the outskirts of Copenhagen where families live, who commute to CPH daily, you would use the S-train. When I first rode it, I felt like riding some kind of Disneyland train. Huge soft seats and with loads of space. You can also bring your bikes on the train for free. This was almost always a nice ride except they have an issue of people stealing train tracks (whaat?!) and therefore multiple mornings these trains were not functioning.
Denmark is a role model to many other countries for its respect for crafts and their modern application in beautiful design work. The start-up scene is also slowly developing but the high living costs make it very hard for foreigners to start their business in Denmark. Of course, there are funds and scholarships to support innovation and creators but this helps only some people.
I have a feeling that Danes feel very comfortable in their country and while they love traveling, they are not particularly keen on moving abroad. It’s hard to blame them considering the beautiful environment, perfectly designed health and education system and even the blue waters surrounding the country.