Modern Furniture Designer Continues Her Family Tradition

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By Sally McGrane / Published by Dwell
Shuttling between her Paris apartment and her German workshop, Gesa Hansen strikes a balance while continuing a family design tradition.

Gesa Hansen comes from a long line of furniture designers. "My mother would take me to all the design fairs from the time I was four," says Hansen, who is Danish and German. "Furniture is so natural for her," says the German photographer Nathalie Mohadjer—Hansen’s frequent collaborator and best friend—who shot the images accompanying this story. The two met while studying at the famous Bauhaus University, in Weimar, Germany. "In school, in the product design classes, everyone asked [Gesa], ‘How do you know everything already?’"

Modern Furniture Designer Continues Her Family Tradition - Photo 1 of 14 - Danish-German designer Gesa Hansen released an Alexander Girard–inspired sideboard in 2013 for the Hansen Family line.

Danish-German designer Gesa Hansen released an Alexander Girard–inspired sideboard in 2013 for the Hansen Family line.

Wanting to strike out on her own path, Hansen, whose father is the Danish furniture designer Hans Hansen, got her diploma in product design. "I needed something new, for me," she says. But by the end of her studies, she had found her way back to furniture.

Modern Furniture Designer Continues Her Family Tradition - Photo 2 of 14 - The headboard in Hansen’s bedroom echoes the 2013 side-board. The wallpaper is from Arte.

The headboard in Hansen’s bedroom echoes the 2013 side-board. The wallpaper is from Arte.


Modern Furniture Designer Continues Her Family Tradition - Photo 3 of 14 - A Two Spheres ceiling lamp from Atelier Areti hangs above the Hansen’s dining table, which includes an inset—one side is wood, the other stone.

A Two Spheres ceiling lamp from Atelier Areti hangs above the Hansen’s dining table, which includes an inset—one side is wood, the other stone.

"I still do graphic design, but it’s a real effort—it’s really work for me," says Hansen, who moved to Paris to work for the architect Jean Nouvel. "With furniture, it’s building up in my mind the whole time, and at one point it just comes out." 

Modern Furniture Designer Continues Her Family Tradition - Photo 4 of 14 - The designer frequently travels to her workshop in Germany, where she collaborates with her team.

The designer frequently travels to her workshop in Germany, where she collaborates with her team.

Family is a recurring theme for Hansen, who launched her own line of furniture under the name the Hansen Family in 2009. Remix is a Scandinavian-influenced collection consisting of a dozen solid-oak pieces—including a slick, but comfy, felt sleeper sofa and
a teardrop-shaped coffee table. "When I created it, it had to do with the idea of ethics," she says. "Working with local wood, paying people a decent wage. I wanted to do something honest. I didn’t expect it to be so successful." But it was, winning two Red Dot awards and a
Good Design Award from the Chicago Athenaeum. It also earned a nomination for the 2011 German Design Award.

Modern Furniture Designer Continues Her Family Tradition - Photo 5 of 14 - The drawer fronts of the sideboard from the Remix collection were modeled after Scandinavian sailboats.

The drawer fronts of the sideboard from the Remix collection were modeled after Scandinavian sailboats.


Modern Furniture Designer Continues Her Family Tradition - Photo 6 of 14 - From the Remix line, an extendable oak desk based on the classic Davenport silhouette is updated with the addition of four colorful compartments.

From the Remix line, an extendable oak desk based on the classic Davenport silhouette is updated with the addition of four colorful compartments.

"I think one is always more inspired by the grandfather’s generation than the father’s generation," Hansen says, noting that both of her grandfathers worked with wood. "My father was inspired by the Bauhaus. I’m inspired by the Bauhaus as well. But what I’m really drawn to is the 1950s, the wood." 

Modern Furniture Designer Continues Her Family Tradition - Photo 7 of 14 - Among Hansen’s treasured objects are a sign bearing her daughter, Lou’s, name and a Milia Seyppel vase.

Among Hansen’s treasured objects are a sign bearing her daughter, Lou’s, name and a Milia Seyppel vase.

The Hansen Family label was born when Hansen returned to Paris after a brief, if aesthetically important, stint working in Japan. Frustrated that her designs were undergoing so many changes that she didn’t recognize them when they were finished, she decided to create her own pieces. 

Modern Furniture Designer Continues Her Family Tradition - Photo 8 of 14 - The Japanese-inspired tea bench is a new design.

The Japanese-inspired tea bench is a new design.

On a trip home to Germany, she and her father reopened an old family woodshop and recruited a team to work there. "It’s next to a stream, and the  machines are water powered. The river is crystal clear, in the middle of the forest. You feel like you’re in another time. My daughter loves it there," says Hansen of her three-year-old, Lou.

Modern Furniture Designer Continues Her Family Tradition - Photo 9 of 14 - In the living room, Hansen’s convertible Night couch and coffee table join a Black Marble rug by Suki Cheema and Slovenian Bear from Charles Fréger’s Wilder Mann series.

In the living room, Hansen’s convertible Night couch and coffee table join a Black Marble rug by Suki Cheema and Slovenian Bear from Charles Fréger’s Wilder Mann series.


Modern Furniture Designer Continues Her Family Tradition - Photo 10 of 14 - This simple desk organizer is carved out of solid oak.

This simple desk organizer is carved out of solid oak.

Now that the Hansen Family collection has taken off, Hansen travels regularly between Paris and her German woodshop. While Hansen says she is addicted to Paris for its inimitable sense of chic, she also feels that the city is conducive to her work. "I think I need Paris’s spark," she explains. "There’s this creative exchange. And it’s important to be here, to maintain those relationships." 

Modern Furniture Designer Continues Her Family Tradition - Photo 11 of 14 - Sets of these oak coffee tables are made out of the same piece of wood, so the grain continues from one table to another.

Sets of these oak coffee tables are made out of the same piece of wood, so the grain continues from one table to another.

Following her recent divorce, Hansen moved to a ground-floor studio that is just over 500 square feet. The new apartment has prompted several prototypes in just a few short months, including a dining table. "You see," she says, pointing to a magazine photograph of an early version in her former kitchen, "I just crossed the legs." Then she added a rounded marble-plate top. "I fixed it in a way you can remove it. So it’s easier for transport."

Modern Furniture Designer Continues Her Family Tradition - Photo 12 of 14 - Paired with Eames side chairs, her dining table includes two cases "to either hide or show things," she says.

Paired with Eames side chairs, her dining table includes two cases "to either hide or show things," she says.


Modern Furniture Designer Continues Her Family Tradition - Photo 13 of 14 - This wooden trunk may be nondescript on the outside, but inside it can hold a complete home bar.

This wooden trunk may be nondescript on the outside, but inside it can hold a complete home bar.

Hansen credits her apartment—along with her job as an interior designer—with expanding her material horizons. "My first collection was only wood," she says. "I’m ready to mix materials." The marble tabletop, for example, was a result of her cake baking. "I put marble on the kitchen bar because I wouldn’t need a plate. So now, I wake up and see the cake. I can cut a slice and drink a cup of coffee." 

Modern Furniture Designer Continues Her Family Tradition - Photo 14 of 14 - Hansen in the kitchen of her apartment in Paris.

Hansen in the kitchen of her apartment in Paris.

New routines such as this one have inspired Hansen’s current fascination with the idea of ritual. "When Lou comes home now, she always puts her shoes under the tea bench," a low oak piece that Hansen designed recently in collaboration with a Japanese colleague. "Her favorite place to sit is by the windows, so I’m going to make some cushions for her there."

"I think ‘ritual’ might even be the name of my next collection," says Hansen, who looks around the small but comfortable space with palpable satisfaction. "Now I just need a place for my keys." 

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