If you have had the good fortune of sitting on a recent edition of the iconic Wishbone chair, designed by Hans J. Wegner in 1949, chances are pretty good that the geometrically patterned seat was crafted by Benny Hammer Larsen, a master weaver at Carl Hansen & Søn, the Danish company that has produced the chair since the day it came off the drawing board. Larsen, who specializes in weaving the seating and backrests for all of the Wegner designs that Carl Hansen & Søn manufactures, has such an abiding love for the Wishbone that he sports a tattoo of it on his left forearm. He can transform the 131 yards of paper cord required for its production into a finished chair in less than an hour (most of the company's 50 other weavers take up to 90 minutes).
Larsen, fondly referred to by everyone as Benny, has worked at Carl Hansen & Søn for 21 years and has become a star performer at trade shows and store events around the world, demonstrating the craftsmanship and dedication involved in producing a Wegner chair. Benny travels more miles a year than the company CEO, Knud Erik Hansen, a great-grandson of the founder. "Benny enjoys it," says Hansen, adding that Larsen was once a sailor and loves to see the world.
Handweaving is a complex process. Hansen explains that trainees practice on one chair all day and then, in the evening, their attempts are discarded because "it has to be absolutely perfect." When asked why the company still makes all of its woven elements by hand, he explains that no one has ever invented a way to do the weaving by machine. "It’s impossible," he says. "If it were possible, we would do it."
Although Benny is hearing-impaired, it was not difficult for him to learn his craft from an experienced master when he joined the company. Carl Hansen & Søn, like many Danish companies, is encouraged by the government to hire workers with disabilities. "It’s good for us and good for them," explains Hansen. "They are given rewarding work and we get loyal employees who are happy to stay with the company for many years."
Benny’s latest challenge has been to work on the revival of the Hans J. Wegner CH23 dining chair. The CH23 completes the set of four chairs Wegner designed as his first collection for the Danish brand in 1949, over the course of just a few weeks. The remaining three—the CH22 lounge chair, the CH24 (Wishbone chair), and the CH25 lounge chair—have been in constant production or recently re-released. Now, all four of these original Wegner designs are available.
The CH23 seat, which is double-woven from paper cord—a painstaking task—takes about 90 minutes to complete. The six-step process is illustrated in the photographs that accompany this story. The company claims that the seat can last up to 50 years before it needs to be rewoven.
Benny explains that, for him, "The work is more than a profession. It’s in my blood. Working with a craft, you are part of a chain and hence part of the finished product." He is especially proud of the fact that every chair is one-of-a-kind.