What's Up With All The Wooden Figures?

With the growing popularity of small wooden figures, we couldn’t help but wonder... What is it with these wooden animals that make them so special? Are they just home decoration? Or are the figures more than that? And, is this a new trend? Or is it a part of our Nordic tradition?

At Normann Copenhagen we love wooden figures! Our collection of the friendly figurative designs has steadily grown over the past years. We met three of our designers to talk about what stands behind their designs of the wooden figures. 

Our current collection includes Ducky, Swan, the Shorebirds, as well as Happy Whale and the Little Birds. With their friendly appearance, they have charmed their way into the hearts of many. The unique expressions of each figure give each of the animals their character. 

Swan and Ducky figures in natural and black oak. 

Ducky is very playful, reminding us of what wooden toys might have looked like, pre-digital age, and thereby also conveying an element of nostalgia. Swan, on the other hand, translates the elegance of the bird it represents, and its pure beauty in a sophisticated replication. Clean lines make up the sculptural shape and let it proudly swim across with elegance. 

The shape of Little Bird is abstract and minimalistic, but does not fail to translate the idea of a bird family. The pure and not least very cute expression varies in the six different sizes of the range, which each represent a particular character in the designer’s own family. The Shorebird resembles an actual bird the most, with a shape that captures its characteristic movement and spirited expression.

Left: Our family of Little Birds in colored oak. Right: The Shorebirds in different sizes and colors.

Among the growing flock of birds, Happy Whale finds it place. Similar to the Little Birds, Happy Whale also takes a more abstract shape of a whale with soft proportions and a playful expression. 

We talked to our designers Sigurjón Pálsson, Jonas Wagell and Everything Elevated about what their wooden figures mean to them and what they would like them to express. 

Three Happy Whales, designed by Jonas Wagell. 

What would you like people to experience with the figure? 

Sigurjón Pálsson: First and foremost a nice and cozy feeling. Maybe also a little memory trip to the seashore on a sunny day, where you are at peace, and can feel the gusts of fresh breeze, rich with the smells from the ocean, the sound of the waves where the monotony is only interrupted by the chirping of the shorebirds. If my birds manage to invoke such a memory and a feeling of familiarity in people – just for a brief moment – I think I have achieved my goal. Some time ago I read a blog by a woman living in Berlin, where she described how she loved the sea and missed it dearly, but now she had brought the seaside into her home with my Shorebirds. That was rather nice to read.

 Jonas Wagell: I always try to reduce details to bring out one aesthetical detail or character when I give form to products. This is the first object I have designed that doesn’t have an obvious practical function and therefore is purely decorative. Its purpose is to evoke feelings and emotions – to make people happy!

Sigurjón Pálsson is a designer from Iceland, who designed the Shorebirds. 

What was your personal inspiration for the design? 

Everything Elevated: In Nordic countries where climate restricts the time you spend outside, you develop an unconscious bond with the objects in your home. We had a wooden duck decoy, normally used for hunting, placed in the window sill. The figurine was found on a beach, gently shaped by sand and the waves and was a great to touch and interact with for a toddler. Ultimately this experience provided a personal reference when we designed the Swan.

Sigurjón Pálsson: I have had a lifelong passion for birds, which began with my grandfather. We would have long walks along the cliffs and harbor of my old hometown, Húsavík, where he would teach me how to recognize the local birdlife. 

Jonas Wagell: One night I watched a documentary about the founding of Greenpeace and their important work with protection of whales. The whale has become a symbol for the environment and this inspired me to create this specific figurine. 

How do you use wooden figures in your home? 

Sigurjón Pálsson: They are used as a decoration in my home but at least one is always within reach as I have noticed that people like to touch them and caress. I do so myself, but at first I thought it was just me, but it isn't.

Everything Elevated: We have a pair of Swans - black and oak, normally found swimming proudly across the dining table ready to greet our guests. 

Jonas Wagell: I have a long shelf in my kitchen where I keep decorative finds, vintage glassware together with my favourite cups and glasses. This spot is great for a happy little whale!

Everything Elevated, who are behind the design of Swan. 

Are wooden figures a new trend that has come up? Or is there a long tradition around it? 

Jonas Wagell: I believe wood figures are part of our heritage here in the North. I don’t want to call it a trend, but rather a long-lasting tradition. Design is much more accessible today and we are exposed to both good products and cheap stuff. It’s our responsibility as designers to try to create long-lasting products with high quality and avoid the temptation of ‘quick and cheap’.

Sigurjón Pálsson: Originally the Shorebirds were designed for an old friend, a retired carpenter. He wanted something to occupy his time with at the lathe in his garage and to sell at the local handcraft market in Húsavík. The form of them is therefore a direct consequence of the limitations of the lathe, the machine they are designed for. By positioning the beak and the legs like they were walking slowly in the sand, pecking at the ground, I tried to recreate the motions that come natural to them and people identify them by. Since we humans lived in caves we have decorated our homes with animal images, so this is definitely not a new trend nor is it likely to go over.

The Swedish designer Jonas Wagell, who designed the Happy Whale for Normann Copenhagen.

The long standing tradition around the wooden figures, particularly in the Nordic countries but also in other places of the world, shows how humans have for the longest time enjoyed the presence of characteristic wooden figures. These figures capture representations of animals from the area, and with their soft silhouettes they invite us to think about a memory, and playfully interact with them. 

With their cute expression and the irresistible joy they spread, the wooden figures do not go unnoticed and brighten the atmosphere of any room. Through their pure and classic look, figures like Swan, Ducky, Happy Whale, as well as the Shorebirds and Little Birds have become popular collectors items. 


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