As BoConcept opens a new showroom in Dubai, we speak to Morten Georgsen, who has been designing for the company for nearly 20 years, about the enduring allure of Scandinavian design.
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Unusually for someone who has enjoyed considerable success as a designer, Morten Georgsen has a refreshingly unsentimental, no-nonsense view of his chosen discipline. He is prone to saying things like: "I'm not trying to create art", "Function should equal appearance" and "Very few things actually go on in the furniture industry compared to other industries". There is none of the flowery prose and posturing that so often comes with the territory. Instead, his approach is unashamedly practical, which is perhaps unsurprising. If Danish design can be defined by its simplicity and functionality, then Morten Georgsen is a quintessentially Danish designer.
"Why is Danish design still so popular?" he says. "I think it's because it's so simple and so minimalistic. I can't remember which American president it was that wrote: 'I'm sorry that this letter is so long but I didn't have time to make it shorter'. The same applies to design. It takes time to make it so minimalistic. But when you make it so minimalistic, you make it look easy."
As a child, Georgsen would scour magazines to find out all that he could about design, furniture and electronics. Although he had no formal education in design, he was given his first big break at the Danish electronics company, Bang & Olufsen, where he worked for nine years. "I was brought up with some of the famous designers at Bang & Olufsen, like Jacob Jensen and David Lewis. Jens Bang took me in like his son and I learnt a lot about design - much more than I would have in a school or university," he recalls.
He also went to night school, where he met a fellow student, Viggo Molholm - an encounter that would play a massive role in shaping Georgsen's subsequent career.
In 1992, having left Bang & Olufsen and after a period spent working for a Danish furniture manufacturer, Georgsen decided to launch his own furniture design company.
"I had an idea for an extendable marble table and developed it with a Danish factory. Normally, you wouldn't be able to have a marble extension - it would be too heavy, around 60kg. But I made it so that you had these two tops moving apart and a lever turning and an extension emerging automatically. I ended up selling it to high-end stores in New York, in Japan, in South America and more or less all over the world. But when you start something up like that, it's not money in your pocket straight away."
So Georgsen called on his old friend, Viggo Molholm, who had gone on to become the head of the Danish furniture brand, BoConcept. "I said, 'I have a very good idea for a wall system for you', which I did."
As it happened, Molholm wasn't in the market for a wall system - but he did need a line of children's furniture. Georgsen developed Colour 4 Kids, which was an instant hit with BoConcept consumers around the world. "If you have success with the first thing you do, your credit is a lot higher than if you'd been fooling around with two or three collections that didn't really sell," he laughs.
So began a collaboration that has lasted the better part of 20 years. Georgsen has gone on to design countless pieces for BoConcept, including the Lecco and Volani wall systems, the Occa table and the Amari collection. "I think that I've played a big part in the general evolution of BoConcept and I'm still the only designer that's part of their strategy meetings," Georgsen says.
That's no mean feat. BoConcept is one of Denmark's most successful exports, with a history spanning 60 years and a presence of 260 stores around the globe. After a short absence from the Dubai market, the brand recently opened a new showroom on Sheikh Zayed Road and has ambitious plans for further regional expansion.
"BoConcept furniture has that touch of Scandinavian heritage, but made more international," says Georgsen of the brand's success. "It is not designed for Danes and Danes only. We have made a concept that is designed for a certain target group around the world that wants to live in a modern, minimalist but also international way. A lot of the furniture at BoConcept is actually something in between Italian and Scandinavian, and I think that twist makes it unique."
For his own part, Georgsen is committed to creating furniture that is functional and adaptable. He is concerned with megatrends - mass urbanisation, the growing uptake of technology and a generation that wants to be "forever young" - and how these trends effect the way people want to live. "When we look at global trends like urbanisation, more and more people are moving into the cities, and the apartments they live in are becoming smaller and smaller. So that means we need to make furniture much more adaptable.
"What we have to do is make something that is exciting and that accommodates a new way of living, which is smaller and more flexible. When I was a kid I was not allowed to watch the TV while I was eating. So a lot of things are changing, and as a designer, I can't say I don't think it's correct that people are eating and watching TV at the same time, because if that is what people want to do, I have to create something that coheres with that."
The new BoConcept showroom in Dubai is located on Sheikh Zayed Road, by the Al Manara Interchange.
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