Despite of the many obvious connections to Denmark, DANSK DESIGNS was actually an American based company. It all started in the summer of 1954, when American businessman Ted Nierenberg traveled through Europe with his wife, looking for good design for the American market. He visits Copenhagen, Denmark where he also visits Kunstindustrimuseet (the Danish Design Museum). Here Nierenberg encounters the finest of Danish Design, and gets a chance to browse through a large index of Danish design. Nierenberg chooses 10 designs from this index, without having any knowledge of who designed the individual pieces – 9 of them were designed by Jens Harald Quistgaard (1919-2008).
Nierenberg was especially fascinated by one design, the flatware, Fjord – a stainless steel set with teak handles. Quistgaard, had conceived it one year earlier for a competition for Danish Silverware producer, Georg Jensen (Quistgaard also trained as a Silversmith at Georg Jensen – until joining the Danish resistance movement durring WW2 ).
The flatware had caused quite the stir, partly because of the teak handle parts and stainless steel being unseen before this – and it had not been admitted into the competition as the use of wood constituted breaking the rules. Instead, the Danish Design Museum had bought Fjord for their exhibition, and after seeing it for the first time, Nierenberg was determined on meeting the designer immediately.
Nierenberg called Quistgaard at his workshop, but Quistgaard, who was busy working and covered in plaster, refused to meet Nierenberg right away. Instead Nierenberg was invited to come by, the following day. Nierenberg could not wait that long, so 10 minutes later, Nierenberg knocked on Quistgaard’s door. Quistgaard told Nierenberg that he was not welcome at his workshop – and the only reason he allowed entrance anyway, was because he had brought his beautiful wife along. Quistgaard later recalled the meeting stating: “Then I placed a couple of newspapers on the bench, so they did not get plaster on their person, and we got a bottle of Heering from the grocer in the same building. Then we sat until 3 o’clock in the morning, talking gibberish, boasting and such!”.
Shortly after their first meeting, Nierenberg and Quistgaard established the American company Dansk Designs, with Quistgaard as the Chief Designer, a unique and very successful Danish-American collaboration stretching over three decades. The products were produced in Denmark, and sold all around the world. At a later state, the production moved to Taiwan and Japan.
The flatware Fjord, that brought them together, was their first product line and was displayed at high-end stores in the US. The following years Quistgaard expanded with new designs for the interior; pots, coffee sets, glass, flatware, candle holders, trays, bowls, jugs and much more.
Quistgaard wanted to improve the everyday life, and created kitchenware, where aesthetics and functionality come together. It was important that pots, flatware, glass, plates, bowls and jugs etc., suited each other and worked together, despite of materials and colors. It was his incredible artisan knowledge and understanding of the materials, as well as his simple yet refined designs that elevated Dansk to its international status.
In 1962, Quistgaard designed the line “Design with light” – a large range of candle holders in glass, electroplated zinc, brass, wood, stoneware and cast iron. The following year he designed cast iron candle holders for tiny tapers and the tiny tapers (special pencil-thin candles with a diameter of 0.3″ / 7 mm). The tiny tapers were designed to avoid dripping, or melting, unevenly.
The cast iron candle holders series had a range of 45 different items, 42 designed by Quistgaard (initials JHQ or IHQ) and 3 designed by a finish designer, Börje Rajalin, initials IBR. The first and most popular of 14 different cast iron candle holders for tiny tapers, were The Tiny Taper Holder, or more commonly referred to as “Spider”.