Industrial designer and architect Hans Olsen was born in Denmark in 1919. He began his career as a cabinetmaker, but, at the age of thirty, he decided to attend the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Art (Kongelige Danske Kunstakademi), where he studied architecture under esteemed architect-designer Kaare Klint (1888-1954) from 1941 to 1943. Under Klint’s instruction, Olsen focused on principles of ergonomics and anthropometry (the study of human body measurements), while cultivated his expertise in materials and traditional craftsmanship.
While many his Danish contemporaries—such as Arne Jacobsen, Poul Kjærholm, Børge Mogensen, and Hans Wegner—embraced the “Klint School” of modernism, Olsen was particularly eager to experiment with design and material choices in effort to achieve maximum comfort. Olsen had an affinity for bent laminated wood, which engendered designs with a great freedom of form, both sturdy and lightweight
In 1953, Olsen opened his own studio and began actively presenting his furniture at the annual Cabinetmakers Guild exhibitions in Copenhagen. This exposure brought Olsen a great deal of work with Danish manufacturers, including Bramin Møbel, C/S Furniture, Frem Røjle, Juul Kristensen, N.A. Jørgensen, and Verner Birksholm.
Olsen’s first successful design was the Roundette Dining Set (1952) for Frem Røjle Møbelfabrik. The compact, teak and leather design was an achievement in form and function, as the chair backs seamlessly tuck under the tabletop. Other standout designs from Olsen include the Shell Chair (1955), Easy Chair (1955), Fried Egg Chair (1956), the modular TV-bench (1956), CS500 Series (1962), Model 532A Rocking Chair (1963), and the Bikini Chair (1968)—iconic for its futuristic silhouette. Olsen’s Frederik the 9th Chair (1964)—named after Danish King Frederik VII, who apparently preferred sitting backwards—won the A.I.D gold medal in 1965.
Olsen passed away in 1992. Though Olsen is lesser known than his Danish modern contemporaries, his prolific career and distinctive designs have attracted renewed interest in recent years.