Jens Harald Quistgaard is not easy to pigeonhole. Versatile as an artist, industrial designer, sculptor, and even a silversmith, Quistgaard has left a legacy of over 4,000 design pieces spanning a range of kitchenware, silverware, and household items in a variety of materials including wood, metal, glass, stainless steel, and ceramics. Find out more about this Danish designer with our guide to Jens Quistgaard.
Youth in Copenhagen
Born into an artistic family in Copenhagen, Denmark, Jens Quistgaard demonstrated prodigious artistic talents from an early age. During his youth he was trained as a sculptor under his father Harald Quistgaard, and later apprenticed under renowned Danish silversmiths Georg Jensen and Just Anderson.
Danish-American Duo: Dansk
In 1953, Quistgaard made his early breakthrough as an industrial designer by virtue of a line of hand-forged flatware called Fjord. It was the first set of cutlery set made from stainless steel with teak handles, simultaneously mingling the warmth of wood with the true functionality of stainless steel.
In 1954, Quistgaard’s well-crafted cutlery set was on display at the Danish Museum of Arts and Design where it caught the eye of American entrepreneur Ted Nierenberg, who was in search of new designs to launch in the US. Impressed by the quality and beauty of the cutlery set, Nierenberg immediately reached out to Quistgaard with the intent of mass production, and shortly after, the partnership between the American businessman and the Danish designer led to the founding of Dansk Designs. Literally meaning “Danish Designs”, Dansk Designs, with Quistgaard as the principal designer, became one of the most iconic mid-century modern brands in the world, making Danish modern design available in America.
Iconic Designs for Dansk
The Fjord Flatware Set
With the release of the organically produced flagship line Fjord, the company soon achieved enormous commercial success statewide. Featuring stainless steel with teak handles, the flatware set was considered a modern intersection of materials that has transformed everyday household items into sculptural works of art while affordable to average families. The functionality of hand-forged stainless steel is at counterpoint to the warm beauty of wood, which hit at just the right time to take advantage of the changing landscape of the American kitchen and the mid-century modern home.
The Kobenstyle Series
The success of the Fjord flatware was closely followed by the Kobenstyle series of enameled-steel cookware, which remained one of Dansk’s most successful products. With a modern and innovative approach to designing housewares, the unusual lids doubled their function as trivets and potholders allowing meals to be served directly from the stove.
Quistgaard’s merged the practical side of enameled-steel for cookware and created vividly colored and polished pieces with style and appeal. The enameled-steel saucepan range formed with the philosophy of incorporating practicality with beauty.
Teak Salt and Pepper Mill
Now-iconic, the teak salt and pepper mills were exemplary of Jens Quistgaard’s experimentation with teak staves. Encased in a teak body, the sculptural wood mill combines a saltshaker on top and a pepper grinder below as a perfect match for tabletop dinnerware, making it practical yet stylish for both festive or casual use.
Congo Ice Bucket
Notable designs by Quistgaard also include the Congo ice bucket made from teak wood and taking its cue from the hull of Viking vessels. One thing that really draws me in to this piece is its organically crafted sculptural appearance, which features a top handle and round movable lid, but the practicalities are also considered; inside is lined with plastic to keep ice cool without damaging the wood.
Danish Craft Aesthetic
The pioneering artist-designer Quistgaard has earned his status in the design world by making Danish mid-century modern design a popular style among many households. It’s no surprise then that Quistgaard pieces have made their way into museum collections and the designer won prizes for his work, including the Lunning Prize in 1954 together with the Neiman Marcus Award for Distinguished Service in the Field of Fashion in 1958, among others.
Always adhering to Danish craft aesthetic characterized by natural finishes, organic shapes, sculptural form, and exquisite craftsmanship, Jens Quistgaard has rendered the tablescape versatile and rich in form and function.