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Icons Reinstated

One prolific mid-century designer laboured over lights made from pine veneer. Now Vaarnii have re-engineered a number of iconic pendants by Hans-Agne Jakobsson and relaunched them for a new generation.

The Hans Pendants are re-engineered design classics. These sculptural objects may seem familiar, such is their ubiquity in images of mid-century interiors and once was their popularity, especially in Scandinavia and the Nordic countries. They could often be found in modernist homes alongside the furniture of Alvar Aalto, Arne Jacobsen, Bruno Mathsson. But the creator of the Hans Pendants, Swedish designer Hans-Agne Jakobsson, has not enjoyed the same profile as these icons of 20th century design. Instead, the story of Jakobsson and his vast catalogue of bold and innovative light designs is largely untold.

When Vaarnii began exploring how to use their signature material; pine, in lighting it became impossible to ignore the extensive series of pine veneer designs by Jakobsson. Jakobsson had used the veneer as a structural and decorative material, making clever use of the thin veneer’s inherent flexibility. Vaarnii discovered dozens of designs, each composed of concentric bands of veneer arranged in different graphic formations and sizes, supported by an invisible wooden structure. Jakobsson seems to have enjoyed the playful contradiction between the structurally light and flexible veneer and the ‘heavy’ connotation of the wood material, and clearly found his invented technique to be versatile. The simple technique of using the bands, supported by a skeleton and concealing a light source, yielded hundreds of iterations.

It was clear that Jakobsson’s clever use of the pine veneer and life-long development of the technique couldn’t be bettered. So, in keeping with Vaarnii’s direct and honest approach – rather than imitate, they instead acquired Jakobsson’s original designs and set about re-engineering them for a new era.

It was clear that Jakobsson’s clever use of the pine veneer and life-long development of the technique couldn’t be bettered.

Hans-Agne Jakobsson designed and produced hundreds, maybe even thousands, of lights in the latter half of the last century. Yet there is little written about his career, motivations, or mission. Most of what we understand of Jakobsson’s work is deduced from his prolific output; the many items, mostly lights, that he designed and manufactured at his eponymous factory; Hans-Agne Jakobsson AB, in the small Southern Swedish town of Markaryd.

Jakobsson was born and educated in Gothenburg in 1919, before being employed as an industrial designer at General Motors and then as an apprentice to Carl Malmsten. It was shortly after this apprenticeship – perhaps inspired by Malmsten’s success who was by that time one of Sweden’s most influential designers – that Jakobsson established his own manufacturing company in 1951. Jakobsson had designed only a handful of works; wooden furniture and a small number of lights at that time, so it would have been an ambitious move for the 32-year-old to establish his own business. It appears Jakobsson’s self-confidence was well-founded though, as the factory in Markaryd would go on to produce and distribute his commercially successful designs for many decades to come.

Lighting became the focus of Jakobsson’s whole career; he worked relentlessly within this singular area producing commercial designs made from a wide range of materials and techniques and following the fashions of the time. Stiff formal designs in the fifties quickly gave way to organic and ever-more daring designs in the sixties, Jakobsson’s lights could be fringed and flirty, huge modernist chandeliers or simple sconces. There are constant features, though; A quality of design and skilled production, expansive collections – Jakobsson would regularly return again and again to a technique or aesthetic, just as he did with pine veneer, creating large collections over many years. And the concealed light bulb; the light source is never seen in a Jakobsson light.

Vaarnii chose a small selection of pendant lights from Jakobsson’s extensive collection. The elemental, graphic and reductive designs needed little interference and instead Vaarnii worked on making subtle improvements to the construction of the lights. The finest quality pine veneer was sourced, which made an impact on the aesthetic quality of the lights, the warm tone of the light they omit, and the malleability of the material during construction. Then, the inner skeleton was upgraded and constructed entirely from solid Finnish pine (some of Jakobsson’s earlier designs included plastic components). A pine ceiling rose was another new addition. And with that the Hans Pendants are reinstated, both a past and future classic of pine design.

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