COPENHAGEN – THE DESIGN PILGRIMAGE
Updated: May 11, 2020
Anyone that knows me or in fact reads this blog, knows I am a huge fan of Danish design, so it was only right that I took a little pilgrimage to Copenhagen to see for myself what makes this city a worldwide icon in design.
Here’s a whistle-stop guide for all you design lovers out there of Copenhagen.
SEE & DO
No visit to Copenhagen would be complete without taking a visit to Nyhavn, probably the most iconic area of the city. Nyhavn (translated in English to 'New Harbour) was constructed in the 17th Century as the trading port to the city, though its reputation in those days wasn’t as glossy as it is today. It was a haven for boozy sailors, raucous pubs and ladies of the night. Thankfully, today it is lined with beautiful restaurants and bars situated within the 17th Century brightly coloured town houses.
Christiansborg Palace contains the Danish Parliament, The Supreme Court and the Ministry of State alongside being a palace used by the Royal Family. The palace has changed throughout the centuries due to two significant fires that destroyed the original palace. The main part of the building that stands today was designed in a neo-baroque style completed in 1928.
If you visit, you have to go to the 'Royal Reception Rooms' which are frequently used by the Danish Royal family. These grand rooms feature art work and tapestries rescued from the previous two palaces and display pieces from famous Danish artists.
Housed within the first public hospital building in Denmark, the Designmuseum Danmark is one of Copenhagen’s finest rococo buildings. The building was renovated and adapted by the Danish architect and furniture designer, Kaare Klint who is commonly known as the father of modern Danish furniture design.
The museum’s main aim is to “communicate the idea of quality within design” and my favourite exhibit has to be ‘The Danish Chair – An International Affair’
This permanent exhibit tells the story of how Danish design became an international brand whilst explaining how important and influential the 'chair' is to interior design.
The chair is the piece of furniture that is closest to human beings. You can give it the personal touch. Hans J. Wegner
Each iconic chair is displayed like a piece of art in a framed box created by industrial designer Boris Berlin.
NATIONAL AQUARIUM DENMARK
An architectural landmark, the Den Blå Planet, is an impressive sight to see, inspired by a whirlpool and surrounded completely by water, you enter through the “vortex” of the building into the curved lobby area.
As Northern Europe’s largest aquarium it features 53 aquariums and installations, each stunningly impressive to the eye and designed by Danish architects 3XN.
Split into five main sections, the gigantic aquarium contains over seven million litres of water and is home to stingrays, hammerhead sharks and even Californian sea lions.
LOUISIANA MUSEUM OF MODERN ART
A short train journey from the centre of Copenhagen brings you to the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Originally a villa style home which was named after all three of the owners wives (yes, three wives were all called Louise) and then converted into an art museum by Knud W. Jensen in 1958.
Along with housing a wide range of contemporary and modern art pieces by Andy Warhol, Roy Lichtenstein and Pablo Picasso, the architecture and landscaping is a beautiful example of mid-century modern design at its best.
Architects Vilhelm Wohlert and Jørgen Bo, were approached to construct the new building for the museum back in the 1950’s. After spending months walking around the landscape of the property, which benefits from open views of the sea, they decided to construct three separate buildings connected by glass corridors, embracing the stunning setting and bringing the outdoors, indoors.
Situated north of Copenhagen in the pretty town of Hillerød is the 17th Century Frederiksborg Palace. Built in the late 1600’s in a Dutch Renaissance style, this impressive fairy-tale like castle stands proudly amongst the tiny chocolate box town beneath it.
Within the castle is 'The Museum of National History' which depicts the history of Denmark through am impressive collection of portraits, beautiful tapestries, furniture and decorative arts.
The huge high-end design store, Illums Bolighus, located on the main bustling shopping street of Amagertorv is right in the heart of Copenhagen. It has to be one of my all time favourite stores in the world. Described as a modern art museum in shop form, the beautiful department store is jammed packed with Danish and Scandinavian style furniture, home-ware, ceramics, lighting and much more.
Originally founded in 1925 under the name BO, it was revolutionary in store design by being the first to create “arranged and furnished interiors, where textiles, appointments, and furniture all interacted as art”
I spent hours in this store, not only is the selection of brands on sale mammoth, but the building itself is an understated elegant affair, celebrating great 1960’s Danish architecture.
So you can’t come to Denmark without being able to have the opportunity to purchase authentic vintage designer furniture, can you?
KLASSIK Moderne Møbelkunst in the Bredgade 3 area of the city, stocks a vast array of furniture from iconic Danish designers such as Poul Kjærholm, Arne Jacobsen and Hans J. Wegner. The store has been the leading used classic Danish furniture store in Denmark for over 20 years, with its store located just a short walk from the Amalienborg Palace.
Another long time favourite of mine is the Danish brand, HAY. Their flagship store, the 'HAY House' is located on the pedestrianised shopping street of Strøget in central Copenhagen.
Founded in 2002 with its ambition of “creating contemporary furniture with an eye for modern living” HAY has become a world-wide brand.
Although they have stockists around the world through other outlets, their stand alone store in Copenhagen is incredible, it showcases the largest selection of their products I have ever seen.
The building itself was as beautiful as the products on sale. Situated on the second floor of a grand building it was like going into a private apartment home. Huge glass windows looking onto the square below and a beautiful wooden staircase provided the focal point to the main room.
So much so, I would love it as my Danish home, complete with the HAY furniture.
Housed within the first department store building in Copenhagen, built in 1916, GUBI covers 400 sq mt of this beautiful ornate property.
Split over two floors and connected with the original spiral grand staircase at its heart, the Møntergade street store showcases the company’s original products. Typically Danish in design, minimalist and modern, GUBI add colour to their designs which is a hallmark to their look.
If the GUBI store isn’t enough to tickle your taste buds, the GUBI Showroom in Frihavnen is a 2000 sq mt design haven exhibiting all their latest offerings, which I might add can be seen in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA) in New York.
No visit to Copenhagen is complete without a visit to Normann Copenhagen, another personal favourite of mine which unfortunately up until now, I had only been able to find in a small selection of stockists around the globe.
Here in Copenhagen however, their flagship store in the Østerbro area of the city was simply gorgeous. Located inside a historic building that over the years has been a water distillery, a theatre and a cinema, the 1,700 sq mt store is like an art museum in itself.
The vast industrial style space has been lovingly restored displaying the original stucco in the ceiling and tall marble beams which have been lovingly combined with a mixture of brushed steel, glass mirrors and bold colours.
EAT & DRINK
Stunning views over Copenhagen can be enjoyed whilst dining at Trio Restaurant & Bar from its 10th floor location in the Axel Towers at Jernbanegade 11.
Whether dining or simply enjoying a cocktail above the rooftops of Copenhagen, this beautiful industrial style restaurant features distressed parquet flooring, sumptuous dark walls and velvet upholstery to create an intimate and urban style atmosphere.
Also make sure you check out the restrooms, trust me, you won’t be disappointed.
The ‘speakeasy’ craze sweeping the world is hot in Copenhagen too. The Jane on Gråbrødre Square is a uber cool bar and nightclub spread over 340 sq mt accessed by a staircase taking you underground to a large bar area complete with a beautiful ornate fireplace as its focal point. Large leather Chesterfield’s and wing back chairs give a gentleman’s club affair with wood paneled walls and an array of bookshelves, not all of which are what they seem.
Several of these ‘bookshelves’ are actually hidden doors which open to revel more bars for you to dance the night away, with the DJ starting at midnight till late.
It’s not everyday you walk into a restaurant and are greeted by a giant greenhouse in the centre of the room standing proud over the two floors of the building.
Väkst has an emphasis on vegetables if you hadn’t guessed already, but that doesn’t mean it is just lettuce on the menu. The produce grown in the centrepiece greenhouse are used in the dishes, accompanied by delicious steak and fish mains.
The interior is homely and informal but has an elegance about it, with natural woods and materials used throughout.
Sat proudly on Kongens Nytorv central plaza for over 125 years overlooking the Royal Theatre, Brønnum has welcomed many famous Danish musicians, artists and writers over the years including Hans Christian Andersen.
Brønnum consists of six rooms, which as you move through, change from vibrant at the front to progressively more intimate towards the back.
Entering from the main street at the front and into the first bar the interior is bright and airy reflecting the upbeat atmosphere. Venturing further in, the rooms get darker and warmer in colour, complemented by the 150 year old carved wooden bar which was once part of an apothecary.
My particular favourite room being the 'Cloudscape', fairy-tale and bohemian like in style with whimsical clouds painted on the walls, it boosts a giant chandelier and opulent booths, perfect for that romantic evening.
ROYAL SMUSHI CAFE
I stumbled across the Royal Smushi Café by accident and I am so glad that I did. This quirky little café in the heart of Copenhagen is a Danish affair created from a true legend.
The story goes that back in the 15th Century a little girl went to the market to sell open-faced sandwiches which she named ‘smørrebrød’ The king rode by on his horse and saw the girl and loved what she was selling. The King took the sandwich back to the palace and introduced it throughout the land.
At the Royal Smushi Café, the traditional Danish dish has been given a little mix up, by turning it into sushi sized delicate portions. Hence the name, ‘Smushi’
Walking down the main shopping street Amagertorv, The Royal Smushi Café is accessed through a courtyard between the Royal Copenhagen porcelain and Georg Jensen stores. Like entering a fantasy world, the great hall, as it is known, is filled with giant chandeliers, ornate royal tables and guests are seated on the iconic ‘Ant’ chairs by Arne Jacobsen. To keep with the Danish influence, food and drink is served on Royal Copenhagen porcelain with Georg Jensen cutlery.
On the corner of Nørre Farimagsgade and Ahlefeldtsgade, Höst brings a Nordic flair with traditional dishes and local ingredients. The restaurant is designed in a rustic style with stucco brick walls and wooden frameworks with influences from the Danish countryside.
The interior creates a simple, dignified atmosphere by using natural materials, enabling the restaurant to win three design awards including the prestigious "World’s Best-Designed Restaurant" at the 'Restaurant & Bar Design Awards'.
The iconic and landmark Hotel d’Angleterre was established in 1755, and throughout time has been key to the history of both Copenhagen and Denmark. Not only has this five-star luxury hotel been a host for over 250 years to royalty and politicians from around the globe but it served as headquarters for German generals and officers during World War II. Along with entertaining the worlds dignitaries, it was used as an asylum for war refugees on a number of occasions.
Hotel d’Angleterre is situated in a prime position facing the Kongens Nytorv square and the Royal Danish Theatre and has in recent years undergone a major refurbishment revitalising it back to the grand palace of yesteryear but with modern luxury touches.
At the far end of Nyhavn and perched on the water’s edge with views over Copenhagen harbour sits the understated hotel Nyhavn 71. Residing in two warehouses from the 1800’s, the hotel buildings are connected by the lobby on the ground floor, along with housing the Asian restaurant ‘SEA’
After being a goods warehouse for many decades, the building was converted into a hotel in 1971 and its interior and exterior have been sympathetically restored to honour the buildings history.
Exposed wooden beams, crisp white walls and shades of blue keep the interiors typically Scandinavian, with a nod to the buildings nautical past.
NOBIS HOTEL COPENHAGEN
Opened in September 2017, Nobis Copenhagen is a contemporary five-star luxury hotel situated within the original ‘Royal Danish Conservatory of Music’ building built in 1903.
Swedish architect Gert Wingårdh designed the interior to be toned-down and discreet with an emphasis on Danish design. The main social areas are imposing spaces but are elegant and give a real natural grandeur to the building. The guest rooms are painted in soothing, richly saturated green-blue tones, all have massive chevron-patterned wooden parquet floors and high, white-painted windows with crossbars as centre pieces. The bathrooms are clad in grey Bardiglio marble from Italy.
All furniture is distinguished by craftsmanship and quality, characterised by curved upper lines reflecting the shapes of the building’s original windows. Nordic design classics from various eras are combined and contrasted with furniture, lighting fixtures and carpets that were designed exclusively for Nobis Hotel Copenhagen
For a real sense of Danish design history, a stay at Hotel Alexandra is a must for any budding mid-century modern fan. Walking into the lobby is like being transported back in time to the 50’s and 60’s with the hotel displaying a huge selection of vintage mid-century Danish furniture pieces.
The lobby library features design books from all the famous Danish designers and you can even put on your favourite vinyl record whilst relaxing in a timeless design piece.
All rooms and suites are individually designed with classic furniture pieces, dedicated to the iconic Danish design legends, such as Finn Juhl, Verner Panton, Hans J. Wegner and Arne Jacobsen. Lighting, wallpaper, fabric and textures take guests back in time to an era which put the Danes on the design world map.