Every chair has it’s story

Pioneer of Pop design Sven Ivar Dysthe celebrates his 60 year career with an exhibition at the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo.

It’s 11 a.m. on a Thursday morning and a selection of the Norwegian art press are seated around a table at a cafe in the National Museum of Art, Architecture and Design in Oslo. At the helm of the table sits furniture designer Sven Ivar Dysthe flanked by his loving wife Trinelise. The strong bond between them is noticeable even now, before either of them has said a word. The museum director introduces the two. They’ve been together for 58 years. Trinelise who is now in her seventies turns to us and laughs with a laughter that sounds much younger than her years. “If there’s one advice I can give to you, it is find a man that works with the same thing as you. You will never run out of things to talk about.”

Sven Ivar Dysthes career took off when he as a student of the Royal College of Art in London was commissioned to design a wooden casket for Queen Elizabeth II’s coronation gift. Now with a career sixty years long he is truly a Norwegian design icon. Dysthes furniture designs have had great success internationally and one cannot think of Scandinavian design chairs without mentioning his furniture designs, amongst them Popcorn, Prisma, Planet and Laminette.

But first let us go back to this coronation gift. The wooden casket. The museums director excitedly turns to us and tells us that the casket was hand-delivered from a royal aide who had traveled with it in his carry-on luggage from England. This is in fact the first time that they have lent out from her majesty the Queens collection to Norway. The museum director proclaims that this is quite fitting, as she will be celebrating the anniversary of her coronation this year. Sven Ivar Dysthe’s eyes go distant, and he recollects having been at this momentous occassion, almost 60 years ago. He says that it was a rather wet affair, as it rained that day. A proper London day. With a twinkle in his eye he describes two rambunctious kids waving down to the crowds before quickly being yanked away. One of these children was a young Prince Charles, clearly enjoying the fanfare. This occassion in many ways marked the start of a wonderful career for Sven Ivar Dysthe that continues on to this day.

“Do you still design?” a journalist asks. “I have no intention of ever retiring” Sven Ivar Dysthe proclaims. “It’s a part of me, all the time. I cannot look at an object without evaluating its design.” He jokingly mentions a trashcan that he finds to be unbearable. “In fact, it is idiotic design!” he proclaims cheekily. “That’s the thing. I look at everyday objects and I always ask, can this be improved? That’s when the solutions come.”
Sven Ivar Dysthes furniture is as popular today as when they were designed. Every chair has a story. The Laminette chair for example, was almost cancelled by its producers. This chair is now the most sold chair in Norway for public use. In fact, Dysthe has sold almost one million of them, not to mention the knock-offs. The story goes that the producers of the chair were toying with the idea of stopping production as they instead wanted to focus on producing affordable sofas. Suddenly there came in an order for some chairs for a Bingo hall. Then suddenly came a few more orders. And then some more. Soon enough, they realized that this chair was going to be one of the most important chairs in their production line. “Saved by a bingo hall” Trinelise muses. “Soon the chairs were BINGO for us!”

In his sixty year career Sven Ivar Dysthe has designed chairs that introduced “pop” furniture to Norway, using elements like plastic, palisander and steel to a country that favoured “wood everything.” He has also designed simpler things. He has even helped develop the modern ski. His camaraderie with his wife is apparent. They call it a working relationship, a collaboration, and they truly make a wonderful team. Their passion for good design ties them together today, as it must have done when they met in Copenhagen when she was an Interior Architecture student.
Trinelise turns to me, with warm excited eyes and I feel as if I am chatting with a close girlfriend. She says, in a way that makes me feel that it was just yesterday: “You know, after Sven Ivar and I got married, we borrowed his dads car in order to drive back to Copenhagen for our honeymoon. We were going to relive all those things that brought us together. Buy some beautiful Georg Jensen cutlery and just absorb wonderful Danish culture.” Her eyes grow even warmer. “We were so full of plans during that car trip. So excited for the future and everything that we were going to achieve. You know, that feeling never left us. Not to this day”.

The exhibition “Dysthe Design Swinging 60” is running from the 5th of May to the 25th of August 2013. Location: Kunstindustrimuseet, St. Olavs gate 1,Oslo.







dysthe utstilling 1


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