The furniture designer Jens Risom tells Charles Nevin why he still enjoys working ...
From INTELLIGENT LIFE magazine, January/February 2012
Jens Risom, 95, is a furniture designer. Perhaps his most celebrated piece is the 654W lounge chair he designed for Knoll, the German-American furniture-makers. Risom was born in Copenhagen but left for America in 1939, working for Knoll before joining the US Army, designing camouflage for Sherman tanks and translating for General Patton in Germany. After the war, he founded his own company, moving away from the Bauhaus-inspired steel of Knoll to new ways with wood. Based in Connecticut, he has lived long enough to be rediscovered: his classic pieces are back in production, and he is designing for the fashionable American retailer Design Within Reach. “I think furniture,” he has said. This is his response to my e-mail asking the same questions I had put to Freeman Dyson—why he continued to work, what were his strengths and weaknesses compared with earlier in his career, and his advice.
1. I am still working because I enjoy continuing to create and because I still get as much of a thrill as ever in seeing my creations brought to life all over the world, especially as I still maintain control over manufacturers and distributors!
2. At 95, my main strength is my experience; after all, I have now been designing furniture for 70 years, so I have learnt a little…my main weakness is my eyesight, which, sadly, is not what it was. But I can still do enough on my drawing pad to give it to a designer to work out the details.
3. My advice to people who have been working one year: keep searching for the organisation that is best for you and has the best chance of bringing your ideas to life. After 30 years: never forget that you can still change, never be afraid to persevere.
Charles Nevin is a freelance writer who spent 25 years on Fleet Street. He is the author of "The Book of Jacks"