A few weeks ago Really Well Made visited the Danish capital for an inspirational design trip and to delve into the culture that produces so many of our favourite products.
Copenhagen is often described as one of the world's 'most liveable cities' and it is easy to see why; clean air from a cycling first policy, excellent access to green spaces and great food make it a happy, sociable place to be. Whilst taxes and cost of living expenses are comparatively high, the state's social safety net and help for fledgeling businesses is distinctly generous. Perhaps their general positive outlook coupled with no fear of failure drives their success in innovation, or perhaps they are just very good designers. Either way it is clear that this small country with a population of only 5.6 million is a world leader in the field of contemporary design.
We stayed in the district of Vesterbro which is to the West of the city centre. Vesterbro is one of Copenhagen's up-and-coming areas as it was once, and still is to a degree, the red light district. Today though it is mainly full of hip cafe bars and eateries. Around the corner from our apartment was the Bageriet Brød bakery, only a few years old but firmly rooted in the neighbourhood. The bakery spoils you for choice with an amazing array of pastries, but it was the sourdough loaf that really took us aback. We've probably eaten hundreds of sourdoughs but none of them compares to this one, amazing flavours and still tasty 5 days later - so good we brought it back to England with us!
If it's Interior design inspiration that you're after then Copenhagen has a lot to offer. On our second day we took a trip to both the HAY and Skagerak flagship stores. Both are based in former residential buildings and offer a real insight into how their pieces can be used in a real world setting. Getting to the city centre is a breeze no matter where you are staying in Copenhagen with the Bycyklen hire bicycles. You simply enter your username (if already registered online), enter your destination and off you go, courtesy of a built-in GPS navigation tablet. You barely have to pedal either as the bicycle has a battery powered motor that whisks you through the city without breaking a sweat.
Skagerak's flagship store is the brand's largest showroom and has recently been completely renovated. Located in Indiakaj which used to be the port for passenger and trade between Denmark and the Far East in the early 20th Century to the late 1960's, the buildings were abandoned for 10 years or so at which point Skagerak purchased one and has used it for their business for over 40 years. The store features beautifully laid out room-sets as well as a traditional retail space. A study, kitchen, bathroom, dining room, hallway, conservatory and garden populated with a mix of Skagerak and other contemporary modern homeware pieces, show the visitor perfectly how their home can be improved using the brand's products. There is something so much more engaging about a showroom like this - a great example for anyone who doubts how a period home works with contemporary furniture, here the supposed incongruity is aesthetically flawless.
Travelling onward on our bicycles we travelled to HAY House which is directly opposite Illums Bolighus - a department store purely focused on designer homewares and well worth a visit too (if you have a spare half a day). Occupying the entire top two floors of a large city town house is the HAY showroom. Nowhere else can you see such a complete range of the brand's furniture and homewares but even here there is just a selection, testament to how much HAY have grown over the past decade. Here we had a good look at some established pieces as well as new additions such as the Copenhague Deux table and benches, which have a beautifully tactile linoleum top and a minimal silhouette. We also saw the trio of ceramic Cacti designed by Lina Cofán and available through Really Well Made in late September - a perfect complement to the Cacti Flower Vase we already offer from Serax. Located on the right hand-side as you enter the store there is also a HAY 'Mini Market'. For those unfamiliar with the format it is essentially a take on a typical convenience store complete with wire baskets and aisles, albeit with designer homeware essentials instead of groceries. A curation of selected HAY items along with products found by Mette Hay in her world travels grace the shelves here, ready to be picked and start a new journey of their own.
Just down the road from HAY House is the Paper Collective store, we couldn't resist popping our noses in for a look at their latest prints. Paper Collective is a poster/print company that specialises in collaborating not only with artists and illustrators but also with designers and architects too. The same designers and architects in fact who create the products for the Scandinavian brands like Menu, HAY and Muuto that we represent. The brand's aim is create iconic posters and donate to good causes at the same time, with 10% of the profits from each sale going directly to a charity close to the artist's heart.
All this design shopping was thirsty work, so continuing with the paper theme, we headed to Paper Island (once a paper storage warehouse) with some friends to watch the sunset and grab a bite to eat and drink. Located across the bridge from Nyhavn, Paper Island is on the edge of Freetown Christiania, Copenhagen's edgiest district that makes its own rules apparently - think downtown Gotham City, without the high-rises. In the Paper Island street food market you can find some of the best value and tastiest food on offer in the city amongst the many vendors inside. The drinks are also pretty cheap here too compared with the rest of the city.
We could wax lyrical about Copenhagen forever but you'll have to make the trip yourself to discover all of its delights. On the whole we would summarise by saying... it's a great city break for those who don't really like cities: Although quite busy it's nothing like as hectic as Paris or London and has a relaxed vibe thanks to the lack of cars and pedestrianised shopping districts. In a much smaller area it also arguably has more to offer those who are interested in contemporary design, which of course is Really Well Made's raison d'être!