Furnishing a Danish home ca 1952: Ann-Mari Forsberg

Danish architect Halldor Gunnløgsson may not be a household name—at least to American design aficionados— but perhaps he should be. It wouldn’t be far off to compare Gunnløgsson’s rich but spare 1958 one-bedroom house, in Rungsted (Oresund), north of Copenhagen, built on a strict structural grid and with a flat roof, to Phillip Johnson’s Glass House in New Caanan, Connecticut.

Trained in the late 1930s with Kai Fisker, Gunnar Asplund and Steen Eiler Rasmussen at the Royal Academy of Fine Arts in Copenhagen, Gunnløgsson became one of the most respected Danish mid-century architects. He was in that circle of Danish architects who looked for inspiration as much to Danish vernacular architecture with its yellow brick walls and pitched roofs, as to the large expanses of glass and rigorous structural logic introduced by German modernism. He was also influenced by the open-plan ideas of Frank Lloyd Wright, in which one room might be divided from another not by a wall and doorway, but by a large fireplace mass and change of level, and in which the landscape outside is seen as an extension of the interior space.

In 1952, at the beginning of his professional career, Gunnløgsson built a modest one-story brick house with a shallow pitched roof for his family. The house was located in the coastal town of Vedbaek, north of Copenhagen which during the 18th and 19th centuries had seen the construction of villa-like country houses for wealthy city bankers, merchants and ship owners. After the war, many of these larger properties were broken up and with a governmental push to help families build smaller and more efficient modern housing, the area became suburbanized. In order to obtain a state-financed loan for construction, the family house which Gunnløgsson designed was required to be under 130 square meters. Although he economized on size, the architect was technically and spatially ambitious, using under-floor heating for the first time in Denmark,and designing a living room which opens out into greenery in two directions.

Gunnlogsson villa
Halldor Gunnlogsson, 1952 house, Vedbaek, Denmark. View from the rear.

Archival images from a contemporary magazine or newspaper show that the architect mixed contemporary furniture designs like built- in sofa-benches and modern tables with older paintings in furnishing the house. In the front hall, he hung a print (or possibly a study?) of Picasso’s Guernica, painted only 11 years before, and reduced to a more house-friendly size of about 2’x5’.

Halldor Gunnlogsson, Entry hall of his own house, 1952.

In the large sunny living room, an important Swedish rölakan, named Svartbroka [designed in 1944] by Ann-Mari Forsberg was placed in front of the fireplace. It mixed comfortably on the floor with an unidentified pile rug, probably contemporary, and an older flat-weave kilim.

Halldor Gunnlogsson, Living room in 1952 home showing pile rug to lower left, kilim in center and Ann-Mari Forsberg rug, Svartbroka (designed 1944) in rear in front of fireplace.
Haldor Gunlogsonvilla_41
Halldor Gunnlogsson 1952 home showing Ann-Mari Forsberg rug, Svartbroka, on floor with Poul Kjaerholm PK25 chairs.

This Swedish flat-weave rug was woven in 3 different colors—red, yellow and natural brown, at the Marta Maas Fjetterstrom studio in Bastad, Sweden. As is clear from the images below, the red (and yellow) and the black were woven in differing directions—that is, in the red and yellow versions, the principal forked figures follow the warp direction, whereas in the black version, those figures run in the direction of the weft.

Ann-Mari Forsberg, rölakan, “Svartbroka” designed in 1944. This example is from the MMF website; it’s 170 x260 cm.
Ann-Mari Forsberg, rölakan, “Rödbroka” designed in 1944. This example is from the MMF website and is 181×266 cm.

Although the photos of the living room of the 1952 Gunnløgsson house shown above are in black and white, we can determine that Gunnløgsson owned the black (really, natural dark brown) version of the Forsberg rug. The yellow version would have shown up as paler in this black and white photo image, and more conclusively, the direction of the figures shown in these images is consistent with the pattern of the black rather than the red design.

A year after the house was built and by the time the photos above were taken, the living room was furnished with three chairs with chrome frames and steel “strings.” Their visual transparency gave the architect the possibility of simultaneously linking and separating the different parts of the 5 x 14 meter living room. These three chairs were among the first examples of the Poul Kjaerholm-designed PK25 chair and were purchased by Gunnløgsson in 1953.

By the time Gunnløgsson designed his second home six years later, for himself and his second wife, Kjaerholm had developed his furniture line, and the architect could select from many more such pieces. He and Kjaerholm had become very good friends, sharing an interest in the precise ways things are made and the way they occupy space, and are animated by light. When the furniture designer suggested painting the mahogany walls in that new (1958) house black, Gunnløgsson at first resisted, but eventually agreed that the black surface reflected light beautifully. With Kjaerholm’s occasional advice on the interior furnishings, the color palette of that house was gradually restricted to blacks and browns; white painted sliding doors and fireplace and the occasional splash of vermillion in a rug or set of built in drawers. The overall aesthetic of the house owed much, in fact, to Gunnløgsson’s encounter with Asian art and Japanese architecture during a 1957 trip to Asia, taken with his new wife.

From later published photos we can see that Gunnløgsson chose a black and white rug by Danish weaver Viebke Klint for a seating area of that house and that he also used the unidentified pile rug from his former living room in the area facing the sea. It would be logical of him to have brought the Forsberg rölakan as well, since the (non) colors fit so perfectly with his newly restricted palette of materials and colors, but I haven’t found any photographs which show it in place in the 1958 house.

Gunnlogsson 1958 Viebke Klint rug
Halldor Gunnlogsson 1958 Romsted house, showing black-painted walls, Kjaerholm PK 25 chairs and flat-weave rug by Danish weaver, Viebke Klint. Photo by Thomas Loof and Pernille Pedersen from Landmarks by Michael Sheridan.
LR FRom 100 houses copy
Gunnlogsson 1958 house, view out to sea, with Kjaerholm chairs and pile rug seen in archival photos of his 1952 house, shown above. From book, 100 Houses for 100 Architects of the 20th Century.

Because the Nazis were occupying Denmark when Gunnløgsson graduated from the Royal Academy, the young architect and his wife moved to Sweden for several years. Between 1942-44, they shared an apartment in Stockholm’s Gamla Stan with Halldor’s classmate, architect Jorn Utzon and his wife Lis.

It may be that they purchased the lively black and white rolakan by Forsberg from the MMF showroom in Stockholm in 1944. Unfortunately nearly all of the contents of his 1958 house were sold in 2014 on his widow’s death, so it’s hard to know whether this MMF rolakan stayed with Gunnløgsson’s first wife in that first house, or moved to the second. Either way, these archival photos are a testament to Gunnløgsson’s emerging architectural talent. They also show his penchant, already evident, for living surrounded with —not many, but a few—superb pieces of furniture and decorative art— of which the Forsberg flat-weave rug was one.

http://www.mms.se/amf/ accessed 5/20/16

Märta Måås Fjetterström Märta flyger igen! 90år med Märta Måås Fjetterström, 3.10.2009 + 6.1.2010 Liljevalchs konsthall, Stockholm. Color plates pages 162, 163.


Sheridan, Michael, Landmarks- The Modern House in Denmark, Hate Cantz, 201




Please reference as follows:

Whidden, Anne, “Furnishing a Danish Home, ca 1952” theswedishrugblog (May 21, 2016); http:// theswedishrugblog.wordpress.com; Accessed (month/day/year)



4 thoughts

  1. I had read the architectural theory of some of his professors when I studied architecture, but didn’t know Gunnløgsson’s own work, so I enjoyed finding out about him too. I strongly recommend the Michael Sheridan book, Landmarks, which looks in depth at fourteen mid-century Danish houses. It seems to have been first published in Danish. The research and photographs are excellent–and unfortunately for most of us, will probably be the closest we will get to actually experiencing these wonderful little gems.


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