July 21, 2008 Mid-Century Modern

Cool Danish Digs in D.C.

Talk about Danish modern. For its piece on the Mad men and woman of Washington, the Washington Post took six of D.C.’s top advertising executives, dressed them in ‘60s-style garb and brought them to the Danish ambassador’s residence in all of its Danish modern glory. “Washington has a number of structures built in the mid-century Modern style of the 1940s to 1960s, the spare, horizontal, European-inspired architecture seen in ‘Mad Men,’” a sidebar to the main story says, referring to the critically acclaimed AMC show about Madison Avenue in the the 1960s. “The problem was that most of those buildings have renovated their interiors.” Thankfully, not the residence of Danish Ambassador Friis Arne Petersen and his wife, Birgitte Wilhelmsen. (In an e-mail exchange with reporter Frank Ahrens, I suggested a few potential sites, including the historic terminal by Charles Goodman at National Airport, the HUD building by Marcel Breuer in Southwest, three office buildings design by Chloethiel Woodward Smith on corner of Connecticut Avenue and I Street and the MLK library by Mies van de Rohe.)

Located in Dumbarton Oaks, the embassy and residence—the first modern embassy in Washington—was designed by Danish architect Vilhelm Lauritzen and opened in 1960. Lauritzen met with Walter Gropius, who, along with students, worked with Lauritzen on the project, which connected the ambassador’s residence to the embassy by a glass corridor. Leading Danish designer Finn Juhl was in charge of furnishing the interior, using such iconic pieces as Arne Jacobsen’s “Swan” and “Egg” chairs, the lighting of Poul Henningsen and some of his own furniture designs. (Note: The embassy used to have good virtual tours with images and descriptions of both the embassy and the residence, which I linked to from this post. Unfortunately, they do not work anymore.)