Living in Denmark I didn't just learn the lingo and get used to eating fish for breakfast, I fell in love with the furniture. Big time...
I love furniture. I especially love chairs. Big comfy chairs. Big comfy chairs that look like they’ve been designed twenty years from now even though they were originally made in the 1950’s and 60’s. More precisely, I love Danish designed pieces, one of the many fascinations I picked up from a country I once called home. I categorize my favourites as ‘armchair porn’. It’s not got to the fetish stage yet but it’s getting mightily close, so watch out for my up-coming piece on the subject called “The Five Most Comfortable Chairs To Masturbate In”. I’m not joking either.
I moved to the land of Lego in 2005 after “falling out of favour” with my then manager at Aberdeen. Initially, I was going on a three month loan deal to get myself some games after losing my place in the team through injury. After the initial thoughts of “What the f**k am I doing here” had subsided, I fell in love with their whole culture and in the end it became a huge wrench when I came to leave. The first two years was almost like being on holiday. When I wasn’t training I was sitting in a cafe by the lake in Silkeborg or by the riverside in Århus, eating brunch, drinking coffee, reading yesterday’s English newspapers. Apart from wanting the cafe to be on the Champs Elysees and not wearing a beret, this was basically how I’d seen my life away from football in a dream. Drinking coffee and watching the world go by. In truth, the title of “Cafe Critic” would suit me perfectly.
Wherever I’ve played, my first priority was always to scout the local cafes. I’d test drive them all and then plump for the one with the most character and homeliness. Wherever I chose had to be perfect as I’d be spending half my life there, eventually becoming friends with the owners and the staff, a bit like in Cheers in a way. Which, come to think of it, makes sense since I was brought up living in pubs ran by my parents. My time at all my clubs can be matched with the cafes I frequented. Sunderland – The Ivy House. Darlington – Imperial Express. Aberdeen – Cafe 52. Silkeborg – Cafe Picasso. Odense – Cafe Gertrud’s. Barnsley – Pollyanna’s. Alright, The Ivy House was a pub not a cafe but I had a bit of a crush on one of the barmaids so I’d go and have my lunch and watch Jerry Springer on the big screens after training.
I’d call Mohammed’s store an Aladdin’s cave of home furnishings if Aladdin had rode around in small flying saucer rather than a manky old carpet
I never was one for sleeping in the afternoon like the rest of my teammates. I had to be around people, so my favourite cafe would become my canteen, my office and my youth club all in one. It was when I moved to Silkeborg, slap bang in the heart of mainland Jutland, that I came across Cafe Picasso. It looked as if it had been untouched for fifty years, with quirky lamps dotted around the tables and well-aged works of art hung on the wall. None of the furniture matched as every piece of it was original but it just worked in a “not trying too hard to be different, we ARE different” kind of way. This is where I met Mohammed and Tarek, two Egyptian brothers who’d moved to Denmark 25 years earlier. I quickly became friends with Mohammed, a short, stocky man with a perma-smile, a hand constantly occupied by a wine glass and a flowing mullet full of jet black curls. Unfortunately for my comedy ego, he’d never heard of Ian McShane so all of my Lovejoy referenced jokes passed straight over the top of his luscious locks.
As it turned out, Mohammed’s cafe was only part of his empire. He also owned a furniture store called Classique, next to all the riverside cafe’s in Århus on Jutland’s east coast. He could see I was fascinated by all the objet d’art dotted around his cafe so he invited me down one evening to take a look around. The moment I walked into his store was the instant my love of beautiful furniture was sparked. I know furniture isn’t a classic interest of the footballer but sometimes in life something gets its claws into you and you can’t escape it’s grasp. I’ve always had passing obsessions about things like food and clothes in the past and apart from an eternal love of pickled onion Monster Munch, this is the one that’s stuck.
I’d call Mohammed’s store an Aladdin’s cave of home furnishings if Aladdin had rode around in small flying saucer rather than a manky old carpet because the furniture in there. He kept his place open well into the night, encouraging well-oiled passers by to browse round while he uncorked another bottle of wine from his extensive collection and poured his customers a full glass which was quite often clinked to the sale of a £5,000 Poul Kjærholm PK 54 dining table or a three-and-a-half grand Poul Henningsen lamp. It was genius way to do business with the affluent Danes who stroll in half-cut. By chance, one of my teammates, Steffen Erneman, was running his online homeware business and was equally as interested in classic Danish furniture, so we’d visit the shop on our nights out. We’d often stroll in to say hello and stott out of there two hours later more knowledgable about furniture but less able to fight off a liver infection.
Many of the classic Danish pieces are still produced today, like Arne Jacobsen’s ‘Egg Chair” and Hans Wegner’s “Ox Chair” but everything Mohammed sold was the original stuff made in their designer’s heyday. I’ve been to many great museums and galleries but none of that game me the same visual pleasure as looking at these functional pieces of art. I’d always loved the Eames lounge chair but it still looked retro and past it’s time, whereas much of the stuff designed by people like Verner Panton looked as if it had been transported back from a time yet to arrive. Much of it still does. It’s the furniture The Jetsons would’ve kitted-out their sky high home with Scandinavian sofas and sideboards.
We’d often stroll in to say hello and stott out of there two hours later more knowledgable about furniture but less able to fight off a liver infection
The real beauty of Scandinavian lounge chairs is not just in how attractive they look but in their comfort. I look around at other modern designs, particularly Italian, and they sacrifice the comfort of their pieces simply so they look more aesthetically in magazines. I judge the comfort of a lounge chair by how long it takes, if ever, for you to fall asleep in one and this where the Scandinavians have the comgy lounge chair arena boxed off. If you disagree then here’s a little challenge for you: go out and find somewhere that has an “Ball Chair” by the Finnish designer Eero Aarnio for sale, slip off your shoes, climb inside, curl yourself up into ball and I dare you to tell me you don’t feel like someone’s slipped you two mogadons washed down with a glass of warm milk. You couldn’t.
Most original pieces are still available to buy at a lower price than at new but some of the rarer stuff is gaining value. You don’t buy an original Arne Jacobsen, you invest in one. You could buy a dining table and chairs from Barker & Stonehouse and it won’t be worth anything in two years time. Buy an Arne Jacobsen Super Ellipse table and four Series 7 chairs and you’ll still be able to get most of you money back for it if you wanted to sell it years down the line. I began collecting pieces, albeit on a modest scale, after Mohammed gave me an original Arne Jacobsen “Number 7” in red leather as a gift when my daughter was born and it sits proudly in the corner of her bedroom and obviously barred from sitting on it after I looked found out it was 50 years old and worth £400. My first purchases were a battered old Arne Jacobsen Swan chair for £120 and a Verner Panton “Panthella” floor lamp, or as I called it “The Mushroom”, which I managed to get for £150 rather than the £350 it was really worth. The buzz I got from that lead me to spending hour after hour trawling the internet for my kind of porn, cheap porn at that. Just a few months ago, I made an ultimately fruitless dash across Yorkshire to Bradford to try and nab brand new Ox Chair that was going for half it’s RRP price of £5,500. The thrill and excitement of capturing such a bargain quickly turned into a pain, the kind of which I’d never thought I’d ever have to suffer over a piece of furniture. Over a chair. A lump of metal, wood and leather. After all, that’s what they are but God they’re beautiful. Now, you’ll have to excuse me. I feel the need for a sit down in a Danish designed lounge chair coming on . . .
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