A Norwegian Furniture Design Icon


In this article we present snapshots of Sven Ivar Dysthe’s most prominent designs and innovations in industrial design , including his furniture for use in private houses as well as in public buildings,  hotels and companies.

This is a homage to Sven Ivar Dysthe’s sixty-year career as one of Norway’s most celebrated designers in the post-war period. Sven Ivar Dysthe (b. 1931), one of Norway’s few internationally trained designers, was graduated in 1954 with a masters degree in industrial design from the prestigious Royal College of Art in London.

Five year old, his grandfather had given Sven Ivar a carpenter’s bench. “I want to be a carpenter. A cabinetmaker!” he repeated after finishing his fourth form.

He had not been comfortable in school, but woodworking classes had filled him with confidence and belief in his own skill. Even so, his father was disappointed. He had built up an agency business, which he was probably hoping his son would take over. But the youngster had different ideas, and with the help of an acquaintance his father managed to find an apprenticeship at one of Trondheim’s most reputable carpentry workshops.

On 1951 Sven Ivar designed and crafted a huge master dresser, which he made in mahogany with rounded doors, dovetailed drawers, a slatted roll front, internal compartments for envelopes and A4 writing paper, a space to hang shirts and trousers, drawers for underwear and socks, a ventilated drawer for shoes, and even a drinks cabinet from which the owner could serve himself a little restorative, as respectable gentlemen were once inclined to do. This “daredevil creation” and the skills of the young man who made it were assessed by the jury of the Craftsmen’s Guild, and approved as outstanding with regard to all the disciplines involved.

Sven Ivar Dysthe did not exactly hide his ambitions in an interview he gave one September day in 1953. Like the Danish designer Poul Kjærholm, of the same age as Dysthe, the 22-year-old from Norway was trained as a cabinetmaker and the reason for the interview was that Dysthe was about to embark on his final year of training as an industrial designer at the Royal College of Art in London.
270215-Sven-ivar-dysthe-planetHis professor at the Department of Wood, Metal and Plastics was far from unknown. In 1944 Richard Drew Russell had been appointed “Royal Designer for Industry”, and his influence had been crucial to the design of the forward-looking Festival of Britain in 1951.

In 1954, Dysthe graduated from the Royal College of Art with the best achievable grade, Diploma of Design, First Class.

In 1955 Dysthe returned to Oslo to take up a “summer job” working for the furniture dealer Einar Mortensen A/S. He was commissioned to design a living-room interior for the annual autumn exhibition organized by the Norwegian Association of Applied Art. He created an almost rectangular ensemble of upholstered chairs with a low table arranged around what was in those days the typical focus of such conversational spaces, the fireplace.

That autumn, Sven Ivar Dysthe also met his future wife, Trinelise Hauan, a recent graduate from the School of Interior Design in Copenhagen, where she had studied under Finn Juhl. The fact that both had spent time in the country meant they shared the same aesthetic outlook.

In 1958 Dysthe participated in a competition organized by Askim Gummivarefabrikk to design furniture that would use the company’s Viking foam rubber. Winning first prize, he received 2,000 kroner for the best chair and 2,500 kroner for the best sofa-bed. The chairman of the jury, architect Odd Brochmann, stressed that “Sven Ivar Dysthe’s chair and sofa-bed are in a class of their own, in terms of both design and the use of foam rubber.”

It was the Norwegian experiments with plastic moulding techniques and Lauritz Sunde’s so called “Sundolitt” (polyurethane) that provided the background for Sven Ivar Dysthe’s first shell chair, the hemispherical Globus. Designed in the autumn of 1963 for Møre Lenestolfabrikk, it was produced under the name Planet in 1964.

In the 1960s, Dysthe experimented with other inventions besides round plastic chairs, later re – marking that his new “plastic ski bindings were his biggest challenge. ”It was no easy matter to break the market dominance of the traditional Rottefella binding, yet this was the task Dysthe set himself when the ski wax manufacturer AstraWallco AS approached him in 1964.

His works represent something important in a dying Norwegian industry of finished products, not least within Norwegian furniture.

Sven Ivar Dysthe’s most famous designs
1960 Leather furniture series 1001
1963 Wall lamp Butterfly
1965 Laminette stack chairs
1965 Swing chair Planet
1966 Ski binding Symetric for Bergans
1968 Glass fiber chair Popcorn, designed for Heine Onstad Art Center
1975 Car adherent Pluss Plass (More Space)
1994 Waiting room benches Gardist for Oslo Airport Gardermoen
1999 Theatre chair Back-up for the amphi stage at Oslo National Theatre

This article is based on excerpts from the book Sven Ivar Dysthe – Swinging 60s, edited by Widar Halén. 

You may read more here.