Few brands encapsulate the characteristics and ethos for which 20th-century Danish design is world-renowned quite so intrinsically as Garde Hvalsøe. This small Copenhagen-based company creates the cabinetry equivalent of a Hans Wegner chair: pared-back joinery streamlined for functionality, handcrafted by artisans who revel in the beauty of wood, and built to last generations.
Garde Hvalsøe kitchens are the preferred choice of Michelin-starred restaurant’s chefs such as Noma’s René Redzepi, who has the ‘Model Dinesen’ at home (top), and Nicolai Nørregaard, whose chefs have worked the oak kitchen countertops at his restaurant Kadeau so hard they’re as smooth as silk.
One glance at these solid timber beauties – defined by a utilitarian simplicity and handleless drawers with exposed finger joints – might have you dating their creation sometime between the 1930s and the 1960s. And yet the company was established in just 1993 by Søren Hvalsøe Garde, who gave up teaching in his early thirties to follow in his cabinetmaker father’s footsteps. ‘My father made everything in fir – our house was full of it,’ recalls Garde. ‘I hate fir and wanted to create something in a totally different style.’ He began the hard way, working solo from a basement and travelling locally door to door to win clients.
So timeless is his aesthetic that his first kitchen design remains in production, but Garde now works from the new headquarters and showroom in Copenhagen (top left and right), conceived in collaboration with David Thulstrup, the in-demand architect behind Noma. The team has grown and since 2012 includes Garde’s business partner Søren Lundh Aagaard, who has helped the brand go global, with the pair regularly visiting clients in New York, San Francisco, Nairobi and London.
Commissions come via word of mouth and devotees tend to be discreet. ‘It’s not the Porsche Cayenne types; these people don’t need to flash their wealth,’says Aagaard. ‘We realise we have a tradition that lots of people are looking for: quality, genuine craft and honesty.’
As a consequence they employ only Danish craftspeople, sending their own specialists to fit a project. The average wait time for a kitchen is 12 to 14 weeks from final approval to completion and it takes four years for apprentice cabinetmakers to reach the high standards required to work for the firm.
Which brand would they compare themselves to? ‘Hermès,’ says Aagaard, ‘because of their quietness and very serious devotion to craft.’ gardehvalsoe.dk
This article appeared in ELLE Decoration November 2019
Like this article? Sign up to our newsletter to get more articles like this delivered straight to your inbox.