“Creating something that is good to own makes it easy to sell”
As a child, Kristian Illum Wikkelsø was always called either “Brother Illum” or simply “Brother”. He was born on the 15th of July 1919 in Diernäs, a small village a few kilometres outside Faaborg on the island of Fyn in Denmark.
After school, at the age of 16, Illum became an apprentice for cabinetmaker Emanuel Petersen. He also attended the Technical School in Faaborg and graduated with highest possible honours and excellent recommendations. Besides being a skilled craftsman, his innovative sense also became apparent.
An example of this is when Illum mounted a sail on his bike in order to save time he needed for his long days combining work and school. His attraction to water also made him a successful long-distance rower in the archipelago south of Fyn. This interest stayed with him for the remainder of his life and, as a further example of his craftmanship, he built a small sailing boat for his three grandchildren, called ALK, which he on occasion also enjoyed by himself.
Illum graduated as cabinetmaker in 1940 and immediately moved to Copenhagen for studies at the Technical Society School where he got free education until 1943, when he graduated with bronze medal. During 1940 -1941, he also studied at the Danish School of Arts & Crafts under O. Mølgaard Nielsen. In 1943, he was accepted as a student at the Furniture School at the Royal Academy of Art lead be Kaare Klint. Curiously, Kaare Klint had, together with Carl Petersen in 1914 designed the "Faaborg" chair in the Neo-Classical style for the Faborg Museum owned by the art collector Mads Rasmussen. During his time in Copenhagen Illum also worked with cabinetmaker Jacob Kjaer and the architectural firm of Peter Hvidt and Orla Mølgaard-Nielsen.
When Illum met with producers he did not only bring drawings of his ideas, he also brought a handcrafted 1:10 scale model.
Illum's design is founded in artisanship, in a lineage from a generation of cabinetmakers, upholsterers and furniture producers from before the 1950s. An exoticism repeats in whole as in parts of leather upholstered high back model V11. Its pyramidal legs in Brazilian Rosewood refer to the diagonal lines of back and armrest. Experiments in the 1960s with curved organic modernism led to a three legged easy chair for the Danish furniture maker Holger Christiansen. Curvy triangles are repeated in three upholstered tongues inviting to alternative reclining positions.
Illums skill in furniture design did not go unnoticed with the Danish government either. He was frequently commissioned by the Danish Government to prepare official design exhibitions in Denmark and overseas. Best known for his seating furniture design, Illum’s aesthetic is considered quintessentially Scandinavian, drawing inspiration from natural, organic form and translating it into furniture that closely embraces the human figure while remaining steadfast and durable.
In 1944, Illum moved to Aarhus to work for Cabinetmaker O.A.V. Christensen until he, a couple of years later, started at LEM’s Furniture House as an interior designer. He stayed with LEM until 1956. During this period, he won prizes at four separate annual exhibitions of the Copenhagen Cabinet Makers’ Guild.
In 1954 Illum started his own drawing office and started working with some of Denmark’s leading furniture factories. Like many of his contemporaries - Arne Jacobsen, Finn Juhl, and Hans Wegner for example - Illum’s designs emphasize formal simplicity and biomorphic silhouettes. Illum’s background in cabinetry gave him a profound understanding of materials and a superb attention to detail. Working mostly with teak and rosewood, he captured delicately sculptural forms. Illum believed that furniture should be built to last while cradling the body and pleasing the eye.
Throughout the years, Illum also found an interest in painting. Mostly using oil and water colours; his favourite object was the sea or landscapes with buildings. He seldom tried to sell anything and now most of the paintings are hanging in the homes of children and grandchildren. His talent becomes abundantly clear when you study what he has done, not just in furniture but also in painting. He also had a less known passion. He owned a car, a Mercedes that was very dear to him. During many years he continued to change his Mercedes every second year, always finding a new touch on it unlike any of the previous versions.
All of these interests continued until the 14th of February 1999 when he passed away.