What makes this marriage work? Ask the Danish-Mexican manager of Nordika in Mérida.
A Seppo Koho pendant lamp over a kitchen island, or a Boerge Mogensen hunting chair on a terraza — sights like these are less and less unusual since Nordika arrived five years ago.
To anyone just getting to know Yucatán, encountering Danish modern furniture on a house tour can be a surprise.
In the romance of tropical Mexico, the cool beauties of northern Europe have asserted themselves. Even a casual observer can see what’s happening on design blogs, or even in the lush coffee table book “Casa Mexico” which publisher Rizzoli released last April.
Choosing Danish modern invites a lighter and brighter ambiance, and conveys a worldly, sophisticated image. Still, the idea of Scandinavian furniture is widely misunderstood as cold or faddish.
And when Nordika arrived in Mérida five years ago, manager Jan Marco Christiansen had his work cut out explaining the value — in every sense of the word — that Danish minimalism brings.
Christiansen, raised in Denmark by a Danish/Mexican couple, would appear to have arrived out of Central Casting to take on this challenge.
“It was for the love of Danish Design that Nordika’s founder, Brian Bielenberg, started importing Danish-designed furniture into Mexico,” says Christiansen. “He and his Mexican wife were living in Denmark for some years, and she fell in love with the Danish interior decorating style.”
Around the world, Scandinavian furniture had been on the upswing for years, but was largely unavailable to the Mexico market until Nordika filled the void 15 years ago.
But it was a risk bringing the designs to tropical Yucatán, whose capital is an old tropical city steeped in Spanish Colonial style. Yet Scandinavian designs, which come from cold, northern Europe, really do complement the architecture here.
How is this so?
Possibly the breezy style of the modern furniture is a striking and refreshing contrast to the heavy wooden doors, ornate pasta tile floors and thick rock walls of a Colonial house.
Plus, most new houses being built are already contemporary in style, and Nordika’s stylish lines are a natural fit.
And the styles aren’t here-today, gone-tomorrow. While often lightweight, they’re durable, not just in construction, but in aesthetic.
“The Danish designers behind the term Danish Modern oftentimes found their inspiration in the Bauhaus modernism. The Danish designers and cabinetmakers made the designs simpler,” says Christiansen. “This is exactly why the furniture and lamps from that particular period are still very much in demand.”
The Wishbone chairs recently highlighted at Nordika actually date from the 1940s, at the beginning of the mid-century Modern period.
“The simple design and the material — oftentimes wood — is the main reason that the designs are still very much ‘in’ and can be used in any kind of decorating style,” says Christiansen. “Danish Modern furniture is timeless, and that’s why they can be used yesterday, today and tomorrow.”
Mérida-based architect and interior designer Atahualpa Hernández Salazar of Taller Estilo Yucatán avails himself of Nordika’s lines often when contracted by homeowners. He easily blends Danish modern designs with traditional architecture. The climate is not an obstacle, even if it’s in direct opposition to Denmark’s frigid weather.
“I think that when we design we need to think about everything,” says Hernández. “First of all, the weather is one of the most important things to consider during the design process if we want to have a comfortable space.”
For Hernández, the materials used in Scandinavian furnishings — the fabric, the wood — combine with sophisticated design to make it desirable in a tropical home. He also commends Nordika for “quality, originality and comfort,” adding “plus, the warranty.”
The designers behind Nordika’s pieces are legendary.
“Every piece comes with a story. That’s how Carl Hansen & Son explains the benefits of furniture designed by the great Danish designers, such as Hans J. Wegner,” says Christiansen. “The story that the furniture tells us speaks greatly about the quality of the product. If the furniture were not of such high quality and durability they would not be in production anymore.”
A common misunderstanding goes that modern pieces were conceived recently, and will go out of style. It’s the confusion between “Modern,” which is a set style and era, and “Contemporary,” which refers to more common furniture pieces reflecting an ever-changing trend.
“We oftentimes talk to clients telling us that their grandparents had this or that furniture – most often they remember the Wishbone chair designed by Hans J. Wegner, and that they still have it now many years later,” says Christiansen. “And also in the auctions around the world, the original furniture — designed and sold more than 40 years ago — is appreciating in value.”
Opening the Mérida store was a big risk. Christiansen began from scratch, knocking on doors of the local architects and interior designers in Mérida. And after almost a half a year of doing that, he decided to open a little showroom of only 25 square meters.
“Sales rose and after having the opportunity to show some products live, it became obvious that we needed a bigger showroom,” Christiansen recalls. “In 2013, we moved into our present location, where we are able to show nice and different arrangements of living rooms and such. It gives a client a good idea of how it could look in their own houses.”
The new showroom is spread out across 250 square meters over two stories in a modern standalone building with a 200-square-meter garden in the rear. The store is in Col. San Antonio Cinta, which is just north of Itzimná and just south of Montealbán, Monterreal and Montevideo.
Challenges remain to educate the customer on what Danish Modern really means. Some customers confuse Nordika’s lines with those of a certain big-box store from Sweden, and wonder why the prices aren’t similar.
“Often we start off asking about the style they have already and the budget they have — because the prices on our products vary. We can offer several options, because we work with around 45 different brands,” says Christiansen.
“Then the next step is to show ideas — and from that point find the products the clients like and weed out what they dislike.”
Once the client chooses a model they like, then they are directed to fabric and wood choices to customize each piece. Most furniture can be personalized, and accessories are available in various colors.
In some cases, the staff presents pieces in the client’s home or they will create a Photoshop rendering of what each piece would look like, in proper scale, in a specific space.
How to prepare
Before shopping, Christiansen advises customers to do some research. Using magazines, blogs and social media can help tremendously.
“Especially Pinterest is a very good place to find inspiration,” advises Christiansen. “Another place to find help for a true do-it-yourself person is Wiki-how. You can find pretty much all you need there.”
Then it is time to find the furniture in the colors you have chosen. He advises a neutral color pallet — grays, whites, beiges and browns — for big pieces, with pops of color from the accessories.
Nordika offers designer services, as well as advice for the do-it-yourself designer.
Danish Modern refers directly to the classic furniture of the great designers such as Kaare Klint, Arne Jacobsen, Hans J Wegner and Boerge Mogensen — all represented at Nordika.
“But it is important to remember that the young Danish Designers like Kasper Salto, Simon Legald and Cecilie Manz are taking the Danish Modern to a — well, more modern style,” says Christiansen. “Their work is also presented at Nordika.”
“They are finding their inspiration in the ‘old’ Danish Modern designers — but they are using modern industrial material and methods of production,” he says.
“That’s also the reason that we have ‘new’ brands with inspiration from the pillars of Danish design. Therefore, can we offer competitive prices on newer design brands, but it all depends on your wants and taste.”
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