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New Canaan's Jens Risom, 100, Leader In Modern Furniture Design

Jens Risom, of New Canaan
Jens Risom, of New Canaan Photo Credit: Contributed

NEW CANAAN, Conn. — Jens Risom, of New Canaan and Block Island, R.I., died Friday, Dec. 9 at “The Inn” in New Canaan, where he had lived since early 2010. He was 100.

Jens Risom was born May 8, 1916, to Sven and Inger (Henriques) Risom in Copenhagen, Denmark. His father was award-winning architect Sven Risom.

Jens Risom was one of the first designers to bring traditional Scandinavian values of form, function and craftsmanship to the United States, creating post-World War ll Danish-modern furniture design. He graduated from the Copenhagen School of Industrial Arts and Design, and went on to pursue academic studies in business and contemporary design at the Business College of Niels Brock.

Briefly working for the Danish architect Ernst Kuhn, he created several furniture pieces for Gustav Weinreich of ALS Normina, in Copenhagen. He went on to work for a small design shop in Sweden specializing in residential furniture, and Nordiska Kompaniet (NK).

Risom immigrated to New York City in early 1939 to study contemporary American furniture; he found there was almost none. He free-lanced with Dan Cooper in a small textiles firm and did a few pieces of furniture for various architects. He was included in Collier's "House of Ideas" designed by Edward Durell Stone and constructed at Rockefeller Center during the 1939 New York World's Fair.

In 1941, he teamed with Hans Knoll to produce a high-quality contemporary line of furniture. In 1942, Risom designed 15 of the 20 pieces in Knoll's inaugural "600" line. Materials were hard to get during the war, so he designed simple, elegant, clean-lined birch furniture with surplus parachute webbing. This signature line is still sold through Knoll.

He was drafted into the U.S. Army (1943-45), serving under Gen. George Patton. After the war, Risom returned to NYC to start his own company, Jens Risom Design Inc., on May 1, 1946.

In 1949, he moved his family to New Canaan, where he lived until his death.

In 1955, Jens Risom Design needed larger production space and more employees. The Connecticut Development Commission approached Risom, then in New York City, about establishing a factory in North Grosvenordale, where Risom Manufacturing Co. became a success.

Risom furniture is permanently exhibited at many major institutions including: Brooklyn Museum, Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum, Museum of Modern Art, Rhode Island School of Design Museum, and the Yale Museum of Art and Design.

JRD/RMC was sold in the early 1970s and Risom set up Design Control Inc. in New Canaan, through which he could license his designs.

Risom was on the Board of the Silvermine Guild and RISD, and was involved with local design projects in New Canaan and New York City. He helped with design decisions at Waveny, the First Presbyterian Church of New Canaan and the Historical Commission (among others) in New Canaan. The New Canaan Historical Society named the Risom Room, at their Gores Pavilion in Irwin Park, to honor him.

In 1939, Jens Risom married Iben Haderup and they had four children: Helen Risom Belluschi, Peggy Risom Bull, both of New Canaan, Thomas C. Risom of Old Lyme and Sven C. Risom of Block Island. After Iben died in 1977, Jens married Dr. Henny Panduro Madsen. They were married 36 years until her death in late 2015.

He is survived by son- and daughters-in-law Dr. Sherman Bull, Pam Austen, and Laura Pinkham Risom; stepchildren Helle Jacobsen and Dr. Michael Madsen; grandchildren Pietro, Catharine (Bryan), Sky (Bill), Thayer (Chris), Whitney (Becca), Thatcher, Tyler, KC, Ethan (Chirona), Tucker and Leah; great-grandchildren Josson, Axel, Sofi, Ellie, Natalie, Gabe, Nate, Lily, Abby, and Fiona; and his youngest brother Niels (Kay) in Denmark and seven nieces and nephews.

He was also predeceased by his infant son Jens Edward; and his brother Ole Risom.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Block Island Conservancy, P.O. Box 84, Block Island RI 02807 or to The Inn (part of Waveny LifeCare) 73 Oenoke Ridge, New Canaan CT 06840.

Interment will be private. A Celebration of his life will be held in May 2017.

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