Cover Peter Bundgaard Rützou and Signe Bindslev Henriksen, the founders of Danish multidisciplinary design studio Space Copenhagen (Photographed by Martin Bubandt)

Space Copenhagen is the firm behind the interior design of some of the most celebrated restaurants on the World’s 50 Best Restaurants list; here, the co-founders Signe Bindslev Henriksen and Peter Bundgaard Rützou share how emotions and feelings guide their work.

What's the key to crafting a memorable interior? For Danish design studio Space Copenhagen, it’s empathy. 

“Spaces have an immediate impact on whoever takes them into use and possession. Entering a space tricks something intuitively in your body and mind. Senses at large are trying to translate impressions into emotion. In each case, we carefully try to understand what that is,” explain Signe Bindslev Henriksen and Peter Bundgaard Rützou, the designers that lead Space Copenhagen. “Furthermore, we try not to have any predefined position as to solutions and we always enter into a dialogue with the client where we investigate aspirations, ambition, limitations, site, and functions for each project.”

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Established in 2005, the Danish design studio is based in Copenhagen and is known for designing distinctive, multilayered spaces that are marked with a soulful character. These include the award-winning 11 Howard hotel in New York and The Stratford hotel in London.

The designers are also behind several acclaimed restaurants in Copenhagen that sit at the top of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants 2021, which include restaurant Geranium and the first design iteration of Noma.  

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The studio is not influenced by trends; instead, they draw inspiration from “human aspects; how the space actually makes you feel, as well as the holistic experience of passing through space and time”. Take, for example, the interiors of Esmée, a new restaurant located in the heart of Copenhagen led by chef Andreas Bagh.

“For Esmée we wanted to create the feeling of a fun, lively, urban orangery by bringing the verdant courtyards into the space and by using a lot of plants and trees throughout,” says Henriksen. Adds Rützou: “We feel that the design of Esmée has a real sense of joy and celebration about it, which really feels right for these times.” 

The design duo created a transitional space—from a relaxed morning coffee spot to an elegant dinner destination—and used a blend of contemporary and rustic influences to create a sense of optimism and playfulness. This unpretentious and comfortable atmosphere was created by the studio to mark the reopening of Denmark’s hospitality industry, after challenging times caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

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“We believe that the spaces that surround us have a direct effect on our mood and well-being. Working with interiors is simply a personal study of our everyday needs, the small rituals we engage in, the things we do in order to feel at home, organised, safe, cosy, or simply uplifted and joyful,” says Henriksen. 

Adds Rützou: “This could be personal objects, candle lights, sculptural lighting for ambience, books, plants, or a certain comfortable way of arranging a setting. These are all aspects which make us focus on the things close to us and make us feel more at ease and inspired.”

We believe that the spaces that surround us have a direct effect on our mood and well-being.
Space Copenhagen

This emphasis on emotions shapes the duo’s intuitive creative ethos; the designers describe their approach as “poetic modernism”. 

“We are modern human beings in a very modern context, which infers a curiosity and belief in modern ideas. But at the same time, we try to insist on some traditional or less tangible values, such as beauty and poetry as well,” explains Rützou. “Qualities that resonate outside contemporary trends and reach further back in our fabric. We cherish the notion of slow aesthetics and of spatial qualities of a timeless nature.”

“(Our approach) aims to suggest a parallel of relevance between intuition and pragmatism; that design, spatial relations, objects, life in general benefit from creating synergies between function and pragmatism, being clever and organised while being (attuned to) our intuitions and sensibilities, as well as our desires and appetites that surface to resolve our inner needs,” says Henriksen.

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This philosophy rings true in the Danish design duo’s impressive portfolio, which extends beyond crafting the interiors of private residences, hotels, and restaurants; the studio’s diverse oeuvre include designing furniture, lighting, products, as well as art installations. 

“Shifting between disciplines feels very privileged. It generates not only energy but also complementary discovery and discourse in the train of thought when jumping scale, technique, and circumstance,” Henriksen enthuses. “We tend to look at the relation between space and object from a holistic point of view. As human beings, we receive sensory input on many different levels simultaneously when stepping into experience, and as such this contributes to the interplay of all these separate layers.”

Working as a duo has also helped the designers foster a dialogue that produces dynamic and nuanced designs. “Working closely together has provided an amazing space and platform for us, where we can share mutual curiosities and fascinations, have discussions, debate and dialogue about the nature of design and aesthetics, and bring each other a sense of contrast and balance while growing and continuously learning to work within and expand our fields of interest and passion,” share the designers. “Patience, openness, generosity, and ample space will allow for differences to flourish into strength.”

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Patience, openness, generosity, and ample space will allow for differences to flourish into strength.
Space Copenhagen

Here, the dynamic duo shares more about their creative philosophy and what a design-forward space means to them. 

Could you give us a brief overview of your creative design process? 

Signe Bindslev Henriksen (SBH): Our colour and material palettes are often quite earthy and subdued, this links to our notion of slow aesthetics by allowing space and adding respect to the inherent colours and qualities of natural materials. Leaving them open to their properties and to transform with a sense of grace.

We are also quite aware that when we finish a project, life is going to take place here, with people, food, activity and all kinds of colours as the last added and most important layer. That said, we do sometimes use strong colours, but mostly as accents such as fabrics or special pieces of furniture. 

You describe your design approach as “poetic modernism”. Could you elaborate more on this? 

Peter Bundgaard Rützou (PBR): We are human beings in a very modern context, which infers a curiosity and belief in modern ideas. But at the same time, we try to insist on some traditional or less tangible values, such as beauty and poetry as well; qualities that resonate outside contemporary trends and reach further back in our fabric. We cherish the notion of slow aesthetics and of spatial qualities of a timeless nature. 

Our relationship to materials is an extension of these beliefs. We enjoy the melancholy of imprint that a given material yields access to its origin, essence, and patina. It is an ongoing love story that looks into the possibilities of working with different typologies of stone, wood, metals, and different treatments, combinations, and qualities. Organic materials have the embedded quality that they age well, and they grow in beauty over time. 

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What are your top tips for success and getting it all together? 

PBR: Curiosity, passion, focus and hard work. 

What is the mark of a well-designed space to you? 

SBH: There is really no simple answer to this, as well-designed spaces exist on so many different levels and in so many shapes and forms. But perhaps it comes across as something that reaches you first on an intuitive level, that feels intriguing and alluring, whether silently empowering or breathtakingly monumental. And when those first intuitions settle into acceptance and you look closer, this reveals the details and carefully considered thought (that went into its design). When the spirituality of a space balances its function, it often comes across as a design that is well applied with care and purpose. 

What is one decor trend you’re currently obsessed with? 

SBH: Art, history, culture, science, nature and materials are our returning points. A certain sensibility towards the shifts in human behaviour and preference are the guiding vehicles for change that we use to compose our work. Hitting the right balance of looking into the future from the offset of the past seems to be a lasting formula. 

This aside, implications of an Anthropocene era upon us demands attention collectively from us and are reflected into the choices we take moving forward. 

What are some furniture collections and art that have caught your eye recently? 

1 / 4

Gubi Private cabinetry collection and Unbound lighting collection

PBR The Private cabinetry collection and Unbound lighting collection, our two new collections for Copenhagen-based design house Gubi, were showcased during this year’s 3 Days of Design (an annual Danish design event held in Copenhagen) in September. We are extremely happy and proud to present these pieces. 

2 / 4

Fellow Lamp for Fredericia Furniture

SBH Our first light fixture for Danish design label Fredericia marks a new path for the renowned furniture manufacturer. Fellow is both a table lamp and a sculpture in its own right. We sought to create a simple, intuitive composition from two soft, distinctive and organic-shaped elements. The base is made from solid limestone, which renders it visually and technically static. The limestone features a variety of sediments that add depth and attest to its natural origins. In contrast, the shade is made of powder-coated metal that is flexible. 

3 / 4

The Feurle Collection in Berlin

PBR The Feurle Collection, a private museum in Berlin, holds a rare collection of historic and fine Asian furniture and craft dating back over 2000 years in an unusual, beautifully ambient and atmospheric setting designed by John Pawson, and complemented by photography and art by Nobuyoshi Araki (and other artists). It's a meditative and inspiring experience of history, art and design. 

4 / 4

Olafur Eliasson, Your Ocular Relief, 2021

SBH Icelandic-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson's Your Ocular Relief, the central artwork of his 11th solo exhibition of the same name, is an amazing, poetic, and powerful exploration of the ever wonderous qualities of light and shadow.