Cover The Wishbone chair, also known as the CH24 or the 'Y' chair, is a timeless favourite (Image: Courtesy of Carl Hansen & Søn)

With its distinctive Y-shaped back and graceful appeal, the Wishbone chair by Hans J. Wegner is seen as an elegant classic. Here, we explore the history and the universal appeal of this sculptural piece

Two words—refined simplicity—sum up the description of this iconic seat: the Wishbone chair. The brainchild of Danish designer Hans J. Wegner, the Wishbone chair was first designed in 1949. Also known as the CH24 or the ‘Y’ chair, the classic piece is a timeless favourite and an enduring icon of modern Danish design. Interestingly, while the Wishbone chair is an exemplar of the modern Scandinavian design language, Wegner drew inspiration from the horseshoe form of Chinese wooden chairs that were used in the Ming dynasty.

Available in 50 colourways, the chair is crafted from approximately 120m of paper cord, and more than 100 steps are required to manufacture each piece; the process to craft each chair takes approximately three weeks to make. 

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The chair is a classic choice of furnishing for designers. British architectural designer John Pawson is a fan; the Wishbone chairs make for the perfect dining set in his self-designed countryside abode in Cotswolds, UK. British design guru Kelly Hoppen is another admirer of this chair; her set of Wishbone chairs feature black wooden frames that look right at home in the dining room of her Cotswolds abode.

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Local architect Edmund Ng also has a set in elegant black in his own residence in Singapore. Ng has also designed other minimalist abodes that feature this iconic piece. 

Beyond designers, the popular pieces have also made several on-screen appearances worldwide. Its television features include Marvel's television superhero series Jessica Jones, Nordic noir crime series The Bridge, and Irish drama series Normal People. 

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Featuring a simple hardwood silhouette, the chair exemplifies Wegner’s Danish-style design language, which he describes as the “continuous process of purification and of simplification”. Made from paper cord rope, a natural and durable material that the designer favoured, the seat features a woven envelope pattern. The simple structure of the chair features a sturdy steam-bent wooden top that’s smoothly extended to the sides to also serve as an armrest.

In order to provide stability to the chair and connect the various pieces together, Wegner designed the characteristic Y-shaped backrest. The support structure eliminates the need for multiple black slats, lending the chair a clean and understated look.

The Wishbone chair is minimalist in design, but complex in production. Boasting exceptional craftsmanship, each piece is meticulously crafted mostly by hand. The sharp focus on carpentry in the production process is a testament to Wegner’s profound appreciation of woodworking and joinery.  

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The designer, who’s also known as the ‘Master of Chairs’, started his career as a cabinet maker. From a young age, Wegner had a deep interest in woodcarving. He discovered his affinity for wood and further honed his crafting skills during his apprenticeships with master cabinetmakers.  

The prolific designer’s craft soon caught the eye of Danish furniture company Carl Hansen & Søn. The then owner, Holger Hansen, commissioned Wegner to create a mass-producible chair that is both comfortable and of quality.

While Hansen was originally displeased with Wegner’s chair designs due to their complex manufacturing process, he sent them into production the following year. Wegner had created four chairs—the CH22, CH23, CH24, and CH25—of which the CH24, the Wishbone chair, attained the greatest commercial success.

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Since then, the Wishbone chair has been in continuous production; in Singapore, the chair retails at P5 Studio and Danish Design Co. The chair is available in its original bent oak and natural seat as well as in other modern variations. In 2020, a new version with a leather seat debuted as a testament to the chair’s lasting legacy.

Adding style and functionality to any space with its structured simplicity, the Wishbone chair is perhaps one of Wegner’s most representative pieces as a legendary Danish design icon.