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Kähler has been making ceramics in Denmark since 1839, making 2019 their 180th birthday. Even for a Danish design company, that’s old, rivalled only by a few other heritage brands (and breweries, of course. Danes do love their beer).
Producing beautiful and functional ceramic pieces has been at the heart of Kähler since its launch.
Started by potter Herman J. Kähler in the town of Næstved, Kähler was very much a one-man-show, making simple kitchenware and heating stoves. Joachim’s son Herman A. Kähler took over in 1872. Herman continued the family business while beginning to search for new and innovative ceramics techniques.
He began working with glazes in exciting ways, something that has become the backbone of Kähler’s work. In 1888 he developed the now-famous “Kähler red,” a ruby red lustre glaze in the maiolica-tradition.
This launched him and the company to global recognition when he showed at the Great Nordic Exhibition in Copenhagen, followed by the World Expo in Paris in 1889. From then on, Kähler was cemented as a ceramics brand that could not only make basic home items like tiles and kitchenware, but also ceramic art.
It is this balance that has continued to define Kähler’s work over the years: they make art, but in a democratic and affordable way. This is also what’s kept them contemporary.
Meeting the everyday needs of people necessarily forces a brand to pivot if they want to stay relevant. Kähler has done this admirably, always working to find the ways in which they can bring their love of aesthetics, craftsmanship, innovation, and functionality to the community at-large.
The artistic aspect of Kähler’s work came not only from Herman’s love of ceramic innovation, but also his deep desire to connect with other important artists of the time – both ceramicists and otherwise.
Herman A. Kähler attracted important contemporary artists to Næstved, including painters L.A. Ring (who ended up marrying his daughter Sigrid) and H. A. Brendekilde. In addition, he worked directly with Svend Hammershøi, brother of beloved painter Vilhelm Hammershøi, and an important potter in his own right.
Master ceramicist and artist Jens Thirslund joined the company in 1913 and became artistic director, holding the position in 1940.
Herman’s eye for talent, his ability to create community, and his constant striving for new modes of expression produced something of a golden age in Næstved. It’s something that is impossible to replicate; it speaks to a specific time and place in Danish design and art, and its effects still ripple today.
Kähler was sold to Næstved Municipality in 1974. Though today the ceramics are no longer made in Næstved, the brand is still dear to the city’s heart. The Næstved Museum now has the world’s largest collection of historical Kähler pieces (although they are not yet on display).
Kähler went through several hands before seriously relaunching in 2007. The brand was revitalized, most notably with the introduction of the Omaggio vase, a collaboration between Stilleben studio and Kähler, in 2007.
The vase was, and continues to be, a massive success, and catapulted Kähler from a heritage brand to the kind of brand you find in every contemporary home.
In 2015, the Hammershøi collection launched. Created by Norwegian designer Hans Christian Bauer, the silhouette is inspired by the work of Svend Hammershøi. It’s both minimalist and engaging, with an all-over ridged pattern that makes it pleasingly tactile, while the shiny glaze keeps it sleek and modern.
It now comes in a range of colors; the collection is highly successful and is a great example of Kähler’s signature blend of artisanal and commercial.
Rosendahl Design Group bought Kähler in 2018 and the ceramics company has continued to grow, bringing in more design collaborations, such as the recent partnership with Turi Heisselberg Pedersen – called the Kontur vase – that will only be available at Illums Bolighus from October 2019. Kähler continues to give customers high levels of craftsmanship at reasonable prices, while offering a chance to own ceramics by innovative artists.
Kähler ceramics has been around for 180 years and could easily be around for another 180. Their unique combination of accessibility and artistic inspiration ensures that they stay both within-reach and exciting for years to come.
Photography by Freya McOmish.
Find out more about Kahler.