One of the first designers to bring the traditional Scandinavian values of function and craftsmanship to the United States, Jens Risom was part of a new vanguard that helped establish post-war America's leadership role in modern furniture design and manufacturing. During their 120th Commencement Ceremonies, The Rhode Island School of Design conferred an Honorary Doctorate of Fine Arts degree on Risom, noting he was "one of the most influential furniture designers of the 20th century."
Born in Copenhagen in 1916, Risom studied furniture design at the School for Arts and Crafts. With classmates Hans Wegner and Borge Mogensen, Risom learned the value of simplicity and utility from master craftsmen like Kaare Klint and Ole Wanscher.
In 1939 Risom went to New York to study contemporary American furniture design. He soon discovered that opportunities in his field were few and far between. Undaunted, Risom drew up a series of textile designs that helped secure free-lance work with designer Dan Cooper. More work followed, including furniture for the Collier's House of Ideas, designed by Edward D. Stone.
In 1941 Risom joined forces with Hans Knoll, an entrepreneur in search of a good designer. Together they visited modern architects to gain a better understanding of the potential market for a new line of modern furniture that Risom would design and Knoll would sell. In 1942 when the Hans Knoll Furniture Company was launched, 15 of the first 20 pieces (the "600" line) were pure Risom.
After serving in the US Army under General George Patton, Risom returned to New York. Working briefly again with Hans Knoll convinced Jens it was time to form his own concern, Jens Risom Design, Inc. (JRD), which he launched on May 1, 1946.
Risom established a niche for his new firm by focusing on the Risom name as the answer to America's search for well-designed and well-crafted contemporary furniture. In the early 1950s, he created a series of bold advertisements featuring stylish photographs by Richard Avedon with the tagline: The Answer is Risom. The response was tremendous, forcing JRD in 1954 to expand its manufacturing facilities. Late in the 1950s, JRD shifted from residential furniture to office management, hospital and library furniture. In 1970, Risom agreed to sell JRD to the Dictaphone Corporation while moving on to pursue new interests through his consulting service Design Control, located in New Canaan, Connecticut, where Jens resides with his wife, Henny.
Risom has received a variety of awards. His chairs are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Yale Museum of Art & Design, the Brooklyn Museum, the R.I.S.D. Museum in Providence and the Cooper-Hewitt National Design Museum. In 1996, Queen Margrethe of Denmark knighted Risom with the Danish Knight's Cross and in 1997 Knoll reissued a collection of Risom-designed chairs, stools and tables that remain today a successful part of the Knoll Studio line.
Risom once summed up his philosophy this way: "Good design means that anything good will go well with other equally good things—contemporary or traditional. Furniture is not sculpture, nor is a particular design created only for visual appearance. Furniture should clearly satisfy all requirements: it should be used, enjoyed and respected."