Listen to the conversation between Rosanna and Mernøe.


“Making a pendant in wood is not that common,” notes Jakob Mernøe, describing the elegantly carved pieces imagined by his father, Morten Mernøe. However, taking the path less trodden, is “the thread that runs through everything we do because the company is guided only by the three of us – by our intuition and conversations.”

From its Copenhagen studio, the family behind Mernøe works to produce lamps and light fixtures that use wood in unexpected and unconventional ways, forming the shade, rather than the stand, stem or structure. Designed by Morten – who works in collaboration with his two sons, Ulrik and Jakob – the designs are based on the interplay between wood and LEDs, which creates a pleasingly warm and atmospheric mood – light that is glowing not garish.

“Wood bends and absorbs light”, notes Morten, whose first foray into lighting design was led by his search for a light to go above his own dining room table – a lamp “that would allow everyone to see each other, but that didn’t light up the whole room.” His solution was a custom-built piece that still hangs in his home – and which became the prototype for the brand’s first offering.

Aptly named ‘No.1’, the lamp is crafted in mahogany and accented with brass. Seamlessly marrying the two materials into a single, handsome piece of design, its smooth, aerodynamic profile is somewhat reminiscent of the hull of a boat. The soft, rounded edges and large flat surfaces reveal the elaborate grain and patterning of the wood, and the flecks of brass are sleek, elongated forms that narrow and taper. Using wood in this way has created a number of challenges, for example – how does one transform weighty materials, such as mahogany and brass, into designs that have a true sense of levity. “Typically, you will have very heavy constructions made using these materials, but a lamp should be light, it should feel like it’s flying, and so I had to challenge the wood a little bit – and the carpenter – to get the thickness down, to make it lighter and lighter…”

Having trained and worked as a mechanical engineer, Morten takes particular interest in the practicalities of design – be that the joints and points of connection, or the direction and intensity of the light. “There’s a lot of mechanical engineering involved in making lamps because it’s very technical. [I see my job as being to] hide all of the mechanical components as much as possible, to make them work together in a nice way, and to make something beautiful.” Successfully transposing his skill for mechanics and engineering into furniture design, there is a subtle joy to be found in how the wood and metal come together.

These details are not informed by an academic approach to design – slavishly studying what has come before him – but an instinctive pull towards that which is well-considered and well-crafted. “My grandma had a table in her living room, back when I was a child; I remember it was dark wood and it had these very nice brass hinges that were put into it – they were very beautifully crafted hinges and they were put into the wood in a very beautiful way. I remember it still from being a little child because I would always play with the hinges as I found them so nice. Maybe I was inspired by that – but I don’t know the brand of this table, I don’t even know where it is anymore – but I just remember liking it.”

“I like to be very close to the product, involved in every little detail, because it all goes together in the end” – Morten Mernøe

A tessellation of individual parts, each design from the studio is a careful juxtaposition of shape and colour, texture and tone, light and shade. Cohesion and balance are central to the Mernøe aesthetic, which is informed by Morten’s singular approach to design – as well as the conversations and collaborations had amongst the trio: “We think it’s important not to disturb our dad in the early part of the design process because we believe that the best designs come from him, and his imagination,” notes Jakob – however, once Morten has established an idea and produced some primary sketches and 3D drawings, he will present them to his sons for discussion – at which point they will each “have an influence on it.”

Whilst Morten’s background lends itself to the peculiarities of engineering a product with a complex and broad spectrum of considerations – from the sculptural to the electrical – his sons are equally well-placed to bring the product to life. Ulrek, the elder of the two, studied Communication, specialising in branding and advertising – and so takes charge of the visual communication and storytelling, whilst Jakob’s background in fashion start-ups sees him take care of operations. Each has his own remit, and yet the final product is the result of their collaboration.

“We do share an aesthetic, but we have very different inputs from our separate lives” – Jakob

Simultaneously contemporary and vintage, Mernøe combines motifs from the natural world with elements of classic design. A streamlined silhouette and subtle ‘nautical’ shaping combine to create ‘No.3’ – an elliptical wall sconce that features a brass lattice on its underside. The metalwork recalls the grilles that decorate the classic cars of the 50s and 60s – through which light streams, escaping through the gaps in the lattice to create a defined fan-shape on the wall below – a graphic play of light and shade.

A desk lamp demands a different type of illumination, needing to be both atmospheric and crisp. As such, ‘No.2’ has been designed to emit both direct and reflected light. The svelte goose-neck bends and curves, bringing a suggestion of movement to the piece – which is anchored with a solid chunk of wood, and operated with a vintage-style flick switch. The somewhat utilitarian base is offset by the sculptural shade above, an elegant leaf-shaped ellipsis with curved, sloping sides, and a raised spine. Nestled on the underside of the shade is a second, smaller ellipsis – a young leaf, perhaps, a spear or arrowhead. Made in metal, its spine is studded with a row of small holes that allow light to stream onto the surface below, as well as reflecting into the wooden canopy above.

“When I see the image in my head, they are usually simple curves, always curves – not too many straight lines” – Morten

The trio are acutely aware of the quality of light that their pieces produce, and the minute shifts that produce an alluring atmosphere. Ulrik notes that the team has experimented with many different materials, finishes and combinations, resulting in “first-hand experience of seeing how something different happens each time you change one of the variables. [For example,] there are lots of different types of LEDs, in lots of different temperatures, which you can pair or match up with a specific type of wood depending on what kind of light you want to create.”

Available in ash, sipo mahogany, walnut, oak, smoked oak and elm, each design undergoes a radical transformation in each material; likewise, the overall effect is significantly altered depending on whether the LEDs are housed in brass or chrome. “The lamp I made for my home was in mahogany and brass, which are two materials that I really like a lot – it’s something that feels good to me – they’re warm, and so they give a darker light, so to speak – a very warm light. The same lamp in chrome and ash gives a much brighter type of light – which has a more ‘work’ atmosphere.”

“We have a special feeling towards that particular combination of mahogany and brass – it means something to us as a family” – Ulrik

Mernøe’s experiments extend to the coatings and finishes for each material, which are selected for their luminosity: “We use beeswax on the mahogany, because it creates the most beautiful reflection of light. Using oil on mahogany gives a blue-ish reflection that isn’t very pleasant – but it doesn’t happen on the other kinds of wood, and so we use oil on the ash, walnut and elm because it’s more protective.” The team has an intimate knowledge and understanding of their products – working with local craftsmen to produce the components, which are then assembled, polished, oiled or waxed by hand, in the Mernøe workshop, where the three men work side-by-side.

“Everybody is located here, which was really important to us from the very beginning – it means the world to us to have close relations with our manufacturers,” notes Jakob, his father adding that these relationships are particularly vital during the development stages, “because you always face challenges – and you don’t know yet whether it can be done or not – so that’s where the dialogue [with specialists] is extremely important. It’s a different thing with mass production, but that’s not what we are aiming for; we want to make unique pieces – really that’s the whole idea behind Mernøe.”

At the heart of Mernøe is the family home – from which came the first design, and with that, the idea to establish the company – as well as a shared understanding of design, beauty and the importance of the spaces in which we spend our time.

“I came into this new venture because of my sons – and it’s quite a new direction for me – but, in a way, I am still working [as I always have]: designing, making and manufacturing -” at which point Jakob interjects: “You know, dad says that he started because of us, but actually, we would say it’s the other way round. When dad made the first light, we asked ourselves what we should do with it because it was so extraordinary. It was a very natural conversation [for us] to have. And a couple of years after that first conversation around the dinner table, under that light, we started our company…”

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