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Ro coffin by Anker Bak from The Furniture We Need exhibition at 3 Days of Design

Anker Bak designs products to address "taboo" topics of ageing and death

A lightweight coffin and an aestheticised pill box feature in Anker Bak's exhibition about empathetic design for the elderly as part of this year's 3 Days of Design festival in Copenhagen.

The second solo show from the Danish furniture designer and cabinetmaker, called The Furniture We Need, features products designed over recent years including a coffin made for his dying grandmother.

Ro coffin by Anker Bak from The Furniture We Need exhibition at 3 Days of Design
The Furniture We Need is on show in an old watchtower. Top image by Carsten Ingemann

On show in a converted copper-clad watchtower, the exhibition explores Bak's philosophy of "dignity design" for physically challenged users.

"My designs are inspired by personal experiences with people in need of dignified and practical solutions," Bak said when explaining his "open, honest approach to design and construction".

Wooden walking stick by Anker Bak
Among the designs by Anker Bak is a cane that turns into a stool

Bak created the Ro coffin while living with his elderly grandparents and suggested its development was part of his grieving process, as he witnessed them coming towards the end of their lives.

The coffin was informed by the architecture of churches – their arches and soft lighting. It is made from moulded veneer to create a curved profile that reduces material use.

Wooden walking stick from The Furniture We Need exhibition at 3 Days of Design
The Cirkelstok cane has a circular handle

"In life, death is the only thing we can be sure of, but we rarely talk about it," Bak said. "It has become a taboo we avoid because the system takes care of most things surrounding death."

"But I need to embrace sorrow and pain because they teach me something about myself. I believe these are basic human feelings that will only come back to haunt us if we don't stay with them."

Wooden walking frame by Anker Bak
Sindig is a walking frame made from solid oak

The show also includes assistive furniture and walking aids designed for ageing users with restricted mobility, including a cane that unfolds to become a stool and another with a circular plywood handle that allows the user to rest the cane over their shoulder or hang it up when not in use.

Another walking stick, first presented at this year's Milan design week alongside canes by 17 other designers, features a metal bracket that allows it to be fixed to a table and prevents it from toppling over.

Also on show is Sindig – a wheeled walking frame made from solid milled oak with a concealed brake mechanism and leather-wrapped handle.

"I wanted to create a walker with as few elements as possible that could question how we look at and talk about the walker," said Bak. "At the same time, I wanted to show the possibilities of wood when pushed to the limits."

Wooden shopping basket from The Furniture We Need exhibition at 3 Days of Design
Bak also created a matching shopping basket on wheels

Smaller products include Cyklus, a pinewood pill box that Bak developed while bingeing vitamin supplements during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Furniture We Need is displayed across four floors of Kulturtårnet – a cultural centre set in a watchtower once used to operate the Knippelsbro drawbridge.

Bak says the exhibition aims to provide "a voice for an overlooked group of physically challenged people and a call to action for the design and aid industries".

Cyklus pillbox from The Furniture We Need exhibition at 3 Days of Design
The pinewood Cyklus pinewood has seven compartments

On show until 14 June, it brings visitors face-to-face with large portraits of people sharing their experiences of living with mobility aids.

Peter Mogensen, son of Fredericia founder Børge Mogensen, is pictured in his wheelchair discussing death, while Danish designer Søren Ulrik Petersen talks about his relationship with the cane.

The Ro coffin is installed on the fourth floor of the building as the final exhibit. Here, the coffin has been repurposed as a table for sitting around while sharing thoughts on the show's themes.

Kulturtårnet in Copenhagen
The exhibition is being hosted at the Kulturtårnet. Photo by Andreas Thaulow

Each day during 3 Days of Design, Bak will take 12 visitors on a guided tour of the exhibition, culminating in a discussion titled Coffee by the Coffin.

The designer has risen to prominence in recent years, picking up awards including the Finn Juhl Prize, the Wegner Prize and the Danish Cabinetmakers Prize for his emphatic furniture and product designs.

He uses wood as much as possible in his designs because he believes people "thrive best surrounded by organic elements". He has previously developed products including a foldable rocking chair for Carl Hansen & Son, as well as a daybed, table and stool for Japanese brand Takumi Kohgei.

The photography is by Jacob Fox Maule unless otherwise stated.

The Furniture We Need is on show at Kulturtårnet from 3 May to 14 June. See our 3 Days of Design 2024 guide on Dezeen Events Guide for information about the many other exhibitions, installations and talks taking place throughout the week.