Norwegian architect and designer Ingmar Relling (1920-2002) is known as one of Norway’s most internationally recognized designers and is considered a major player in the Scandinavian modern Mid-Century design movement.
Relling was born in 1920 in Sykkylven, Norway. At the age of 16, he apprenticed as a carpenter at Vestlandske Møbelfabrik. His brother Adolf Relling, who was also a furniture designer, urged the younger Relling to enroll at the Norwegian National Academy of Craft and Art Industry (SHKS) in Oslo. During his time at SHKS, Relling studied under the accomplished architect Arne Korsmo (1900-1968) who had considerable influence on his style. Relling graduated in 1947 and began his career as an interior designer at his brother’s company, Rastad & Relling in Oslo.
Relling designed a variety of furniture for the company, and in 1948, he decorated the rooms of the Royal Yacht of Norway. In 1950, Relling moved back to his hometown where he established his own design studio. During this time, he also worked with KJ Måseide Alesund and Vestlandske Møbelfabrikk, the latter producing his 420 Chair (1950s). In 1954, Relling designed the Nordic Chair. Composed of two separate parts—a seat and back—the Nordic Chair could be folded and stored while not in use, a feature attractive to homeowners with smaller living spaces.
In 1965, Relling, in collaboration with his son Knut Relling, designed the Siesta Chair which won him first prize (in the same year) at a competition organized by the Industry Council for Furniture. Relling was passionate about creating furniture that was ergonomic and eco-friendly, ensuring that his pieces were made in a way that could be repaired. The frame was typically constructed of bent and laminated beech harvested from sustainable forests. The Siesta Chair showcased Relling’s minimalist design aesthetic that was uncompromising on quality, and it became his career-defining design. It was a huge commercial success (it has sold over 800,000 units to date), and the big break Norwegian furniture manufacturer Westnofa was waiting for to break into the international market.
Notably, United States President Jimmy Carter purchased sixteen Siesta Chairs to furnish the White House during his term. In 1992, the Siesta was awarded the Classic Award for Design Excellence by the Norwegian Design Council. Today, the chair is produced by the Norwegian furniture manufacturer L.K. Hjelle. It is considered a Scandinavian design classic, and an icon of Norwegian design.
Relling continued to design throughout the 1970s, though he never realized another success quite like the Siesta. One of Relling’s standouts from the 1970s is the Tema Armchair (1973) for Vestlandske Møbelfabrikk. Inspired by the Siesta, Tema was made from flat steel with a seat in thick leather skin.
Relling was the recipient of many awards and accolades, including the Jacob Prize in 1978 and the King’s Medal of Merit in 1999, among others. The Siesta Chair can be found in permanent collections around the world, like the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, the National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, Die Neue Sammlung in Munich, the Cooper-Hewitt in New York, and the National Museum Oslo.
Relling passed away in 2002.