Danish architect Philip Arctander (born 1916) is a somewhat usual cult figure. A fringe architect with limited output, he’s known essentially for his directorship at the Danish Building Research Institute (1968-1981) and his UN advisory role supporting affordable housing.
In 1944, amid a broader post-grad stint freelancing, he and five other architects were solicited to design furniture as part of a contest sponsored by newly opened supplier and storefront NY FORM A/S in Copenhagen. Arctander’s contribution was striking: the beech-legged and sheepskin-backed Muslingestol (Clam Chair). The piece immediately enjoyed a limited Copenhagen release, both through NY FORM A/S and Nordisk Staal & Møbel Central. By the time Arctander left the furniture profession entirely sometime in the late 1940s or early 1950s, Muslingestole abounded as Nordic suppliers like IKEA and Vik & Blindheim got into the bivalve business, taking the design into a brief period of mass production.
But only recently has this story been told; by some Sophoclean-bend to his design career—perhaps given his brevity working with the trade—Arctander became dissociated from his signature design. When the chair began surfacing within auction contexts in the late 1990s, it was sold uncredited. For a good two decades, the chair was obscured by mystery, collecting a series of misattributions along the way—namely, the Danish architect Viggo Boesen, as well as “Martin Olsen,” which, it was discovered, was nothing but the name for a now-defunct Oslo furniture store. Eventually, Arctander’s childhood friend and colleague, the Danish architect Poul Erik Skriver, confirmed it was indeed Arctander who designed the chair.
The mystery, it seems, has only added prestige to the Muslingestol’s iconic status; on the trophy market of late, the chair has regularly sold well above the $300 price tag it originally garnered in late 90s auctions. In 2013, a pair (misattributed to Martin Olson) went for over $220,000.
Arctander passed away January 27, 1994