Where post-modern design rises above the ordinary

The National (Abu Dhabi) - April 11. 2009
Cari Simmons

A sleek, red leather chair graces one of Modernity’s many high-arched window displays. An exquisite limited re-edition of the 1925 Senna chair by the architect and designer, Erik Gunnar Asplund, it is made of solid walnut and printed leather, and each of its embracing arms is embossed with a cameo. It looks like a wonderful chair to settle into with a good book or to recline in for a nice, long nap. Originally created for the Swedish pavilion at the Paris World Exhibition, it is just one of the many treasures on display at this vintage shop specialising in mid-20th century design.

Each of the items here, from Poul Henningsen’s classic Artichoke ceiling lamp and the Eames Elephant chair, to the one-of-a-kind Rudolf Schindler desk purchased at the "Modernism From a California Collection" auction, has been selected with utmost care and concern for quality, design and condition, and comes with a price tag to match. Modernity is generally not the sort of place for purchasing on a whim.

Aficionados of post-modern design come from far and wide to Modernity to reminisce over an Arne Jacobsen Egg chair or run a tender hand over a Carl Malmsten table. Some are just browsing, while others come hoping to buy something specific. If it isn’t in stock Modernity’s owner, Andrew Duncanson, is sure to find it for them.
Duncanson, who grew up in Scotland, has had a passion for stringent design ever since he was a youngster and discovered Scandinavian design in the home of a classmate. "I’ve been collecting 20th-century designs since I could afford to start," he says.

What began as a passionate hobby has turned into a full-time career for Duncanson, who sold his design retailing business in Scotland and moved (for love) to Stockholm in 1995. After enrolling at the local university and studying fine art, he decided to focus on his hobby instead. "I am too much of a perfectionist and my art never lived up to my ambitions. I became too engulfed in my work and was anti-social and uncommunicative. I needed a new career."
Duncanson opened Modernity in 1998 and, to his surprise, it took off immediately, confirming that he had an eye for objects that appealed to others too.

"On the opening day a customer came in and bought three of my best pieces – Folke Jansson’s Arabesque armchair, a Wilhem Kåge ceramic sculpture and a glass vase by Tapio Wirkkala," he recalls.

Although he specialises in Scandinavian design from the last century, Duncanson prefers to mix freely and dabble in other designs as well. This is evident in some of his current showroom pieces, such as Karim Rashid’s black Super Blob beanbag lounge chair with pink high-gloss plastic patches, which he refers to as "a nice piece of whimsical design history". There is also a French tureen from 1897, which he purchased from Rörstrand of Sweden’s ceramics collection. "If it speaks to me I go outside my parameters," he says of the rather gaudy floppy-petal flower tureen. "Knowing the provenance of each piece is vital, to lift it above the ordinary," he adds.