Seat of power

Weekend Glitz | Crystal Wu 15 Oct 2021

For Poul Madsen, founder and co-owner of Normann Copenhagen, art has always been part of him since childhood.

"The interest is something that grows, not something you realize overnight."

Born in Poland, Madsen moved to Denmark with his mother at three. His interest in art was kindled in kindergarten. He attended a private Catholic school that allowed him to go on field trips in Denmark and across Europe.

"We had a dean who was fond of visiting museums and churches so we were dragged all over Denmark to all major churches," he said. "At that time, we didn't think it was fun, but I think the interest started at that point."

One of these visits was the Rijksmuseum during his sixth grade. "I was just stunned - seeing the big masterpieces from Rembrandt and Rubens. I spent all my pocket money on the postcards from the museum shop."

He also realized his entrepreneurial spirit early on. "I was shopping with my mom and I asked her to buy some mini cactus but they were too expensive."

During a visit to his friend who lived outside of the city, the pair found a place that produced the mini cactus. "So we went there, bought a bunch, and sold them in the schoolyard," he said.

After graduating and the 12-month mandatory Danish military conscription, Madsen stayed on for another year as a sergeant before realizing that it was not what he wanted in life. So he went on to study export and international business at Herning University in Denmark and started his trading company, more than 25 years ago.

During an annual trip to Poland to visit family, Madsen found beautiful handcrafted glass vases when he was shopping and investigated where the shops get them.

"In Poland, they have a huge tradition for glassware and ceramics," he said. "I found some warehouses where factories had leftover or outgoing production. I realized that my business had to be in glassware because other people would also think that this is beautiful."

While the realization came out of nowhere, Madsen in retrospect believes that his focus was not coincidental. "It could have been many things, but I instantly had the right feeling about glass and ceramics."

His business saw him driving to Poland to pick up a truck full of glassware and bringing it back to sell to other shops in Denmark.

While helping his now-partner Jan Andersen to renovate his shop, the pair decide to merge their one-man businesses.

"We complemented each other very well. So that was pretty much a decision overnight."

The merged business started selling pieces from each of their ventures, but quickly moved on designer pieces and accessories

"Andersen's middle name is Normann. He has had his company for more years than I have so he has more customers. It was initially called Normann Design, but people started asking where we were from," he explained.

Established in 1999, the brand first focused on smaller pieces but changed strategy in 2010 to incorporate larger furniture pieces like the iconic Form Chair.

"We were focusing on good design, not so much was it Danish or not. We knew from the very beginning that Denmark would be too small for us," said Madsen. "The collection at that time was very international, but of course with traditional roots in Danish design."

Madsen believes that while Danish and Scandinavian designs tend to be simple, they retain high quality. "It's high craftsmanship, high quality and, in our case, for a very reasonable price," he said. "For the past couple of years, we also want to be sustainable."

In the past two decades, the brand has expanded and is now sold in more than 83 countries. It opened its first Hong Kong mono-brand store in collaboration with Instand Services Hong Kong in July - its third in Asia.

"The Greater-China market is well known to us, and we have noted an increasing interest in Danish design among the expanding middle to upper class," he said. " With the opening of the two new franchises in Hong Kong and Guangzhou, we have the opportunity to position the brand directly in front of our consumers."

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