Credit: Courtesy Aaron Betsky
We stayed in Room 606. Only in the world of design, and even there among those who pride themselves on knowing their Danish Modern sagas, would that mean anything. For us, it was a chance to be a part of a mythic world in which every surface, every object, and every thing you saw was Modernist. All was clean and abstract, without excessive decoration, evidencing when and how it was made by machines, and calibrated to respond to the way modern people live, work, dress, and even sleep.
Room 606 is the only space in what is now the SAS Radisson Hotel in Copenhagen that is still in the state in which the designer Arne Jacobsen envisioned it. Preserved and kept (more or less) fresh, it functions just like the other 274 rooms in this 22-story, 1960 building. You can rent it and stay there by the night. (It’s not exactly a secret: There’s a whole book about this one hotel room, in the context of Jacobsen’s career).
Our first night in Copenhagen made it clear why such a space would have been such a revelation when the hotel first opened, and heightened its effect on us. We stayed in a dump that had declared the fact that it was one of those creaky accumulations of rentable cells on a busy street near the station to actually be a charming evocation of premodern Denmark. We were so grateful when our hosts, the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, spirited us away the next day to the SAS around the corner. We walked into the room, took one look at the fenetre-en-longeur that turned the cloud-chased northern sky into a moving work of art, sank down into the Egg and Swan Chairs, and felt as if a new space had opened up. Here was the new world we had all been promised.
Jacobsen designed the rooms to bring the sky in. The Royal SAS, as it was called originally, was by far the tallest structure in the decidedly earth-bound Copenhagen, and the structure contained the airline’s in-town terminal. Everything about it, from its blue-green glass window wall that reflected the sky, to the shades of blue and green that he painted the walls, along with those horizontal bands of windows, spoke of a flight from the old and the static up and away.
To anchor this ethereal background in the rooms, Jacobson created a baseline of wood that ran across the periphery, encompassing everything from a desk with drawers that open up to reveal a makeup mirror to the bed’s backboard. This line also sprouts ingenious inventions such as reading lamps that slide along a rail, so that you can adjust them according to where you place or hold your reading material.
Every object and each function in the rooms were considered not only to create a harmonious whole, but also to respond to the body in repose, the hand looking for a fixture, the eye as it wandered through the space, and the relation between a couple that might be staying there. Room 606 is a suite, so it even has a translucent curtain that you can draw down the middle to give one person sleeping some privacy while another works.
There is little else at the hotel, beyond the curtainwall and the overall structure, which remains of Jacobsen’s comprehensive approach to creating this oasis for modern travel. The building has become a generic businessperson’s stopover, convenient, but not of the boutique variety that wears its design like too-tight jeans or a badge of white. It did not matter to us. For two nights, and especially for two beautiful mornings and evenings, we luxuriated in the beauty, efficiency, and thoughtfulness that truly great modern design can provide.