Peter J. Lassen — 1930-2019
Back in 1982, Peter J. Lassen founded the family company, Montana Furniture. Montana is based on Lassen’s philosophy; that every one of us has a need for freedom and a natural desire to create our own personal spaces. Read along as we pay tribute to Peter J. Lassen’s life’s work and story.
Once you got to know him, this apparently taciturn man was a warm, informal character and not without a certain sense of humour. Even though his furniture company, Montana Furniture A/S was hugely successful, he was also a very modest man.
Furniture designer, art enthusiast and carefree
The tall, slender man with the ice-blue eyes had grown up in a conservative, patriarchal family, which stood for traditional values such as God, King and Fatherland. Despite this background, he had a creative, playful approach to life and, once you got to know him, this apparently taciturn man was a warm, informal character and not without a certain sense of humour.
Even though his furniture company, Montana was hugely successful, he was also a very modest man. He was the sixth child in a family of eight children and grew up in the countryside outside Hillerød. His childhood home was filled with art. Peter J. Lassen was given the middle name Joakim after his maternal grandfather, the artist Joakim Skovgaard, who sketched his grandson in 1932.
Experience Peter J. Lassen in the video below, and listen to him tell about his thoughts behind Montana and developing the shelving system, founded in 1982.
From a career in the Navy to a life in the furniture industry
After graduating from high school, Peter J. Lassen entered the Navy, since the family could not afford to pay for further education. After five years of service as a naval officer, he joined his father-in-law’s company, Fritz Hansen Furniture, where he went on to become CEO. Meanwhile, he had married his old high school friend, Birgitte (b. Fritz Hansen), who became a dentist. The couple had three children, eight grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
However, in 1979, Peter J. Lassen’s took a radical turn, when, after decades of service, he was fired from his position as CEO of Fritz Hansen Furniture. The reason was that customers were not yet ready for the progressive furniture he had put into production in collaboration with designers such as Verner Panton and Jørn Utzon. Sales had declined. Today, Montana has relaunched several of Verner Panton’s designs. The latest being the iconic Pantonova seating system originally designed in 1971.
Upon the dismissal from Fritz Hansen Peter J. Lassen was given three years’ salary, but he also bought the rights to the ‘60 x 60’ shelving-unit concept, which he himself had developed. He regarded those three years as a huge stroke of luck. They gave him the time to develop Montana, which he founded in 1982. However, leaving the company, which his wife’s father had founded in 1872, was far from easy.
Peter J. Lassen’s youngest son, Joakim, the fifth generation of Fritz Hansen and Montana, joined the company in 1999, when they acquired the furniture company DJOB. Over the next few years he successfully increased the revenue of DJOB from DKK 800,000 to DKK 30 million. When Montana merged with DJOB in 2009, Joakim Lassen was appointed Director of Design and Communication. In 2015, he succeeded his father as CEO for the whole of Montana.
Montana create opportunities – not solutions
The new furniture company was named Montana: because it is international; because the three rhythmic syllables evoke the modular system; because it trips off the tongue; and because, in Danish, it plays on the verb ‘montere’ (assemble). As an environmentally-conscious furniture company, which has never moved its production abroad, Montana A/S made a huge investment in environmentally-friendly technology at a very early stage. For example, the MDF modules are painted using water-based paints. The entire production takes place in Haarby on the Danish island of Funen where, until his departure Peter J. Lassen, had a working knowledge of all the processes and machines.
Montana is all about providing users with options rather than solutions. When creating his unique storage solutions, Peter J. Lassen wanted users to use their own imaginations, thereby gaining a greater sense of self-esteem. His belief was that users of Montana’s modules could create a better existence for themselves, in which function and aesthetics were inextricably linked. Montana should enable each user to design his or her home or workplace with a sense of freedom and individuality.
His belief was that users of Montana’s modules could create a better existence for themselves, in which function and aesthetics were inextricably linked.
Making room for personality
Back in 1982, when Lassen designed the Montana system, it existed of 36 different modules in four depths and a few colours. Since then, the system has become available in 42 colours, thereby the now well-known “Making room for personality” became the natural slogan for the new box of freedom.
He met the world with curiosity
For decades, the name ‘Montana’ has been associated with cultural events. In 2007, in collaboration with Testrup Folk High School and the national newspaper Information, the Montana Literature Prize was estabished. It continues to this day in the capable hands of Peter J. Lassen’s youngest son and successor, Joakim Lassen. 2007 also saw the exhibition Eventyrskabe (Fairy-tale Cabinets) at Brandts in Odense. Montana funded a portrait film about the Danish-Icelandic designer Olafur Eliasson, and the company sponsors both the Copenhagen Opera House and exhibitions in the Black Diamond, including the current Abramović Method for Treasures etc.
The reason Peter J. Lassen worked so well with some at times highly experimental and radical artists is that, like them, he had a curious approach to the world and was always open to the unknown. At the same time, he attempted to make things better, sharper, clearer, bolder and more challenging, thereby standing out from the grey crowd. For artists, he was a visionary, friendly patron and partner who never made demands. Montana achieved a clear, artistic and progressive profile in the eyes of the public by virtue of this long-standing collaboration with artists.
At the same time, he attempted to make things better, sharper, clearer, bolder and more challenging, thereby standing out from the grey crowd.
Peter J. Lassen was a member of the board of Krabbesholm Folk High School and of Trapholt Museum of Modern Art. In 2003, Montana Møbler A/S received the magazine Bo Bedre’s Classic Award, when the company relaunched and resumed production of Verner Panton’s chair – Panton One. In 2010, Peter J. Lassen was made a Knight of the Order of the Dannebrog.
Vigorous to the end
Peter J. Lassen kept being active in the family company until the end; in close collaboration with colour expert and designer, Margrethe Odgaard, he developed 30 new colours. Montana's colour palette was presented in May 2019.
On 15 August 2019, following a short illness, the founder of Montana, Peter J. Lassen passed away peacefully in his home in Allerød. He was 88 years old. Lassen will be sorely missed by his family, his business associates and a huge number of figures in the Danish art world.
This tribute to Peter J. Lassen was originally written by art critic and journalist Lisbeth Bonde.