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HER WORLD

Not Everything Is Permanent in Copenhagen

November 05, 1989|JUDITH MORGAN | Morgan, the author of "California" (with Dewitt Jones), is a La Jolla travel writer

It was no longer news in Copenhagen, but somehow I'd missed the story. Den Permanente--that magnificent shop and collection of juried Danish crafts--is closed, gone, no more.

I had believed that its name meant what it said: The Permanent, as in forever.

The shock was both professional and personal.

My home is furnished with teak cabinets, rosewood tables and ceramic flower pots from that wonder store. I have bookcases, dining chairs and ice buckets that came west from Copenhagen.

My computer, in fact, is about the only furniture in my living room that is not of Danish heritage. And when the paint dries in my office, the computer will go back to its place.

I first visited Den Permanente in the autumn of 1964, and left with a catalogue, measurements and dreams. I traveled on to Les Baux de Provence, where I stared at the hills of southern France and decided on a tall Danish desk and a teak-and-cane-back chair.

On each trip to Copenhagen I had my routine. I would walk down the Vesterbrogade, a couple of blocks beyond the main Tivoli entrance, and slowly scan the Den Permanente windows for the newest and finest in crafts.

The masterworks of designers Hans Wegner, Arne Jacobsen and Finn Juhl were always there--the winsome chairs, the desks, the benches.

Each visit brought discoveries in this modern bazaar: The satin-like touch of a rosewood tambour desk top that rolled up and seemed to disappear. Teak-and-brass nutcrackers of the perfect heft. Bronze and copper sculptures.

Boxes of pale oak hinged with silver. Glossy leather magazine racks. Carved wooden puzzles and toys. Handcrafted jewelry of pewter and enamel. Limpid crystal and stainless steel and bold, bright weavings. Porcelains--both royal and fanciful.

When I admired a furniture design anywhere in Copenhagen I would go to Den Permanente to see what they had by that artisan. The staff often directed me to workshops.

The brass hurricane candle lamps that center each table in the Library bar of the Plaza Hotel turned out to be by Bjorn Wiinblad. I ended up buying one for my dining table. At the suggestion of the Wiinblad Husclerk, who asked about the space in my home, I bought additional brass spindles to make the lamp taller.

Once I had been searching for a simple light for the music rack on my piano. I found the answer in brushed brass along the pedestrian street called Stroget.

In the window of a neighboring shop was a sleek piano made of polished chrome, and another of bright red enamel. I remained loyal to my Steinway.

This fall, as soon as I had checked into a high corner room of the Royal Hotel and stared down at the blush of Tivoli, I began walking along the Vesterbrogade for my reunion with Den Permanente.

But the door was locked. I checked my watch to see if I'd arrived early. Then I looked inside. It was dark. To my left was an empty window. And then another. A sign said "For Lease" and gave a telephone number.

I felt as if I had returned home to find my family missing--and the furniture gone as well.

I called a Danish newspaper friend to ask where Den Permanente had moved. "I should have written to you," he said apologetically. "I think the support was not there. It is no more."

I felt numb. He mentioned other places for shopping for Danish design: the trendy new galleria called Scala, or the little crafts shop Atrium. One seemed too big and international; the other too limited. The classic Illums Bolighus was in the throes of renovation. Still, I walked around ladders to see it.

Then I raced through the city to check on other haunts.

Thank goodness for Tivoli's reassuring walls and the open-faced sandwiches at the traditional Danish cafe called Slotskaelderen.

Thank goodness for the painted boats and narrow houses along the canal of Nyhavn, where Hans Christian Andersen wrote his first fairy tales (at No. 20) and spent his last two years (at No. 18).

Thank goodness for the central railway station, with its abundant, tasty buffet.

Thank goodness for the twisted copper turrets that crown the city with green.

I was momentarily stunned to see a papier-mache palm tree sprouting from the roof of the brasserie at the Hotel D'Angleterre. A sign said "California Dreamin' "; the music was Beach Boys.

Surfboards hung from the ceiling. California's Bear Flag was flying next to the Danish banner. It turned out to be a one-week promotion.

Thank goodness for the arcades--the restored 18th-Century labyrinth called Pistolstraede and the markets of its Torvehallen extension, which wind away from the Stroget.

Thank goodness for the potters' studios of Nyhavn and for SCAG, the new Scandinavian Contemporary Art Gallery, near the royal palaces of Amalienborg.

Thank goodness for the stylish street called Ny Adelgade, with its bookstores and antique shops.

Thank goodness even for the silly Little Mermaid, who seems so cold out there in the water in winter--in a land of fur caps and hand-knit sweaters.

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