Svend Nielsen Ltd. Celebrates 40 Years Of Excellence
The newspaper ad said there were plenty of opportunities for newcomers to Canada. Svend Nielsen, a 23-year-old certified cabinetmaker, decided to take a chance. He was all the more anxious to get away from post-war Denmark because he was involved at the time with two women and couldn’t face choosing between them.
When he landed in Halifax in 1953, Svend possessed only his toolbox and seven dollars. The toolbox was all he needed: it didn’t take him long to earn enough money for a train ticket to Toronto. Once there, he promptly met and fell for two more Danish girls. This time around though, the second one proved the charm. Svend married Bodil Larsen and the couple spent every day of their next 64 years together.
Another ad caught Svend’s eye in Toronto. Leif Jacobsen, head of the eponymous contract furniture firm, was looking for Danish craftspeople — then and, arguably, now the best-trained cabinetmakers in the world — to form his staff. Svend applied for a job, offering to work for no pay until he’d shown what he could do. Six months later, he was co-managing the company, a job which lasted for the next 28 years until Jacobsen’s was sold to a major Canadian case goods manufacturer.
It was high time, anyway, for Svend to branch out on his own. His self-named company was founded in 1979 in the family garage. Bodil set to work, learning the intricacies of the business both on the “shop” floor and in administration. Son Derrick, then aged 14, joined too, despite failing Grade 8 woodworking class. Over the next 18 years, Derrick studied his craft from every angle, eventually taking over the greatly expanded firm when his parents’ health started declining in the 2010s (Svend and Bodil both died mid-decade). To this day, Derrick keeps the misshapen wooden goldfish that earned him an “F” in his office, a reminder that great things can come from humble beginnings.
Svend Nielsen Ltd. grew exponentially, branching out across Canada as well as the U.S. and abroad, producing custom furniture for scores upon scores of major corporations. Derrick Nielsen attributes his firm’s ranking among the elite of high-end custom furnishers to the trust and respect it shares with the design community, to his team of long-time employees, and to his family’s abiding faith in God.
The story that resonates the most with the Nielsen family — illustrating as it does their determination, work ethic, and mission to “create statement pieces that designers love and the world talks about” — revolves around yet another newspaper ad that Svend spotted while sitting with Derrick in a café one Friday afternoon in 1990. The call-out for new seating for Toronto Pearson International Airport stated that prospective pieces would be considered that Monday at 9:00 AM. Derrick gaped at his father. “It can’t be done!” he protested. Nevertheless, by early Monday morning a row of cushioned metal seats had been designed, produced, chromed and humped up three flights of stairs by father and son. They won the contract. “Never say,” Svend proclaimed in what became his family’s motto, “‘It can’t be done.’”