From the October/November 2019 Issue  

An Elegantly Simple… Trash Bin

Writer Ren Miller

The original pedal bin had a wavy welded lid. Vipp changed the lid design to a rounded shape in 1949.

A trash bin designed for a hair salon 80 years ago proves its staying power

A tap on the foot pedal and the lid swooshes open to accept our trash, hiding it from view — and banishing it from our memory — until we hear the garbage truck chug along in our direction. The trash bin has done its job in elegantly simple fashion.

Little did Danish metalsmith Holger Nielsen know 80 years ago that the trash bin he designed for his wife’s hair salon would one day win a spot in so many homes — not to mention in the permanent collection at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. Holger called his trash bin Vipp. No one seems certain why, although his daughter, Jette, thinks it’s based on the Danish word vippe, which means “to tilt,” like the lid of her father’s trash bin.

Vipp went on to become a well-respected brand that symbolizes simplicity and function over trends. “We dream of a world with fewer but better products, favoring staying power over fading trends,” says Kasper Egelund, third-generation owner and CEO, on the company website. The pedal bin is a prime example of design based on function with its large foot pedal for stability, a domed steel lid that is easy to clean, “ears” on the side of the body to grab when moving it around and a rubber ring at the base to protect the floor.

Although the Vipp trash bin was designed 80 years ago this year, its story reaches back to 1932, when Holger, then 17, won a car in a lottery at the local football stadium. He had no driver’s license so he sold the car and invested the money in a metal lathe that allowed him to work with one of his great passions: steel. He learned craftsmanship from his father, a coppersmith, and spent much of the 1930s learning to be a metalsmith himself.

He built his own factory in the small Danish town of Randers and married his sweetheart, Marie. In 1939, Marie asked if he could make a trash bin for her hair salon. His goal was to create a stainless steel bin that would never wear out, and Marie reportedly was delighted with the result. The foot pedal meant she could open it hands-free, the lid had a tight seal and the design was simple yet elegant. Although Holger never intended to sell trash bins, the salon’s clients included the wives of many doctors and dentists who heard about the new invention and wanted some for their clinics. The requests for more bins prompted Holger to start production on a larger scale. By the 1940s and 1950s, the pedal bin was a permanent feature in Danish clinics.

The company eventually developed a range of metal products for businesses and then the home, including holders for hairdryers, soap dishes and dispensers, toothbrush holders, shower shelves, towel bars, toilet paper holders, shower wipers, laundry baskets, salt and pepper shakers, and even towels, cabinetry and furniture. The designs are rarely updated.

“Once you have captured the essence of a product and done your utmost in its conception, what else is there to achieve?” says Morten Bo Jensen, who is now chief designer for Vipp.

French artist Vahram Muratyan designed a colorful city scene for the 80th anniversary Vipp pedal bin.

After her father’s death in 1992, daughter Jette Egelund took the reins of the business. She was instrumental in pushing the bin beyond medical offices, scoring major points when she persuaded The Conran Shop to order some for their London and Paris stores. Today, Jette’s children, Kasper and Sofie, have joined the company. Kasper is CEO at headquarters in Copenhagen, and Sofie is in charge of graphic design and, with her husband, Frank, oversees the company’s New York City showroom, part of which is constructed like an actual apartment and furnished with Vipp products. The showroom at 83 Murray Street is open by appointment by calling 917-580-2148.

In 2009, the Museum of Modern Art in New York City added Holger’s pedal bin design to its permanent collection. A MoMA official said at the time that the no-frills industrial aesthetic and efficient pedal “exemplify good design. It’s a true humble masterpiece.”

To mark the bin’s 80th anniversary, French artist Vahram Muratyan designed a playful, colorful version of the pedal bin available in limited quantities and for a limited time. The anniversary bin, with a 4-gallon capacity, is $439. Regular pedal bins come in 1-gallon ($249), 2-gallon ($289), 5-gallon ($379), and 8-gallon ($499) sizes at the store in New York City and at