Setting up business

On February 1, 1916, at the age of 24, Ole Kirk Kristiansen buys Billund Joinery for DKK 10,000. The factory makes doors, windows, kitchen cabinets, cupboards, coffins, chests of drawers, tools for digging peat, and bodywork for carts. All of first-class quality, which is important to Ole Kirk Kristiansen. Gradually the business broadens its scope and tackles bigger projects. Ole Kirk Kristiansen’s work includes building a new gallery for Grene Church outside Billund, several farmhouses, agricultural buildings, mission halls, Billund Co‑operative Dairy, a parsonage, and a number of dwellinghouses.
Billund dairy, 1917

Ole Kirk Kristiansen also wins the contract to build Skjoldberg Church, a project that returns very little profit but as he says: “It was for a good purpose”.

In 1916 – the same year he purchases Billund Joinery Factory – Ole Kirk Kristiansen marries Kristine Sørensen, and the couple later have four children: Johannes, Karl Georg, Godtfred and Gerhardt.

The Kirk Kristiansen family

The first fire - building Ole Kirk's House

Ole Kirk Kristiansen’s business is ravaged by several fires. The first occurs in 1924, when the  sons Godtfred and Karl Georg play in the workshop while Ole and Kristine take a midday nap. The boys find a box of matches in a workbench, and try lighting the glue heater for a bit of warmth. The fire spreads to some wood shavings – and the factory and house burn to the ground. Godtfred Kirk Christiansen has later said that “My first achievement was to burn the workshop and house down”.

Ole Kirk Kristiansen in collaboration with Jesper Jespersen, a Fredericia architect, then builds the house in Main Street, Billund, known today as Ole Kirk’s House. The architect’s values harmonizes with the values and mindset of Ole Kirk Kristiansen – resulting in a building which clearly signals high quality and an aesthetic approach. Ole Kirk Kristiansen is inspired by the meeting to build farm properties in the same Better Building Practices style that Jesper Jespersen represents. The Better Building Practices school of Danish building promoted simple, attractive, appropriate buildings using good materials and traditional craftsmanship.

Ole Kirk´s house, 1924

Ole Kirk Kristiansen is very fond of children. From scraps of waste wood in his workshop he’s skilled at making miniature versions of various full‑size products – and the jump to wooden toys is not a big one. There is no denying his craftsman’s eye for detail. The sanded corners, smooth fine wood – and many coats of varnish.

His marriage to Kristine lasts until 1932 – when she dies from complications following phlebitis. Ole Kirk Kristiansen is now a widower with four boys aged 6‑15 years and a company fighting for its survival. Like so many other enterprises, Ole Kirk Kristiansen’s joinery factory has been hard hit by the global economic crisis following the 1929 Wall Street crash.