Finn Juhl – The Golden Age of Danish Design

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The Danish architect and designer Finn Juhl (1912-89) wanted initially to become an art historian. However, his father wouldn’t allow a career in the arts. Instead Finn Juhl enrolled at the Department of architecture at the Royal Academy of Arts in Copenhagen. The rest is history. Finn Juhl represents the Golden Age of Danish Design.

While he was still a student, Finn Juhl started working with the prominent Danish architect Vilhelm Lauritzen in 1934. At his studio, he worked on major projects such as the Danish Broadcasting House and Copenhagen Airport. Finn Juhl was kept so busy, that he never finished his studies. Despite this, he received the honor of becoming a member of the Academic Architect Society in 1942. It was his architectural practice that led him to developing furniture. In fact, Juhl would start his work by articulating the interiors and then move on to developing the outside.

Finn Juhl – The Golden Age of Danish Design
The France chair in smoked oak

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Since 1945 Juhl teaches at the Copenhagen School of Interior Design and also opens his own office for furniture and interior design. An article in the journal ‘Interiors’ of 1948, in which the American architect and author Edgar Kaufmann exclusively presents Juhl’s works, marks his breakthrough in the United States.

Finn Juhl – The Golden Age of Danish Design
1945 chair by Finn Juhl

Three years later he designs two dozen pieces of furniture for an exhibition in Chicago. Finn Juhl receives multiple awards at the Triennale in Milan in 1954 and 1957. In the 1950s and 1960s, Juhl designs numerous interiors, for the Danish Embassy in Washington DC, as well as offices and the interior of an SAS aircraft. His style influences not only Scandinavian design, but the global success of Danish interior design.

One of the international highlights of Juhl’s career was designing the complete interior of the Trusteeship Council Chamber at the UN headquarters in New York between 1951 and 52.

Finn Juhl – The Golden Age of Danish Design
Chieftain chair by Finn Juhl

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Finn Juhl – The Golden Age of Danish Design
Later in life, he became a visiting professor at the Institute of Design in Chicago. At the time when he had made himself a name as a furniture designer, he would always speak of himself as being a self-taught although he belongs to “the golden age of Danish design”. His furniture, decorations and exhibition designs were early on internationally acknowledged.

Finn Juhl – The Golden Age of Danish Design
Though a number of years, especially in the 1950s, Juhl was the most central figure in creating the term ’Danish Design’

Model 45 Chair
However, the Model 45 chair, along with the 1949 Chieftain chair (Høvdigestol), is one of Danish master Finn Juhl’s most recognizable designs. Shortly before Finn Juhl became a world-renowned name, he debuted the Model 45 chair, made in collaboration with master cabinetmaker Niels Vodder, at the 1945 Cabinetmakers’ Guild exhibition.

The chair was immediately held up for its break from traditional styles — by freeing the upholstered areas of the chair from its wood frame (and for its incredible curves). Juhl, apparently, had been working on the perfect easy chair for many years, and for the easy, sculptural elegance of this design, there may be few rivals. It helps that the chair is also disarmingly comfortable.

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Though a number of years, especially in the 1950s, Juhl was the most central figure in creating the term ’Danish Design’. This term marked the export success as well as the unique version of modernism in the field of architecture, design and art, which became trademarks of Scandinavian welfare societies.

Finn Juhl – The Golden Age of Danish Design
From Finn Juhl’s house

Working with two elements
In creating his furniture, Finn Juhl worked with two elements: The carrying element, and the carried. He eventually became known for his special ability to separate the bearing parts from the borne. This is one of many examples of how he broke free from conventional working methods and found his inspiration in art.

Finn Juhl may be overshadowed by designers like Arne Jacobsen, but he remains a central figure in the narrative of Danish modernism.

Classic Museum Furniture Items
Today the furniture of Finn Juhl is considered to be classics and they are to be found in museums all over the world. The “Høvdingestol” (the Chieftain Armchair) and the sofa “Poeten” (the Poet Sofa) are famous as a symbol of the union between the useful, the beautiful and concise simplicity. Today, his own private home in Ordrup, north of Copenhagen, is a museum that displays his significant sense of unity between function, space and object, color, light and atmosphere.

Finn Juhl – The Golden Age of Danish Design, is edited by Tor Kjolberg, partly from
the book Finn Juhl – Life Work World, published by Strandberg publishing.

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