LUXURYCULTURE.COM - Finn Juhl: Re-living the Past


In 1942 the pioneering Danish architect and furniture designer, Finn Juhl, completed his most personal project, his own home. Now open to the public, Kratvænget 15 celebrates an architect’s life and stands as a testament to his timeless designs.

Driving through the affluent Copenhagen suburb of Charlottenlund, among the stately villas, one can spot white modernist homes and apartment blocks designed by the famous Danish architect, Arne Jacobsen, dotted throughout the landscape. The area is notorious among architecture enthusiasts because of Ordrupgaard, a state-owned museum housed in a courtly home, which boasts one of Northern Europe’s most considerable collections of Danish and French art of the 19th and early 20th centuries. One’s attention is drawn not only to the main building, built by Gotfred Tvede in 1918, but also to the two nearby and contrasting structures: a soft black concrete structure that melds into the landscape, and a modest modernist home that is in harmony with its verdant surroundings. The aforesaid structure – an extension by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Zaha Hadid – plays host to temporary exhibitions held by the museum. In 2008, however, Ordrupgaard scored another architectural coup when it announced the opening of the home of Finn Juhl, a leading figure in the Danish Modern movement, to the public. Situated within the museum complex, looking out at its 21st century neighbor, Kratvænget 15 – one of only a handful of buildings ever produced by the designer/architect – has become a must-see for design aficionados.

While studying architecture at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in the 1930s, Juhl became an apprentice of architect Vilhelm Lauritzen, who also taught at the Academy. In the late 30s Juhl turned his hand to furniture design. With no formal training, he began by creating pieces for his own home and, in 1945, Juhl left the architectural practice to set up his own office in Copenhagen.

Finn began to garner much acclaim, though not for his architectural achievements, but for his furniture. In the early 1950’s Juhl took his designs to the US, where he took part in many exhibitions, as well as presenting solo shows of his own work. This led to production by US furniture maker, Baker, and impressive projects such as the design of the interior of the Trusteeship Council Chamber of the UN building in New York, as well as the design of the store interiors of fellow Dane, Georg Jensen, worldwide. While many Danish designers chose to remain within the confines of Scandinavia, Juhl’s ambitious spirit brought to light the country’s exalted design style internationally. Today, he is regarded as the founding father of Danish modernism.

The organic, fluid lines and colorful details that became symbolic of Juhl’s work were inspired by art and sculpture, of which Finn Juhl was a keen collector. Even the colored walls and ceilings complement the artworks by Jean Deyrolle, Vilhelm Lundstrøm and Pierre Soulage that hang within the Juhl home, which he shared with his wife, Hanne Wilhelm Hansen. Juhl’s dream was to create a “gesamtkunstwerk” – a total work of art – from the structure down to the everyday items.

Although his smaller designs, such as for cutlery and crockery, never saw realization, iconic works remain within the home, just as Juhl had placed them. From the 1941 Poet sofa, which was one of his earliest designs, to later pieces such as the vibrant multihued chest of drawers produced in 1961, each masterpiece attests to his incredible talent.

However, the 1960s brought commercialization. Industrial design techniques, which could produce furniture both quicker and cheaper, led to a decline in demand for the beautiful but costly workmanship of handcrafted furniture, forcing him to close his Copenhagen office. He continued design from his Charlottenlund home until around 1970, but by the time of his death in 1989 Finn Juhl had become relatively unknown.

In 1998, Juhl’s widow contacted Hans Henrik Sørensen and his business partner Ivan Hansen of Danish design producers, Onecollection, and commissioned the company to produce a copy of his number 57 sofa, designed by Juhl in 1957. “When we were asked if we could produce a Finn Juhl piece, we were just delighted and said yes immediately. When Hanne saw the couch she was very happy with it. However, the exhibition was cancelled, so we told her that we would really love to continue to produce this model because we thought it was fantastic.” Recalls Sørensen. What was so unique about Juhl’s furniture was the construction, as Sørensen explains, “He was a pioneer on several fronts, for example, the way that he designed the chairs, constructing the seat and back from the frame. They were separated, yet still attached. This was very freeing. The other Danish designers were looking more to English architects from the 18th century, such as Chippendale. The seat and back was an integrated part of the chair so you made a frame then put on the upholstery, but Finn Juhl made the frame very light in beautiful shapes that went from round to sharp, so there was a lot of contrast.”

Today the company currently produces 15 of Juhl’s furniture designs, sparking a renewed interest in the architect’s work, both nationally and internationally. The US, UK and Japan are Onecollection’s biggest markets, but they are finding fans as far afield as Turkey, Venezuela and Canada. Last year, Onecollection opened two House of Finn Juhl stores dedicated to the designer’s work in Berlin, Germany and Hamamatsu, Japan where the architect is held in such reverence that an exact replica of Finn Juhl’s Danish home is to be built 160 kilometers southwest of Tokyo. Furnished with Juhl originals, the home is scheduled for completion in 2012, to coincide with the centenary of his birth.

The Finn Juhl renaissance has also piqued interest among collectors of modern Danish design. Despite the financial uncertainty of the times, in November 2009 an original from a series of 75 editions of Juhl’s illustrious Chieftain chair, dating back to 1949, fetched 39,680 Euros (far exceeding its 20,000 Euro estimate) at Pierre Bergé & Associés Scandinavian design auction in Paris, cementing his status as one of Denmark’s greatest designers. From the inside out, Juhl created a template for modern living.

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