Influential Architects and Designers
Danish furniture designer and architect Finn Juhl created his most iconic work between the 1940s and 1960s, yet to this day his designs still feel alive thanks to their uniquely dynamic quality.
Juhl was deeply influenced by both modern art and by the human body, creating furniture with an organic, almost sculptural quality that lovingly emphasises the beauty of the objects’ simple forms. Since 2001, Juhl’s furniture has been crafted by House of Finn Juhl for One Collection. They must work with the fact that Juhl’s design process led him to make changes during the manufacturing process, meaning that some of his finished original pieces differ from his technical drawings.
Unlike his contemporaries Hans Wegner or Børge Mogensen, Juhl was not a cabinet maker, nor a traditionally educated furniture designer. Instead, while he had studied architecture at the Copenhagen Royal Academy of Arts, Juhl felt that visual art was always his “main source of inspiration.” This led him to push the boundaries of possibility in cabinet making, to the point that he believed “One should not despair over the fact that some of the developments one has hoped for were never produced but only became a beginning. Perhaps they will be revived some day in the future if necessary or reasonable, when the time is ripe.”
This future-oriented outlook might reasonably be assumed to follow the futuristic, space-age aesthetic of the period that put a man on the moon. However, most of Juhl’s furniture design instead is focused on natural materials, such as elegant timber and soft leather, or upholstery. His most avante-garde design, the Pelican Chair, rather than harking toward futurism, was influenced by Surrealist art of the period. Juhl believed that modernist furniture and design should be in relationship with modern art, and the Pelican Chair has endured as an icon of modernist design that still feels unexpected and contemporary, despite widespread ridicule at the time of its release in the 1940s for its highly unusual style.
Rather than focusing on high-tech materials and futuristic shapes, Juhl pushed the boundaries in a subtler manner. As well as drawing inspiration from modern art, Juhl was fascinated with “shapes which defy gravity and create visual lightness”. This obsession with the relationship between the two key elements of a piece of furniture: the carrying and the carried, resulted in forms that while structurally load bearing give the visual impression of floating in the air. In designing his pieces, Juhl would measure his own body and create organic, natural structures designed for comfort as well as elegance. This appreciation of the living human body also defined him against the popular high-tech futuristic style of the time, and has ensured his work remains timeless.
This emphasis on the comfort and experience of the person using his designs extended to Juhl’s belief that interior and furniture design should be integrated with the practice of architecture. While Juhl is most recognised for his furniture design, he was also an architect, who pioneered the idea that architects should also be responsible for the interior design. Kratvænget, the home he designed for himself and his wife north of Copenhagen in 1942, exemplifies his vision for uniting the disciplines of architecture, furniture design and art.
His interdisciplinary approach to the home is evident in both the fine details and the overarching design logic of the house. Like his furniture, the home eschews overly futuristic design in favour of a humbler, though no less innovative approach. The colours in the modernist artworks hung on the walls complement the colour palette of each room, with subtle hints of colour serving to unify the spaces.
The house is open plan, with views between each room and out to the surrounding landscape creating a heightened sense of space. The furniture is key to creating functional zones within the large rooms of this open-plan design. Instead of relying on walls to divide spaces, in many cases Juhl used on furniture to create areas that work functionally, without sacrificing aesthetics or open space.
This unified relationship between architecture and furniture design, functionality and artistic principles creates a uniquely harmonious experience of Juhl’s work. His design sits at both the cutting edge of technical possibility, modern art, and culture, while utilising natural materials and designing structures in sympathy with the human body. This integration results in design that is both humble and radically modern, remaining wonderfully relevant and dynamic to this day.