Danish architect Finn Juhl is regarded as one of the greatest furniture designers of the 20th century. He was a pioneer figure of Danish furniture design and the Danish Modern movement.
Although he was educated in architecture he was first and foremost a renowned furniture designer. As a designer, he contributed in revolutionizing the concept of Danish Design. His furniture design and inherent organic, sculptural expression, inspired by the arts, was to redefine Denmark as pioneering in the field of Design.
Being commissioned to furnish one of the larger delegates rooms at the UN building in New York, and being represented at the Museum of Modern Art, made him well known outside of Denmark early on. His many contacts led to collaboration with the American furniture industry making his furniture among the first to make Danish Modern an international phenomenon. Today, Finn Juhl’s furniture are seen in private and public places, as well as museums, around the world.
Finn Juhl was born on the 30th January 1912 in Frederiksberg, Denmark. Although he initially wanted to become an art historian, his father persuaded him to attend the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts School of Architecture. By 1934, he had a prestigious position with architect Vilhelm Lauritzen and was exploring the functionalism movement by creating clean, geometrical buildings like the broadcasting house Radiohuset, a pinnacle of Danish architecture that now houses the Royal Danish Academy of Music.
Image source: http://www.mcselvini.it/masters-of-design/finn-juhl/
Juhl considered himself an architect of the interior as well as the exterior. In 1937, Juhl began collaborating with master cabinetmaker Niels Vodder, and the pair was the buzz of the 1945 Cabinetmakers’ Guild exhibition with their expressive, sculptural pieces. One such item was the Model 45 Armchair (1945), which broke from tradition by freeing the upholstered areas from the wood frame.
At age 39, Juhl made his U.S. debut in 1951 at the Good Design exhibit in Chicago and at MoMA in New York, and he represented Denmark in creating the interior of a meeting hall at the United Nations headquarters. A few years later, SAS asked Juhl to redesign the interior of its air terminals in Europe and Asia.
Finn Juhl is still winning awards decades after his death: The Wallpaper Design Award 2010 was awarded to the Baker Sofa (1951) in the category of Best Reissue.
Info source: http://www.dwr.com/designer-finn-juhl?lang=en_US
Contrary to the School of Klint’s functionalized, mathematic-scientific approach to Danish furniture design Finn Juhl’s ambition was not merely to make functional machines of furniture. He was inspired by abstract art which is reflected in his furniture’s more vivid and sculptural forms.
Image source: https://www.pamono.it/diplomat-stuhl-finn-juhl-cado-rosenholz-60er-vintage
Juhl made his debut in 1937 at the Cabinetmakers’ Guild Exhibitions. The exhibitions were an important venue for the young designers who sought to renew Danish design, turning their backs on the traditional historicist styles, heavy and with ornaments and plush, instead creating modern furniture which fitted the new trends in architecture.
The projects was highly controversial and Juhl’s first work met much criticism. His Pelican chair, designed in 1939 and first produced in 1940, was described as a “tired walrus” and “aesthetics in the worst possible sense of the word”. In spite of the initial criticism, Juhl’s work began to influence the style of homes abroad throughout the 40s. In Denmark, however, his popularity did not reach that of his peers, Børge Mogensen and Hans Wegner, who were less radical in their designs and relied more on Kaare Klint, leader of the furniture school at the Academy and the nestor of modern Danish furniture design.
Image source: https://finnjuhl.com/products
From the beginning his furniture caused controversies as they were considered to be too “free” in their form. However, despite the dispute a lot of his furniture already gained recognition in his time.
In the 1940’s Finn Juhl was at the height of his career and it is also during these years that he creates his most iconic furniture, amongst these the FJ45 chair. This was arguably the chair that established the fact that Juhl was an extraordinary designer. He was of the conviction that an architect should also be involved in the ideas and drafts for the interior design of a building. His ideas did not gain much support at the time, however, it later on became prevalent for architects to carry out interior design later on.
Image source: https://finnjuhl.com/
Info source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Finn_Juhl
Throughout the 1950’s Finn Juhl got his breakthrough in America. In 1950, the Academy Council at the Royal Danish Art Academy appointed him the prestigious job to design the Trusteeship Council Chamber at the U.N. Headquarters in New York. Today the U.N. chamber is considered the masterpiece of Juhl’s career.
Advancing from the friendship with Edgar Kauffmann Jr. Finn Juhl gained success in the United States, partly because of the exquisite quality in which his furniture was handcrafted by Niels Vodder but also because his organic design was unique to the Americans. For the privileged American middleclass, who sought to stand out from the aesthetics of the mass-produced market, Juhl’s furniture became a symbol of the individual good taste.
Denmark too experienced the emerging industrialization of the furniture production and the potential of the new materials. Juhl was an advocate for the industrialization of Danish furniture production and he was one of the first Danish architects to design furniture for mass-production.
Juhl’s doubts about whether the future of Danish furniture design was in the hands of the cabinetmakers might ultimately have been the reason for end of his twenty year-long collaboration with Niels vodder. However, the reason for the breach is uncertain and it might also have been a result of Juhl being busy doing other things such as designing furniture to manufacturers and administrating interior design projects.
Scandinavian architects and designers often chose natural materials like the wood for their works; sometimes taking it to the most extreme use possible.
Image source: https://www.visitdenmark.it/it/denmark/finn-juhl
Also Finn Juhl gave his significant contribution to the wood-manufacturing implementing new Teak processing techniques that allowed him -for example- to bend the wood giving to his pieces organic and virtuos forms; starting what was later called the ‘Teak style’. Juhl gave a soft edge to the lines of wooden modernist chairs, favouring organic shapes which often took the wood to the limits of what was possible.
He was influenced by the abstract sculptor Jean Arp, an influence which is seen already in his early Pelican chair but it remained a motif throughout his career. Also influenced by tribal art, Juhl exhibited the Chieftain chair with photos of weapons from anthropological studies.