Finn Juhl was an innovative architect, interior, and industrial designer of repute. He was incomparable when it came to furniture design and other home interior decorations. Even though his expertise was architecture, he was a leading industrial furniture designer. When talking of people who impacted the development of Danish design, his name was one of the most prevalent. From around 1930 to the end of the 1960s, among other big names, Juhl was part of the Danish Modern movement, taking it to a greater height than ever before.
The Early Years
On the 30th of January in 1912, Finn Juhl was born in Copenhagen, Denmark. His father was a disciplinarian textile merchant. Unfortunately, Juhl’s mother passed away just three days after his birth.
Originally, Juhl aspired to study art history at university, but his father was against his decision. Instead, he was advised to join the Architecture program, which was regarded as more lucrative during that time. For this reason, he started going to the National Gallery of Denmark every week to see things for himself at the age of fifteen.
In 1930, the Stockholm Exhibition (in Swedish, Stockholmsutställningen) took place from May through to September. The exhibition embraced and encouraged a lifestyle (specifically, architecture) reliant on standardisation and mass production. This lifestyle was given the term ‘Functionalism’ and significantly impacted Scandinavia, becoming the dominant architectural style. This is where Juhl, at the age of 18, became inspired.
From 1930 to 1934, Juhl studied architecture at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, where he was supervised and tutored by Kay Fisker, a notable architect and lecturer. He underwent an apprenticeship at Vilhelm Lauritzen’s architecture firm during his studies, where he would later work for over a decade. During that time, he was in charge of the interior design of Radiohuset, which was one of the firm’s highest-profile clients.
In 1937 Juhl started displaying his furniture at the Copenhagen Cabinetmakers’ Guild Exhibition, where Juhl became acquainted with cabinetmaker, Niels Vodder, who handcrafted Juhl’s furniture for more than 20 years. Initially, Juhl received less than favourable reviews at these exhibitions but began to influence interior design trends abroad throughout the 1940s.
The Golden Years
By the 1940s, Finn Juhl was already at the peak of his career. He crafted his most iconic furniture during this period, including the FJ45 chair, which proved that Juhl was an exceptional designer.
In 1942, Finn Juhl and Inge-Marie Skaarup, his wife (later divorced), designed and built their own house North of Copenhagen. Finn Juhl’s house, as called today, was built with money inherited from his father and was filled with Juhl’s creations. Today, the house is a historic museum showcasing Juhl’s home, unchanged since his death.
The Pelican Chair
Exhibitions were an essential venue for all the young designers promoting modern Danish design. These furniture projects were exceedingly contentious, and Juhl’s first project, the Pelican Chair, was greatly criticised. Despite the initial criticism, the Pelican chair was later seen as ground-breaking and artistic. You can still get it today from House of Finn Juhl who describes the chair on their website:
In no other design of his is Finn Juhl’s fascination for surrealism more apparent than in the Pelican Chair. Out of all of his many designs, the Pelican Chair was probably the one furthest ahead of its time. When it was presented at the Copenhagen Cabinetmakers’ Guild Exhibition in 1940, it stood out with its unusual shape and sturdy legs.
Finn Juhl normally named his furniture numbers after the year in which they were designed, but over time the nickname “Pelican” stuck to the chair. Very few were manufactured and the chair was almost forgotten until we rediscovered and relaunched the chair in 2001.
The characteristic soft and organic shape is almost like a body holding a body. When you sit down, the chair practically gives you a friendly hug. Like many of Finn Juhl’s later designs, the chair offers several comfortable ways to sit.
Juhl received a lot of interior design commissions at a number of the premier addresses in Copenhagen, including:
- The 1957 Denmark stand
- Kongens Nytory Svend Schaumann florist shop of 1948
- In 1952, he designed a room with his personal furniture at the Nordenfjeldske Museum of Applied Art
- 1951 to 1952 – The construction of Trusteeship Council Chamber, United Nations Headquarters in New York.
- 1960 to 1961 – The Arts of Denmark exhibition was relocated to museums Los Angeles and Washington D. C., Chicago.
- Finn Juhl for Niels Vodder at the 1951 Cabinetmaker’s Guild Exhibition – Photo by Wright Auction
- The 1938 11th Cabinetmakers Guild show
- 1950 Contemporary Danish Architecture
- 1950 London Danish Handcraft Guild show
- Chicago Good Design show of 1951
- 1952 Zurich Angewandte Kunst aus Dänemark show
- 8 German cities and Vienna Neue Form aus Dänemark travelling show of 1956 to 1957
- The 1968 two Centuries of Danish Design, Victoria and Albert Museum show
- 1969 Festival of arts and crafts
- 1970 Finn Juhl trade fair Autumn show, Copenhagen
- 1973 Cantu, Italy Finn Juhl show
Finn Juhl’s Legacy
Finn Juhl was admired and recognised in Denmark and overseas during his time. His furniture, portraits, interiors and industrial designs made him a successful man in Danish and world history. In 2000, 11 years after Juhl’s death, the rights to his designs were passed on to Onecollection, who began reproducing Juhl’s furniture. As a result, they changed their name to “The House of Finn Juhl.” There is also a prize named after Juhl, annually awarded to those who have had a significant impact on the furniture design industry.