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Modernism: House of Finn Juhl’s pioneer designs

Modernism 101 -- Let’s learn about Finn Juhl’s pioneer designs before seeing them live at the 2018 edition of the Milan Furniture Fair.

06 April 2018 1188 0

If interior design is one of your passions, then you might be familiar with the Danish furniture brand House of Finn Juhl and their iconic modernist creations. But who’s behind all of this? It all started back in the 1930s, when a young Finn Juhl started studying Architecture at the Royal Academy of Arts in Copenhagen. His talent took such a short time to be noticed, that despite being a brilliant student, Finn never graduated: he was already involved in way too many design projects to have enough time to focus on his studies.


The Nyhavn desk

Finn Juhl was lucky enough to be born in the right time, at the right place: all throughout the 30s, 40s and 50s, designers from all over the world were striving to create a new style in order to draw a clear line between the past and the future. Therefore, like everyone else, Finn had the chance to work on his projects and creations without any sort of inherited restrictions. For instance, when designing a chair, his considerations would stem from the analysis of the human body: how are the single components of this chair going to carry a person’s body? A great example is the Pelican Chair; launched in 1940, it certainly is his design that was the most ahead of its time. The Pelican chair is designed to give a welcoming feeling to its guest, enveloping the body in a soft but firm embrace. This design also hints to Finn’s passion for surrealism: doesn’t it remind you of something from a Dalì painting?


The Pelican chair

Finn’s designs are characterized by a never-ending search for harmony: the components of each piece flow and almost seamlessly blend with each other. Structures sometimes seem to be floating in the room! An excellent example is the Eye table, whose iconic eye-shaped surface is made to harmonize perfectly with the curve of the sofas Finn designed. Quality and the importance of choosing a customizable item are two key principles that have stuck with Finn Juhl’s designs from the very beginning. That’s why, for instance, a customer who’d like to get this table can choose between teak, oak or walnut, as well as between a black or white tabletop in veneer or high gloss laminate.


The Eye table

In 2001, Finn Juhl’s widow trusted a Danish company with the honor and responsibility of re-launching his designs, some of which had almost been forgotten by then. This was a journey the young company embarked on with great enthusiasm. One of the main challenges? Finn Juhl was famous for his attention to detail and the importance he would give to the process of handcrafting a piece, rather than putting it in the hands of a machine. Of course, there is freedom in this process: a design can be changed in a whim, after a sudden epiphany; plus, each artisan and manufacturer is likely to impart their own view and personality onto the final creation. The result was that many designs actually differ from how Finn Juhl had planned them, and he often wouldn’t bother correcting his drafts. For the young company, this meant trying to put their hands on vintage pieces,in the attempt of capturing their essence.


The Baker sofa

Although Finn’s natural passion for quality would always lead him in the direction of artisanal products, he also gave proof of his ability to imagine a design for a chair that could be ready for industrial production and retailed at low prices. That’s how the Modern Art chair was born, after Finn entered the 1948 Museum of Modern Art competition for quality and yet low-cost interior design pieces, thanks to his friendship with the then director of the Industrial Design Department at MoMA.


The Modern Art chair

Shortly after his brief fling with industrial design, Finn Juhl designed the Chieftain chair, his masterpiece. This chair is to date his most famous and recognizable design, so much so that in 2012 it won the Danish Design Award, Classic, and is considered an icon of Danish furniture design. Like many brilliant inventions, the Chieftain was born almost by chance on a morning when Finn had started sketching out of boredom. It’s an imposing chair which needs a lot of space around itself in order to do it justice; it certainly is a throne for a chieftain. And in fact, as much as it was born mostly by chance, the Chieftain clearly reflects Finn Juhl’s interest for tribal art: when it was first launched, the Chieftain was surrounded by pictures of weapons from anthropological studies. Anyway, it is also thanks to this magnificent chair that Finn’s creations quickly became the most famous Danish Modern Movement furniture pieces overseas, in the US; because of this reason, Finn is often considered the father of Danish Modern.


The Chieftain chair

Perhaps a piece that we may find kind of curious is his Glove cabinet. Finn designed this openable cabinet in 1961 for his wife and her collection of gloves; and he was harshly criticized! Back then, the daringly colorful interior was seen as unnecessarily decorative. However, time clearly proved his critics wrong: the Glove cabinet was re-launched successfully in 2015. It doesn’t really matter if modern women don’t really wear as many gloves as they did back in 1961: this colorful creation, today, makes for a perfect home décor piece to brighten up our living room as an original coffee table.


The Glove cabinet

These are just a few iconic pieces, but there’s a whole world of Danish designs you can explore! While you’re waiting to see Finn Juhl’s legacy with your own eyes, why don’t you check out the House of Finn Juhl’s page?

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