Finn Juhl in short
Initially, Finn Juhl wanted to become an art historian. Since his early years, he had been interested in fine arts. However, his father wouldn't allow a career in the arts. Instead Finn Juhl enrolled at the Department of architecture at the Royal Academy of Arts in Copenhagen. Finn Juhl began his studies in the 1930s, which was an important period in furniture design, when modern design started to emerge. While he was still a student, Finn Juhl started working with the prominent Danish architect Vilhelm Lauritzen in 1934. At his studio, he worked on major projects such as the Danish Broadcasting House and Copenhagen Airport. Finn Juhl was kept so busy, that he never finished his studies. Despite this, he received the honour of becoming a member of the Academic Architect Society in 1942, and later in life, he became a visiting professor at the Institute of Design in Chicago. At the time when he had made himself a name as a furniture designer, he would always speak of himself as being a selftaught.
One of the international highlights of Juhl’s career was designing the complete interior of the Trusteeship Council Chamber at the UN headquarters in New York between 1951 and 52.
Design for the living body
Like other modernist pioneers, Juhl started from scratch without role models or inherited restrictions. He designed by measuring his own body and analysing how the individual components of the chair should carry the human body. But contrary to his modernist contemporaries, with their streamlined, scaffolding-like structures, Juhl aimed at a more organic, natural form. The potential strength of the material was utilised to the maximum just like in nature’s own constructions. As Juhl translated his ideas into daring, supple joinery where each element of the design flowed seamlessly into each other, he also put enormous demands on the joiners who were to produce the design.
Rather than thinking in terms of practical construction, Finn Juhl had the mind-set of a sculptor, when he shaped a piece of furniture. In the 1940s and 1950s, this way of working had never been seen before. His ambition was to design furniture with movement and life. Juhl took pride in making both the structurally supportive elements of the furniture and the seated person look as though they are floating. In some of his chairs, the backrest and the seat are almost invisibly joined, as if they were clouds floating through the room.
In creating his furniture, Finn Juhl worked with two elements: The carrying element, and the carried. He eventually became known for his special ability to separate the bearing parts from the borne. This is one of many examples of how he broke free from conventional working methods and found his inspiration in art.
“Art has always been my main source of inspiration. I am fascinated by shapes which defy gravity and create visual lightness.” - Finn Juhl
OUR OWN HISTORY AND APPROACH
Ever since we opened our first office in Henrik’s mother’s basement in 1990, our mission has been to create a company rooted in the true passion for good furniture design. The playing field is the cross-section where functional design and craftsmanship of the highest quality meet art. The result is joy of life.
In 1999 we were contacted by the widow of Finn Juhl, Hanne Wilhelm Hansen, with the purpose of creating one of his designs. A sofa for a commemorative exhibition. The idea harmonized perfectly with our ethos as we already admired Finn Juhl greatly. However, at that time, we never imagined that it would be possible to work with his designs, his name or his brand, and we still consider it a tremendous honor to have the opportunity to protect and pass on Finn Juhl’s legacy.
When relaunching Finn Juhl’s furniture we have to put ourselves into his mindset and try to understand him. It is all about feeling. One cannot make his furniture just by having the technical and commercial approach. You have to be extremely critical of what you do, because there is no bottom line when it comes to Finn Juhl. Because his designs are so organic, every single cabinetmaker who manufactured his furniture back in the day, gave their individual expression to the details. We also know that Finn Juhl himself decided on some corrections or variations to the original piece of furniture when he worked with the cabinetmaker in the workshop. Sometimes he did not correct his drawing according to the final result. This is the reason why we often see that older vintage pieces from Niels Vodder or other cabinetmakers vary from the original drawings.
Our collection takes its starting point both in the original drawings as well as the older original pieces from his house, private collections or museums. In some cases we have to imagine what Finn Juhl would have done. This part of our job is perhaps the most demanding, but it is also very interesting. Finn Juhl’s lifework is a treasure and there are many more unique designs in the archive for which we have big plans in the years to come.
CRAFTSMANSHIP AND UPHOLSTERY WORK
During his first years at the Cabinetmakers’ Guild Exhibition Finn Juhl primarily worked with fully upholstered furniture. If you know about Finn Juhl’s sculptural wooden furniture, it may seem odd that he actually started out working with fully upholstered furniture. Finn Juhl later said that this was due to the fact that he did not know much about furniture construction nor joinery. The upholstered furniture allowed Finn Juhl to focus entirely on the sculptural, organic shapes of his furniture, which became a trademark of his. He referred to himself as self-taught within the field of furniture design, as his formal education was within the field of architecture. With fully upholstered furniture he would ‘only’ have to focus on the exterior shape and let master joiner Niels Vodder work on the wooden skeleton.
In contrast to many of his peers, Finn Juhl felt that modern furniture had to refer to the contemporary art of the time. The Pelican Chair is thus a perfect example of how Finn Juhl integrated the ideals of functionalism with free art.
A few years after Finn Juhl’s debut at the Cabinetmaker’s Guild Exhibition he became increasingly interested in applying wood as the dominant shaping material, rather than ‘hiding’ it under a cover of upholstery. When he designed the 45 Chair it had become his objective to create a chair that was almost self-explanatory in its construction and he became one of the first to clearly disconnect the upholstered areas from the wooden frame. The result was an elegant and tantalizing expression that came to characterize Finn Juhl.
Our passion is relaunching Finn Juhl’s furniture, in respect to his legacy, but in a modern reality. The details must be as fine and pure as if it came from the original cabinetmakers’ workshop, but our understanding of quality also includes durability. Our products have to be so durable that they can be enjoyed by users today and by generations to come.
Today, our House of Finn Juhl furniture is mainly manufactured in Denmark. Our upholstered furniture such as the Poet Sofa and the Pelican Chair are entirely hand-sewn in the same Danish tradition as the old ones. However, when it comes to our wooden furniture, we have chosen to utilise modern technology, which goes hand-in-hand with excellent craftsmanship in order to make Juhl’s visions come true. The intricately shaped wooden frames in the Chieftain Chair for instance, are masterly crafted by our skilled Japanese friends in Yamagata.
Without this approach, it would not be possible to achieve the fantastic finish and delicate detail that was Finn Juhl’s trademark. Finn Juhl’s dilemma was that many of his furniture designs called for technical solutions, which were not invented yet. Since he did not want to change or devaluate the characteristic design, he rather accepted this fact. That is the reason why some of his models are only produced in very limited quantities, while others never even saw the light of day.
Several of Juhl’s iconic designs would never be produced because they would have been too delicate to use. Juhl himself was aware of this and famously said:
”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.” – Finn Juhl