Poul Kjærholm: Focus and Functionality

Danish design visionary, Poul Kjærholm developed a style borne from a combination of unshakeable ideals and a heightened sense of form and industrial dimension, which he sought to idealise throughout his work. He is one of the most fondly remembered Danish mid-century furniture design masters.

Poul Kjærholm (1929-1980)

Born January 8, 1929 in Øster Vrå, Denmark, Kjærholm’s design career began as an apprentice cabinetmaker with Gronbech in 1948. He later graduated from the Danish School of Arts and Crafts in Copenhagen in 1952. His wife, Hanne Kjærholm, whom he married in 1953, went on to become a successful architect in her own right. Kjærholm subsequently went on to teach in the Danish School of Arts and Crafts in 1956.

PK11, 1957, for E. Kold Christensen. Steel, ash and leather

From an early stage, Kjærholm developed a highly personalised artistic ideology, which he followed without compromise throughout his career. The contrast between sculptural and architectural aspects was a major factor in this ideology: he idealised the effect achieved by placing a piece of furniture in an architectural space.

PK13, 1974, for E. Kold Christensen. Steel and leather

Only manufacturer-entrepreneur and close friend, E. Kold Christensen had a deep understanding of Kjærholm’s intentions and as a result, the pair enjoyed an extraordinarily close collaboration. E. Kold Christensen granted Kjærholm tremendous artistic freedom and happily produced an extensive range of his furniture designs up until the 1980s.

Kjærholm’s design is resolutely understated and elegant; the emphasis is always on clean lines and remarkable attention to detail. His work is described often as ‘modest in means, but rich in expression’. While Kjærholm always considered functionality an absolute requirement, this was always done with his characteristic aversion to artistic compromise.

PK31/3 sofa, 1958, for E. Kold Christensen. Leather, matt chrome-plated steel, plastic

In typically Scandinavian fashion, most of Kjærholm’s contemporaries opted for wood as their primary furniture construction material. Kjærholm chose steel as his primary, but always combined it with other materials such as wood, leather, cane or marble. “Steel’s constructive potential is not the only thing that interests me; the refraction of light on its surface is an important part of my artistic work. I consider steel a material with the same artistic merit as wood and leather,” he commented.

PK61, 1955, for E. Kold Christensen. Marble and steel

Kjærholm’s work is now considered museum-worthy around the world and most notably features in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and at the V&A Museum in London. In 1958, he enjoyed international acclaim for his contributions to the ‘Formes Scandinaves’ exhibition in Paris. He won several other awards, including two Grand Prix at the Milan Triennale in 1957 and 1960, the Lunning Award in 1958 (for the PK22 chair) and the ID Award in 1973.

PK80 daybed, 195, for E. Kold Christensen. Leather, matte chrome-plated steel, lacquered plywood, rubber

His further academic career led him from lecturer at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts in 1959 to head of the Institute of Design in 1973 and finally to professorship in 1976.

From 1982, a wide selection of products, once produced by E. Kold Christensen, were created by Republic of Fritz Hansen, a leading Danish furniture manufacturing firm. However, production ceased in 2003, leading Kjærholm’s son to establish Kjærholm Productions in order to continue the manufacture of his father’s timeless pieces.