Denmark’s status in world design was at its peak by the late 1940s, embodied by the highly crafted timber designs of the likes of Finn Juhl and Hans J. Wegner. When Poul Kjaerholm (1929-1980) graduated in furniture design at Copenhagen’s School of Arts and Crafts in 1952, his PK25 chair in metal and flag halyard (rope) was like a design bolt out of the blue. He went on to win a Milan Triennale medal in 1957 and 1960, the Danish Lunning Prize in 1958 and the ID Award in 1973, and his work is represented in numerous museums around the world.
Kjaerholm combined clean structural modernism with a Scandinavian love of fine detail, and taught at both the School of Arts and Crafts and the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. He designed furniture primarily for E. Kold Christensen, but also did a few designs for Fritz Hansen. In 1982, Fritz Hansen took over the manufacturing rights for most of his work, although PP Møbler also has a number of Kjaerholm’s designs in production.
While strong similarities exist between many of his designs and the work of the Bauhaus greats, such as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe and Marcel Breuer (both of whom worked predominantly in metal and favoured the cantilevered chair), the preciseness of Kjaerholm’s proportions and the perfection of his detailing sets his work apart.
Kjaerholm’s style is hard to pigeonhole as he really designed in two distinct modes: the architectural, as represented by the refined metalwork and thin seat sections of cane, canvas or leather in the PK22 chair; and more sculptural forms, such as 1952’s PKO chair and the PK9 chair, which flowed like Joan Miró or Alexander Calder artworks.
Best known for
The PK22 chair received widespread international acclaim. Its minimalist steel structure combined with a thin wicker seat is at once architectural and warm. Due to the precise manufacturing required in Kjaerholm’s work, the cost of his furniture has always been high. But because much of it has been in constant production, items are available at auction at quite reasonable prices. Rare items and prototypes are the exception, but as most of these are held by his wife, these are few and far between.
More iconic chairs: