Carl Hansen & Søn

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Furniture design must express the distinctive character of the material

Early in his career, Poul Kjærholm created a dining chair and two tables which eminently express Kjærholm's sublime ability to create harmony between form and material.

Furniture design must express the distinctive character of the material

Both chair and tables hold the same simplicity and elegance which characterizes all subsequent furniture from Kjærholm. Carl Hansen & Søn is now launching Poul Kjærholm's first dining chair, PK1, in a wicker version, and introduces his iconic tables, PK52 and PK52A, in a laminate version.

Kjærholm has a unique position among Danish furniture designers, and through his 30 years in the business, he created a deeply original mode of expression. His furniture is refined manifestations, and his objective was to have the furniture form part of the spatial contexts he always strove to create. The furniture is typically low based and has a transparency which places humans at the center. At the same time, they stand out as highly architectural, and Kjærholm did consider himself as an architect and not a designer.

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Poul Kjærholm (1929-1980)

As a trained cabinetmaker, Kjærholm's fundamental ideas on design and construction were developed in the workshop. In 1952, he graduated from the Danish School of Arts and Crafts, where his teacher, Hans J. Wegner, soon spotted the young man's talent and became his friend and adviser. In 1955, Kjærholm was employed by the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts as a lecturer and later on as professor, a position he held until his death.

Photo 1: Wicker version of the PK1 Chair. Photos 2-8: Poul Kjærholm's PK1 Chair and PK52/PK52A Tables with a laminate table top

Through his work, Kjærholm created what subsequently has been called a minimalist tradition. His design aesthetics was to remove everything superfluous. He proclaimed that a chair should be constructed in such a manner that 'if you remove one single element, it will break'. Kjærholm was uncompromising and often perceived as being elitist. In reality, he was occupied with making sure that the furniture could withstand wear and tear, which simply made them even more beautiful with time. This led him to use leather combined with flag halyard and wicker instead of textiles.

Early on in his career, Kjærholm looked towards Europe, where he found inspiration in the Bauhaus and De Stijl movements. Piet Mondrian's and Gerrit Rietveld's works with simple geometric figures composing the room's horizontal and vertical planes became Kjærholm's architectural baseline whenever he constructed the spatial structure of his furniture. Kjærholm was respected by the progressive, international architects and artists, who invited him to showcase his furniture. Among other places, he exhibited his works in Amsterdam in 1963, where the aging and world-famous Gerrit Rietveld praised Kjærholm's work in a speech.

The Bauhaus architects Marcel Breuer and Mies van der Rohe were some of the first to create steel furniture, and Kjærholm was among the first in Scandinavia. He would typically work with flat, rounded and frosted spring steel, which created subtle reflections that did not ruin the distinct form language of the furniture. Readability was a key word for Kjærholm's structures. The furniture should have a clear structure, and their various parts should be visibly interlinked. "My goal is to create furniture that manifest the inherent nature of the material," Kjærholm said, never departing from that objective.

When he was only 26 years old - and after having been teaching for one year - Kjærholm was given the task to create a drawing cabinet and new drawing tables for the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. The task was given by the rector of the academy, Palle Suenson. He was of the opinion that the students would never be able to create high-quality architecture and furniture if they were not surrounded by quality during their studies. The result was the Professor Desk PK52 and the Student Desk PK52A, which are manufactured by Carl Hansen & Søn and still can be seen in the school.

Photos 1-3: The Professor Desk PK52 and Student Desk PK52A at the Royal Danish Academy of Art in Copenhagen

Sven Felding is one of many architects, who has a close relationship with the table. He has always used PK52A, both as a student in the 70s, where one of his teachers was Kjærholm, later as a practicing architect, and again as rector of the School of Architecture from 2000 to 2012. Here, he was responsible for the school's furniture and equipment. "The table was well-thought-out pioneer work when it was created, and appear just as simple and ingenious today. The detailing and the precision are just as incontestable now as when it was designed 62 years ago. It is beautiful and incredibly robust, impossible to break. In 2002, the school had to reduce the number of furniture, but they kept the 400-600 tables, which was commissioned in 1955, and today they form an important part of the school's DNA," Sven Felding says.

Early on, Kjærholm was inspired to work with steel, which he combined with exclusive materials. The result was innovative furniture of an unseen caliber. His first dining chair, PK1, has the minimalist design and distinct functionality in common with the Professor and Student Desks - and the three pieces of furniture were designed just a few months apart in 1955.

In 1980 - when he was just 50 years old - Kjærholm died while still working as a furniture designer and professor at the Academy of Fine Arts. Sven Felding remember: "Kjærholm had a modest, white-painted office with just a few pieces of furniture. The only decoration was a measurement of Rietveld's furniture. Poul Kjærholm drew his furniture in 1:1 scale on a giant easel placed in the middle of the room. For days he would go around and move a line 6-7 mm. But when the drawing was finished, all details were in place. Next, a mock-up would be produced, so that he could see if the furniture would hold. And it always did."

Learn more about Poul Kjærholm.

Sources:
Poul Kjærholm. Editorial team: Christoffer Harlang, Keld Helmer-Petersen, Krestine Kjærholm. Arkitektens Forlag, 1999.

Poul Kjærholm Møbelarkitekt. Author: Michael Sheridan. Publisher: Louisiana, 2004.

Poul Kjærholm. Editorial team: Poul Erik Tøjner. Aschehoug 2003.

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