Photographs (this page and cover image) courtesy of Finn Juhl Hus / Anders Sune Berg
A Mid Century Mini-Break: Juhl in the Crown
Finn Juhl (1912-1989), a key protagonist in Scandinavian design, is acknowledged as being instrumental in bringing Danish furniture to the world stage. Working usually in teak and employing his own construction techniques, he used soft, sculptural lines, reflecting a fondness for abstract sculptors like Hepworth and Arp and also for African art. This is evident in signature pieces like the ‘Model 45’ chair (1945) and the ‘Chieftain Chair’ (1949) produced for Niels Vodder, as well as his carved bowls for Kay Bojesen and glassware for Georg Jensen. Finn Juhl had actually trained as an architect and it is incredible that his skills as a product designer were largely self-taught. In 1945 he became Senior Instructor at the School of Interior Design in Copenhagen, from which position he helped steer the course of Danish design.
Last year was the centenary of Finn Juhl’s birth and in Copenhagen the bunting was out (or at least an understated Scandinavian version of it), so what better time to visit the home of this Modernist Great? Design blogger Dan Thomas packed off the kids, bought a couple of air tickets and did exactly that.
Words by Dan Thomas
The house that Finn Juhl built
Finn Juhl believed that design and art helped to create harmony in the home and he had the opportunity to put his theories into practice in 1942, when he built his house in Ordrup. It is a unique example of Modernist Danish architecture and, left almost exactly as it was when he died in 1989, it serves as a visual representation of the designer’s career. It was opened to the public in 2008 and visitors can now see how Finn Juhl lived with his own design.
Set at the edge of a quiet forest, a half-hour walk from Copenhagen, the location of the house could not be more apt, sitting between turn-of-the-century country house Ordrupgaard and the 21st century style icon-de-jour, Zaha Hadid’s sleek black lava art gallery. Finn Juhl’s work references the craftsmanship of earlier times and yet his organic forms continue to influence designers today.
Inside the Finn Juhl house
And so to the house itself. ‘Understated’ is an understatement – it is a simple, single-storey urban cottage, composed of two blocks standing at right-angles to each other. The plain exterior gives way to a visual treat of an interior, with its early example of open-plan design. It was his furniture that drew me to the house, and it is the seating that provides the focus for each room. Beautifully modelled, the aged teak complements the leather and monochrome upholstery. Similarly to his contemporaries Hans Wegner and Kaare Klint, his solid, defined shapes set him apart from the more utilitarian European designs of the time.
With a deliberate colour palate of mustard, soft blues and creams, only the startling Yves Klein blue ceiling in the entrance lobby defies the theme. I spot some clues to his influences in a minimalist Japanese tea set and volumes on classical painting. His abstract ceramics and sculptures are on display and the master bedroom contains two fantastic examples of Finn Juhl’s colour experimentation from the early 1960s: a low-level bed inlaid with long turquoise panels and a small multi-coloured filing cabinet, the superbly named ‘Skuffemobel’.
Finn Juhl: the legacy
On view in the small lobby are his plans for a council chamber at the UN headquarters in 1950s New York, a reminder that Finn Juhl was also an accomplished architect. There is a temptation to pigeonhole him as just a designer of sublime domestic furniture given his prevalence in the Danish capital: the previous day I had sat on his 1941 Poeten sofa in Cos, the Danish clothing store, and later browsed re-issues in the revered department store Illums Bolighus.
Feeling suitably inspired, I take the ten-minute bus journey to ‘Bellavista’, Arne Jacobson’s coastal housing and theatre complex, which dates back to 1934 and is the closest thing to Bauhaus architecture in Denmark. The icy North Sea wind soon forces me to take refuge in the restaurant he created. I install myself in one of his Swan Chairs next to the fire and order a Jacobsen beer – a homage to the founding Carlsberg brewer rather than the iconic designer – and contemplate the day. All is well in Copenhagen.