Poul Kjaerholm

Poul Kjærholm’s work whispers rather than shouts. A huge fan of game changing artists and architects Piet Mondrian, Gerrit Rietveld and Mies van der Rohe, the man who preferred to call himself a furniture architect than designer looked to metal while his contemporaries experimented with wood.  Rather than simply creating an indestructible skeleton structure, he wanted to show steel’s pulse. “The refraction of light on its surface is an important part of my artistic work,” he said. “I consider steel a material with the same artistic merit as wood and leather.” 


Preferring natural undyed leather with all its marks and quirks and matt marble before it received its glossing Poul Kjærholm was a natural who honed his craft as an apprentice carpenter before shining at college. Kjærholm’s fascination with steel stemmed from classes with Sydney Opera House architect Jørn Utzon who headed up the industrial design department at Copenhagen’s famous School of Arts and Crafts while Hans J. Wegner was supervisor.  It was here Kjærholm designed the PK25 inspired in part by Wegner’s Flag Halyard chair, which Kjærholm felt too fussy. He impressed his teacher by distilling it into the simplest combination of two perfect elements in his PK25.

The Dane’s lightness of touch with metal took Scandinavian midcentury design in a whole new direction. Every edge is smoothed on the PK25. You cannot see the cuts from the tools, the steel is brushed to avoid reflections that disrupt the form which, constructed from a single sheet of steel, looks like it has been pulled out like a Chinese lantern to the point where it creates the right frame on which Kjærholm can wrap his one piece of flag halyard. 


Clarity was Kjærholm ‘s ultimate goal but, while searching for that clarity, an artist needs a benefactor and, when Danish furniture first started attracting press abroad, Kjærholm got one in former sales manager for Carl Hansen, Ejvind Kold Christensen. Together Kold Christensen and Kjærholm developed thirteen types of furniture, becoming lifelong friends in the process. It was Kold Christensen who advised Kjærholm how to best construct furniture that could be disassembled for shipping and he who found master upholsterer Ivan Schlechter and talented metalsmith Herluf Poulsen to help push his ideas forward.

With Poulsen’s help, Kjærholm developed two low-slung ribs to carry the canvas on his early PK22 so as not to compromise on comfort. He moved the steel to the sides and under the chair so it would not affect the sitter’s back or neck the way it had on his PK25. The legs on the PK22 are similar to the earlier chair, although the angle is dropped back slightly to allow for a more comfortable sitting position, similar to the Barcelona chair by Mies van der Rohe, whose work Kjærholm admired deeply.

Instead of welding the metal, Kjærholm used machine screws which meant the PK22 could be flat-packed for delivery and put together by retailers with an Allen key. As unfashionable as metal had become post-Bauhaus, Kjærholm’s lightness of touch, the juxtaposition of soft leather with machine-age steel and fifty-fifty mixture of handcraft and industrial technology meant his lounge chair could not be ignored. In 1957 Kjærholm introduced a new wicker version of the PK22. He won the Grand Prix for his chair at the Milan Triennale and the prestigious Lunning prize soon after.


If you want to see a selection of furniture that really represents furniture architect Poul Kjærholm’s unique understanding of construction and craftsmanship head to Jacksons 2016 Summer Exhibition in their Berlin showroom and gallery before it finishes on July 30th. Jacksons is our newest addition to the BUY MIDCENTURY page at The Modern Marketplace and is based in both Stockholm and Berlin. Paul Jackson has been part of the vetting team at both TEFAF Maastricht and Design Miami/Basel and he and his wife Karina have earned a reputation for providing an unparalleled standard of quality and expertise in the C20th field. Their deep respect for natural patina and original wear is apparent in the unique character of the historical pieces they sell.


Of particular note in the exhibition are Poul Kjærholm’s earlier productions, made together with cabinetmaker E Kold Christensen. These rare designs include a pair of ‘Holscher chairs’ from 1952, made exclusively for family and friends, which acquired its name because of the steel tube construction made by blacksmith Svend Holscher. The father of Professor Knud Holscher, Svend Holscher was a blacksmith in the small town of Rødby and his son Knud was a good friend of Poul Kjærholm. The winding of the flag halyard was done by Hanne and Poul Kjærholm, Knud Holscher and in this case, Holø Bergljot.

Jacksons Poul Kjaerholm PK 31 3 Sofa

And the Square Daybed with chromed steel frame (‘PK80-A’) from 1969, in its original chocolate leather. Designed in 1959 as a part of the interior for Tårnby City Hall, the daybed was never put into serial production by E. Kold Christensen and was only made to order. Only a very few examples by E. Kold Christensen are known besides those made for Tårnby City Hall. This one, for instance, was made for the Jens Nielsen Museum in Holstebro, Denmark.


Video about the exhibition

Find Jacksons – Buy Midcentury The Modern Marketplace along with a host of other top international dealers in Twentieth Century Furniture, Art, Jewellery and Collectables. Jacksons recently worked in partnership with Modern Shows contributing images for the new book 100 MIDCENTURY CHAIRS and their stories which will be out soon published by Pavilion in Europe and Gibbs Smith in the USA.

c Lucy Ryder Richardson Modern Shows

This feature and all the written content within it belongs to Modern Shows®. If you would like to reproduce any part of the piece or syndicate the feature in full, please contact lucy@modernshows.com and contact Jacksons for images.

 1 ‘En Samtale med Poul Kjærholm’ Spatium magazine, ‘Mennesker go materialer’, Axel Thygesen and Arne Karlsen, P24 – 29  1963

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