Finn Juhl Biography
Finn Juhl is born on January 30th, 1912 in Copenhagen, Denmark. His father, Johannes Juhl, was a textile merchant. He never got to know his mother, born Goecker, as she died just three days after he was born. In addition to the father Finn Juhl also had a two year older brother.
1930’s – The Experimenting Years
Finn Juhl graduated from Sct. Jørgens Gymnasium in 1930 and subsequently he was admitted to the School of Architecture at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.
Initially, Finn Juhl wanted to study art history at the university and from the age of fifteen-sixteen he visited the National Gallery of Denmark every week. However, his father disapproved and Juhl was advised to enroll onto the more grounded Architecture course. Nevertheless, for Juhl, the arts remained a continuous source of inspiration displayed by the way, in which, his furniture stood out from the more linear and square edged aesthetic expression of the time. A discourse, then taught by Professor Kaare Klint, at The Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, School of Furniture Design.
Contrary to the School of Klint’s functionalized, mathematic-scientific approach to Danish furniture design Finn Juhl’s ambition was not merely to make functional machines of furniture. He was inspired by abstract art which is reflected in his furniture’s more vivid and sculptural forms.
At the age of 18 Juhl visited the Stockholm Exhibition where he witnessed the architect Erik Gunnar Asplund’s functionalist buildings. This was the first extensive expression confirming the arrival of modernism in Scandinavia. The functionalists wanted to put an end to the burdensome historical styles and the portrayal of class they represented. In this way, Finn Juhl experienced the thoughts of the time and the fight between the old and the new, depicted in architecture.
During the summer of 1934, while Finn Juhl was still a student, he was employed by the architect Vilhelm Lauritzen who was also a teacher at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts. It was custom that the particular skilled students were chosen by their advisors to work at their own studios. During the time when Finn Juhl was working for Vilhelm Lauritzen, the studio was assigned to highly acclaimed projects such as visualizing the of Copenhagen Airport as well as the new Radio House. In close collaboration with architect Viggo Boesen, Juhl was responsible for the Radio House’s interior design. Today, the Radio House at Frederiksberg, Copenhagen proves itself an exemplary functionalist building.
Finn Juhl became Vilhelm Lauritzen’s closest collaborator and he ended up staying at the Lauritzen studio for a period of 14 years. Hence, he was not officially educated as an architect, nevertheless, this was of little consequence to him as he became a member of the Danish Architects’ Association in 1942.
On the 15th of July 1937 Finn Juhl married Inge-Marie Skaarup. During this year he also began exhibiting his furniture at the annual Cabinetmakers’ Guild exhibitions. In this context Juhl initiated a close collaboration with cabinetmaker Niels Vodder, who, for period of 20 years onwards, handcrafted his furniture and amongst these his most famous chairs the FJ45 chair and Høvdingestolen.
The Cabinetmakers’ Guild exhibitions was an important venue for young designers who sought to renew Danish design from the traditional, highly decorated style to a more modern expression, that went along with the trends in contemporary architecture.
Juhl’s peers Børge Mogensen and Hans Wegner also exhibited at the Cabinetmakers’ Guild exhibition. Today the three architects Juhl, Mogensen and Wegner are design icons and among the most acknowledged representatives of Danish furniture design. Each of the three had a very different background and approach to their work and, in many ways, Juhl was the most controversial. Opposite Wegner, Mogensen and the majority of the furniture designers of the time he was not educated as a cabinetmaker neither was he a furniture architect. Accordingly, his approach was more intellectual as it was influenced by his background in architecture.
From the beginning his furniture caused controversies as they were considered to be too “free” in their form. However, despite the dispute a lot of his furniture already gained recognition in his time.
1940’s – The Golden Years
In the 1940’s Finn Juhl was at the height of his career and it is also during these years that he creates his most iconic furniture, amongst these the FJ45 chair. This was arguably the chair that established the fact that Juhl was an extraordinary designer.
In 1942 Finn Juhl and Inge-Marie Skaarup built their house at Kratvænget 15 in Ordrup, north of Copenhagen, from shared resources. For Juhl, it was a dream coming true and a thorough example of his ambition to unify the disciplines of furniture design, arts and crafts. Finn Juhl and Inge-Marie Skaarup was later divorced. After the divorce and until his death in 1989 Juhl lived with his partner Hanne Wilhelm Hansen, who lived in his house until her death in 2005.
In 1945 Finn Juhl terminated his job at Vilhelm Lauritzen and started his own studio in Nyhavn, Copenhagen with a major in interior and furniture design. The year after Juhl was at the peak of his career as a furniture designer and he got his first significant interior assignment designing the interior of Bing and Grøndahl’s Shop at Amagertorv in Copenhagen. This is later considered one of his main works and in 1947 he received the Eckersberg Medal for his achievements.
Finn Juhl also participated in competitions dealing with social housing. He was of the conviction that an architect should also be involved in the ideas and drafts for the interior design of a building. His ideas did not gain much support at the time, however, it later on became prevalent for architects to carry out interior design later on.
From 1945-1955 Juhl was a senior teacher at the School of Interior Design. As a teacher he emphasized the importance of interior design. He assembled his ideas in the book “Hjemmets Indretning” which was widely admired and published in various journals and magazines.
In 1948 Finn Juhl met the director of the Museum of Modern Arts’ Department of Industrial Design, Edgar Kaufmann Jr.. They initiate a lifelong friendship and Kaufmann Jr. became an important incentive for Juhl’s career in the United States. Many years later Finn Juhl described how Edgar Kaufmann Jr. had been his “guru and inspiration.”
During 1949 Juhl designed his most famous and exclusive chair, Høvdingestolen, and following design columnist Svend Erik Møller wrote “Finn Juhl is unquestionably our most prominent furniture artist.” In the same year Juhl publicly joined the debate about furniture and interior design. Finn Juhl was in many ways somewhat rebellious and he often took part in discussions about the architect’s position in society. At several occasions Juhl expressed a counter-hegemony stand within the debate of Danish furniture design and a critical view towards the contemporary narrow-minded perception of the concept of functionalism.
1950’s – International Success
Throughout the 1950’s Finn Juhl got his breakthrough in America. In 1950, the Academy Council at the Royal Danish Art Academy appointed him the prestigious job to design the Trusteeship Council Chamber at the U.N. Headquarters in New York. Today the U.N. chamber is considered the masterpiece of Juhl’s career.
Advancing from the friendship with Edgar Kauffmann Jr. Finn Juhl gained success in the United States, partly because of the exquisite quality in which his furniture was handcrafted by Niels Vodder but also because his organic design was unique to the Americans. For the privileged American middleclass, who sought to stand out from the aesthetics of the mass-produced market, Juhl’s furniture became a symbol of the individual good taste.
During the 1950’s Finn Juhl felt that he had achieved as much as possible within the bounds arranged by the cabinetmaking traditions. Hereafter, he sought inspiration beyond the country-borders as he spent increasingly more time abroad, mainly in the United States.
Among others, he was inspired by the American designer Charles Eames, displayed in his collection from 1953. The collection was presented by the furniture store Bovirke a few years after his first time in America. “The Bovirke-Collection” was to be Juhl’s last extensive production in the field of furniture design. He continued designing furniture but the additional industrially produced furniture did not achieve any notable success.
Denmark too experienced the emerging industrialization of the furniture production and the potential of the new materials. Juhl was an advocate for the industrialization of Danish furniture production and he was one of the first Danish architects to design furniture for mass-production.
Juhl’s doubts about whether the future of Danish furniture design was in the hands of the cabinetmakers might ultimately have been the reason for end of his twenty year-long collaboration with Niels vodder. However, the reason for the breach is uncertain and it might also have been a result of Juhl being busy doing other things such as designing furniture to manufacturers and administrating interior design projects.
Finn Juhl Today
During 1982, in connection with Finn Juhl’s seventieth birthday, the Danish Museum of Decorative Art (now Designmuseum Denmark) invited Juhl to create a large retrospective exhibition of his furniture. The Danish Museum of Decorative Art was a conservative institution and adherent to the ideas of the Klint school. Hence, with the launch of the Finn Juhl exihibition, the museum finally acclaimed Juhl’s furniture to be among modern furniture’s elite.
Nonetheless, Finn Juhl was already admired and recognized in both in Denmark and abroad during his time. In connection with the retrospective exhibition his furniture received a renewed popularity and went from being contemporary furniture for modern homes to becoming historical, timeless furniture from a bygone era in Danish design.
Today Finn Juhl’s furniture has experienced a renaissance as furniture classics, valuable collector’s objects, design icons and museum pieces exhibited all over the world.
For a summary of Finn Juhl’s life and acheivements by year, please see the Finn Juhl Chronology