The designer: Poul Kjærholm (1929-1980)

Poul Kjærholm was a trained carpenter continuing his studies at the Danish School of Arts and Crafts; becoming the most timeless designer Denmark has ever produced. A trademark of Kjærholm was his love of steel, brushed steel, which he considered a natural material with the same artistic fineness as other natural materials. His cut down design, with all details requiring the highest standard of production and craftsmanship, where meticulously planned. The clarity of Kjærholm’s structures was matched and reinforced by the choice and quality of the materials. The always matt, plated steel frames where clothed in layers of vegetable tanned leather, either natural or aniline dyed in a narrow range of earth tones and canvases, mostly natural and untreated cane. All selected for their intrinsic characters and tactile qualities. The manner in witch these materials where joined or seamed was considered an integral part of the experience. Kjærholm explained many of the principles behind his use of materials: “Steel’s constructive potentials are not the only thing that interests me, the reflection of light on its surface is an important part of my artistic work. I consider steel a natural material with the same artistic merit as wood or leather. I work deliberately with steel and stone as these ages beautifully, just like wood and leather do. Some of the furniture exhibited at he Danish Museum of Decorative Art has been used for many years and develops in time more beautiful than new pieces are…I use canvas, but otherwise I know no fabric that ages beautifully, which is why I rarely use any… I use materials’ natural colours, as far as I possibly can. It is no secret that deep down inside, I am against dyed leather, especially black. But since people do not like spots, we are forced to use dye and varnish.” Each detail in construction of a furniture piece was examined and resolved with an ideal solution so that the interruptions in material would not weaken the effect of the complete final. This meticulous care about every detail extended also to the hidden parts and undersides of the pieces. The absolute consistency of construction was Kjærholm’s ideal, and he attained it by working closely with traditional craftsmen. Kjærholm was adamant in including the craftsman’s skill to his pieces, and noted: “My furniture, like most furniture at the Copenhagen Cabinetmaker’s Guild Exhibition, is 50% handmade and 50% industrially made. I would not accept 100% industrial manufacture, unless its results where technically better than the work of the hand. I will not accept a surface or material treated of the kind found in mass produced furniture.” For Kjærholm, only perfection counted, and this could be found only by working with the best craftsmen in their field, most notably Herluf Poulsen, the blacksmith, Ivan Schlechter, the upholsterer and Ejnar Pedersen, the cabinet maker. Poulsen and Schlechter were two of Kold Christiansen’s original subcontractors, contracted in 1956, to make the PK22 easy chair. Pedersen, the founder of PP Møbler workshop, joined the team in 1963, making the maple leaves for the round dining table PK54. Only masters of their trade where used for production by Kjærholm and their standards are still kept for production today. Kjærholm was an enthusiastic connoisseur of hand woven baskets and carpets, items in which structure and surface are combined in a single material, applying this principle to his own designs in seating. The final refinement of the PK22 chair in 1957 replaced sewn coverings by woven cane that was braided at the top and along the bottom edges to strengthen the seat and protect the ends. Cane was one of Kjærholm’s favourite materials, which he employed on a variety of seating, including the adjustable chaise lounge, PK24, and the large cantilevered chair, PK20, developed in the 1960s. Like the flag line used in the early 1950s, PK25 chair, the cane   provided   the linear structure and geometric repetition that where central to Kjærholm’s formal language.

Kjærholm would develop his crisp, geometric language even further in the 1970s and return to wood frame constructions with a trio of maple chairs that combined basket woven panels with the assembly techniques that he had developed in steel. The most important example of these woven seats was the Louisiana chair designed in 1976 for the concert hall at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art. Kjærholm’s 1:1 drawings were always complete and fully detailed. But he relied heavily on Ivan Schlechter’s ingenuity to develop the technical solutions that could meet his aesthetic demands. These demands extended to the selection of the materials and Schlechter was well supplied with the finest vegetable-tanned hides from Dominion Belting, Denmark’s finest tannery. This level of quality allowed for example the mattress for the daybed, PK80, to be covered in a single, flawless sheet of leather so the mattress would appear as a solid element.  The width of the welting was proportioned according to the area of the panels and the corners where joined in a concealed blind welt. The two men generally worked together by trial and error, using novel solutions as well as typical upholstery practices.  The synthesis of material properties and ingenious techniques typified the collaboration between Kjærholm and Schlechter and had been developed through years of challenging work. The greatest of these challenges had been developing the leather covering of the PK9 dining chair in 1960. While the outer cover was glued to the fiberglass base, the inner cover was padded with felt and needed to remain loose to react to the shifting weight of the occupant. In fact, the final solution to the problem of fitting the leather cover was found in traditional saddle making. The modern upholstery trade originated with makers of saddle and tack, and Schlechter adapted the traditional, double seamed edge of a saddle to Kjærholm’s complex requirements. Many years later, Schlechter described the process: “That was tough! I first saw it and realized how to move forward one day when I had accidentally stopped by Kold’s office where Kjærholm had showed up with the first sample model made of fiberglass. It was really quite stylish, but then this thing had to be fitted. As you know, it’s a cover, which is stretch mounted over a frame. Besides the small piece at the back, there was no gluing and it could not be done without getting it wet. We made wooden models to scale, pulling the leather over these, letting it dry, taking it off and finally mounting it on the fiber glass frame. One can probably imagine how it can easily be removed, like a shell, when it’s been stretched overnight to dry. That is what we did with the external cover. The inside was not to be fastened to the leather cover. I had not worked with anything like this before. Once the leather was molded over the frame it has to be edged. That’s when we came up with the border at the back. It was by far the hardest to figure out of all Kjærholm’s pieces…”

The furniture that Kjærholm designed are complete and self contained, but when arranged in a room, they transcend their status as objects and enter into a relationship with the surrounding space. While most furniture merely occupies space, the transparency of Kjærholm’s structure has the opposite effect. The steel and wood frames sit lightly on the floor and allow space to flow through.  As a result, the furnishings   become embedded in the room and through their scale and light shapes, create the architectural presence of the space. Above all it is a matter of scale. He understood that furniture is the most important factor in determining the size of a room, so most of the furniture is relatively low, creating a lower horizon in the room, lifting the ceiling height. The relationship between furniture and interior space was one of Kjærholm’s obsessions. Just as he was an architect of furniture, he was also an architect of interior space, and his profound sensitivity to the handling of space and arrangement of objects was expressed in all its designs created over the course of his entire career. Poul Kjærholm was first employed at Fritz Hansen, for about a year, where he designed a number of noteworthy chair prototypes. In 1955 Poul Kjærholm initiated his collaboration with manufacturer Ejvind Kold Christensen, which lasted until Poul Kjærholm’s death in 1980. In 1982, Fritz Hansen took over the production and sales of “The Kjærholm Collection”, developed from 1951 to 1967. All designs are logical with to the minute detail and an aura of exclusivity. In 2007 Fritz Hansen added two new pieces to the Kjærholm Collection. Pieces that were never in production before, the PK8™ side chair and PK58™ dining table. Fritz Hansen have now acquired the rights to the entire PK collection and Skandium are proud to be one of 3 exclusive retailers for the collection in the UK. “The new products are the PK11, PK51/PK55, PK62 and PK63/PK65. Each of them is a unique piece of furniture design that lends our existing collection additional character and distinction. The Poul Kjærholm Collection is much stronger when it includes all the pieces, because that offers more opportunities to combine products. Furthermore, the furniture will be made of the best materials and held to the same high and uncompromising quality standards, which is a crucial feature of the Poul Kjærholm Collection,” says Christian Grosen Rasmussen, Head of Design, Fritz Hansen. Kjærholm created furniture that transcended time, in style, material choice and quality of all aspects, created in the 20th century to be relevant forever, entering the historical record.