Born 1929, Denmark
Practised in Denmark
Studied Furniture Design at the Danish School of Arts and Crafts in Copenhagen
When Poul Kjærholm’s furniture is evaluated today, it is not by virtue of its quantity, but of its supremacy. A purist, Kjærholm’s designs are known for their modern functionalism and understated elegance.
His uncompromising goal of “making form a part of function” helped peel away unnecessary ornamentation, creating refined and timeless objects. His was a career cut short by a premature death at just 51 years of age. Yet, despite this, his influence extended globally and well beyond his own lifetime.
Poul Kjærholm was born in 1929 in Øster Vrå, Denmark. He finished his apprenticeship as a cabinet maker with Grønbech in 1948 and then went on to study furniture design at the School of Arts and Crafts in Copenhagen. He studied under Jørn Utzon – an industrial designer and the architect of the celebrated Sydney Opera House. Utzon described Kjærholm’s talent by often saying, “Nothing was too difficult to design for Kjærholm”.
He incorporated leather, rope, cane and glass into his designs. However, it was his use of steel in his works that set him apart from his contemporaries – he loved the way the light reflected on it making it part of the design itself.
Kjærholm viewed steel as a natural material, which, in his eyes, possessed aesthetic qualities on par with those of wood. Kjærholm’s particular gift was for combining technological advancements with a respect for traditional detailing – he could design, and mass produce a piece making it look like it was crafted, despite the use of the typical industrial materials.
Kjærholm married Danish architect Hanne Dam and they are well-known for their long-standing collaboration on their own famous house in Rungsted. She designed the house and he did the interiors and furniture. Their styles complimented each other, merging simplicity and functionalism with the use of natural materials and distinctive constructions.
Kjærholm’s career was not just defined by his designs, he was a celebrated educator too. He started as a teacher at his alma mater in 1952, lectured from 1957, became head of the Institute for Design in 1973 and finally professor in 1976.
Kjaerholm was a consummate perfectionist throughout his entire career, and even the smallest detail meant everything to him. An articulate and naturally authoritative man, he excelled as an educator and influenced the trajectory of design from both inside and outside of the classroom.
In 1955 the Danish producer E. Kold Christensen spotted Kjærholm’s great talent, and they began a professional partnership which would last for twenty-five years, ending only with Kjærholm’s death in 1980. During their lifelong collaboration, they used the logo “KK”. It is said that the two men had a great working relationship primarily because they viewed the architect and the producer as equal partners in the design process.
It was perhaps Kjaerholm’s PK22 chair that first propelled him into the real spotlight in 1956, when it earned him a Lunning Award. It was renowned for its sophistication and the elegant curve of its metallic legs. This was simply the beginning of his celebrated and successful career.
His designs are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the V&A Museum in London and other museum collections in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Germany. His numerous awards include two Grand Prix at the Milan Triennale (1957 & 1960), the ID Award and the previously mentioned Lunning Award (1958). In 2006, he was the subject of a major retrospective at the Louisiana Museum of Art in Denmark, emphasizing the timeless nature of his work.
Poul Kjærholm is a true icon of Danish design and his works are touted as among the most innovative of mid-century Scandinavian design. He undoubtedly carved the way for future designers with his use of innovative materials. Elegant and discreet, his work lends an elegance and sophistication to any space.
- 1951- Lounge chair “PK25”
- 1955- Coffee table “PK61”
- 1956- Lounge chair “PK22”
- 1957- Day Bed “PK80”
- 1959- Tripod stool “PK33”
- 1961- The Tulip Chair
- 1961- X Stool “PK91”
- 1965- Hammock chair “PK24”
- 1967- Rocking Chair “PK20”
- 1967- Easy Chair “PK20”