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Poul Kjærholm     (1929 - 1980)

The legacy of Poul Kjaerholm is distinctive within the Danish tradition for being both minimalist and elegant. Born in 1929 in Oster Vra, Denmark, Poul Kjaerholm apprenticed as a cabinetmaker with Gronbech in 1948, and onto the School of Arts and Crafts in Copenhagen in 1952. He was very articulate and with his natural authority he started an outstanding career as an educator in the same year (1952) but continued to study with Prof. Erik Herløw and Prof. Palle Suenson.

Though his training was in carpentry and woodworking he came to prefer industrial production methods and he made extensive use of steel frames in the designs of his chairs. It was the combination of steel frames with natural materials like leather, rattan, and canvases that is Kjaerholm's defining feature setting him apart from his Danish contemporaries. The modernist works of le Corbusier and Breuer have been credited as influencing him in these choices.

From the mid 1950s he worked for his friend Ejvind Kold Christiansen, an entrepreneur who, giving him tremendous artistic freedom, produced an extensive range of his furniture. His distinctive style is evident as early as 1952 in his PKO minimalist plywood series. The PK61 coffee table of '55 is a playfully irrational supporting thin, chrome legged frame visible through the large, clear plate glass top. His close friend E. Kold Christensen originally produced Kjaerholm's work. Since 1982, however, Fritz Hansen has continued production.

In 1958 he attracted international acclaim for his contributions to the 'Formes Scandinaves' exhibition in Paris and the award of the legendary 'Lunning Award', the same year for his PK22 chair. In both 1957 and 1960 he won the Grand Prize at the Milan Trennali.

One of Kjaerholm's most well known chairs is the "PK 22" which is a sleek and minimalist easy chair constructed of leather covering a spring steel frame. This chair is still extensively used in the Copenhagen international airport Kastrup and, is the design for which he was awarded the prestigious Lunning Award in 1958.

In 1959 he became assistant at the Royal Danish Academy of Arts in Copenhagen and lecturer.

In 1965 his PK24 Chaise Longue typified his mature style. The "PK 24" lounge chair or "Hammock Chaise" exhibits simple flowing lines combining an upholstered headrest and woven cane seat over a steel frame that tilts the legs up on a gentle slope. This chair is still produced by Fritz Hansen and recently made an appearance in the 2002 science fiction film "Minority Report."

In 1967 he was awarded the Danish ID Prize for product design.

He became head of the Institut for Design in 1973 and finally professor in 1976 until his death 4 years later.

Most of his furniture was initially produced by his friend E. Kold Christensen in Hellerup. Since 1982 a wide selection of those products have been produced by Fritz Hansen, a leading Danish furniture manufacturing firm.

His designs are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, the Victoria and Albert Museum in London and other museum collections in Denmark, Norway, Sweden and Germany. Kjaerholm also designed tables.

In addition to his work as an independent designer, Poul Kjaerholm was a teacher at the School of Arts and Crafts in Copenhagen from 1952-1956. In 1958 he joined the faculty at the Royal Academy of Art as an assistant. In 1959 he would become a lecturer and in 1976 he was finally awarded full professorship in the department of furniture and interior design where he served until his untimely death in 1980. During his career he received several awards for his work including two Grand Prix at the Milan Trienalle in 1957 and 1960. Since these award winning works have been given places in the permanent collections of New York's Museum of Modern Art and other museums like it around the world and are still in production today, we can agree with other commentators that Kjaerholm's significance is not confined to one era in design history but is in some sense beyond eras.


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