One might not pick up on it by simply admiring his furniture, but Danish carpenter-turned-designer Poul Kjærholm (1929–1980) was a true romantic. Though he is perhaps best known for his fascination with steel, much of Kjærholm’s pieces were inspired by his muse, his wife, or more specifically, her curves. According to Adrian Pollack, a Kjærholm aficionado and sales manager at Fritz Hansen, “she had the most beautiful form, so he made all these studies of her. There is a story that they were at the beach and she got up out of the sand and left an impression, so he made a plaster mould of it, and that was the study for a lot of his moulded pieces.”
Pollack recently visited Vancouver’s Inform Interiors to give a special presentation on Kjærholm. He believes the designer created some of the finest furniture ever made. “He was a master. His principles were in beauty and quality. He was uncompromising with proportions, with materials, with quality.”
Kjærholm got his start as the prize pupil of renowned designer Hans Wegner at the Danish School of Arts and Crafts, and was employed at Fritz Hansen for about a year following his graduation, where he worked on numerous chair prototypes, including a moulded plywood chair. Conflict arose between him and Arne Jacobsen (also on staff at Fritz Hansen) when he wanted this new chair put into production at the same time as Jacobsen’s now famous (and much-copied) Ant chair. “He basically said ‘it’s him or it’s me’,” explains Pollack. So, Kjærholm left and eventually ended up working with manufacturer Ejvind Kold Christensen for the rest of his career. “That,” says Pollack, “was the golden age of Poul Kjærholm.”
Steel age is perhaps more appropriate. Kjærholm made a study of the alloy in a way no one ever had before, especially given that throughout the history of Danish furniture, most designers were focused on using wood. Treating it like a precious material, he took great care in finishing his pieces. Rather than welding, he chose to use fixings from the aviation industry, allowing the subtle spaces where his materials marry and divide to be completely transparent.
The designer was also transparent in naming his pieces. He used a specific numbering system to identify his items, so as to not sentimentalize or define them with indicators of time or place. From PK00 through PK119, his work spans from chairs and tables to daybeds, stools, and accessories, the majority in natural finishes. The PK54 table, for example, is a natural maple and flint-rolled marble (for a matte finish) top, which sits on a finely-crafted, steel box-shaped frame. According to Pollack, it would take four bodies to lift the top, pointing to Kjærholm’s perfectionist tendencies in ensuring the base is not only aesthetically-pleasing, but of seriously sound design.
When Kjærholm passed away in 1980, Christensen didn’t want to move forward without him, deciding with Kjærholm’s widow that the rights to his designs be sold back to Fritz Hansen. The manufacturer has since made much of the homecoming, creating 600 of the chairs Kjærholm had fought for while employed before destroying the mould. “It was such a moment because it was a return to his intent. This limited-edition piece made it special.”
Fritz Hansen also has an exclusive Kjærholm collection, “PK 4×20”, wherein four works that were are not in production have been constructed in extremely limited runs of only 20 pieces each. “You won’t see them on our website or catalogue,” says Pollack. “But collectors know about them.” A fitting way to remember the titan.
Inform Interiors photos by Kimberly Budziak.