The Highly Personal House of Danish Design Great Finn Juhl

Built in 1942, Finn Juhl’s home remains one of the greatest masterpieces of Danish design.
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Although today relatively obscured by the fame of his peers, Arne Jacobsen and Hans Wegner, Finn Juhl remains a central name in the story of Danish modernism. His chairs still impress with their sculptural, expressive forms (his Pelican chairs, which critics dubbed "tired walruses" when they first came out, look avant-garde even today) and the meticulous craftsmanship required to produce them. Finn Juhl and His House (Hatje Cantz), a new book by Per H. Hansen, reevaluates Juhl’s famous designs—as well as the best exhibition space of the designer’s work, his own home in Ordrup, just outside of Copenhagen. Remarking that "When I build a house, I don’t like someone else to come in and spoil it," Juhl made sure to design every detail of his home, and he adjusted the details until his death in 1989.

In the garden room, Juhl's 1957 Japanese chair lies next to a sofa table and a built-in bench, designed for the house. The blue upholstery matches Anna Thommsen’s carpet.

Although Juhl was educated as an architect, he designed only a few houses. He built his own home in 1941, with the inheritance received after his father’s death. He approached the design of his home primarily as a furniture and interior designer, starting from articulating the interiors and reserving the development of the exteriors for the very end. His idea was that furniture created the room, and the room created the facade.

The dining room houses Juhl's Judas table and Egyptian chairs, both from 1949. The abstract paintings hanging above the dining table are by Asger Jorn and Richard Mortensen.

The 2,200-square-foot home is made up of two buildings connected by a low entrance hall. As one of the early examples of open plan houses, the spaces flow into one another organically, and all the rooms open up to the surrounding garden through large windows and doors, making the outside a direct extension of the interior.

Vilhelm Lundstrom portrait of Juhl’s wife, Hanne Wilhelm Hansen, hangs above Juhl's Poet sofa (1941). The sofa faces one of Juhl's most recognizable designs, the 1949 Chieftain chair. The white brick hearth extends into the room to resemble an area rug.

Juhl kept the the inside of the house in a constant state of flux. The furniture and the layout changed throughout the years as Juhl developed new designs and incorporated them into the interiors. In the dining room, for instance, Juhl originally employed Windsor chairs, only to replace them with his own designs sometime in the 1940s and finally settle on his Egyptian chairs in 1949. While he mostly utilized furniture he designed with cabinetmaker Niels Vodder, some pieces he designed specifically for the space, like the famous Poet sofa of 1942. "One cannot create happiness with beautiful objects, but one can spoil quite a lot of happiness with bad ones," said Juhl, as he kept developing his designs, keeping in his home only the ones he was fully satisfied with. 

Architectural ispiration and exhibition posters fill the walls of Juhl's home office. Two chairs of Juhl's design are placed on the side of his desk, designed in 1945.

Juhl’s guiding thought was to foster an interaction between furniture, art, color, and light. Perhaps the best example of his approach can be found in the living room where, above a white Poet chair, hangs Vilhelm Lundstrom’s painting of Juhl’s wife, around a white brick hearth that extends into the room like a rug. The room becomes a medley of light and texture.

A collection of Juhl's chair designs can be found in the seating area of the master bedroom; a 1942 prototype chair, Karmstool (1953), three 48 chairs and a two-seat sofa (1948). Poul Henningsen's 1962 chrome plated Contrast lamp 1962 hangs over the table.

Now, as the house has become a part of Ordrupgaard museum, visitors get to experience the effects of this midcentury marvel for themselves.

Juhl painted this watercolor rendering of the house in 1968, more than 25 years after the house was finished. The site plan of the property shows a separate building that was supposed to house Juhl's design studio. The plan was never realized and the bedroom facing west was expanded instead.

A new book by German publisher Hatje Cantz looks back on Finn Juhl's legacy and his home's new role as a public museum.


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