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Poul Kjaerholm - Cabinetmaker to Modernist Icon - Part One

Designer: Poul Kjaerholm

Aram Store has recently become part of a select trio of 'preferred partners' to whom Fritz Hansen has granted the sole right to supply the entire range of Poul Kjærholm designed furniture, still produced by the Danish manufacturers, throughout the UK.

For our customers who may not be that familiar with Kjærholm's life and work, the following post is the first in a series of articles which should hopefully provide a detailed insight into his life, philosophy and method of working that came to produce these timeless designs that we display and sell at Aram Store today but that you also may have seen, and unknowingly used, in public spaces throughout the world.

Poul Kjærholm was born on January 8th 1929 in a small village called Øster Vrå in Northern Denmark but his family relocated several years later to the neighbouring market town of Hjørring. When he turned just 15 years of age in 1944, he undertook an apprenticeship with the local cabinetmaker, Th. Gronbech and paired this with further education at Hjørring Technical School before going on to gain a degree in furniture design from the School of Arts and Crafts in Copenhagen in 1949. So, fundamentally, Kjærholm was a craftsman and grounded with a solid appreciation of materials and how to shape them but this is clearly evident from the simply formed yet exquisitely detailed and unique body of work he went on to produce throughout his 32 year career span.

Kjaerholm at his desk

Kjærholm also appeared to be blessed with a great sense of timing because just after he began studying at the School of Arts and Crafts, his tutelage was taken over by one Hans J. Wegner, the Danish doyen of wooden furniture design. Wegner had also trained as a cabinetmaker and studied at the School of Arts and Crafts himself but by 1949 he had firmly established himself as a revered figure in Danish furniture design, especially after the release of his Round Chair or ‘The Chair’ as it came to be known, which brought him global attention for the first time. Unavoidably, Wegner became an inspiring figure to Kjærholm but it seems that Wegner also took a keen interest in the young Kjærholm by providing him with part-time employment at his design studio alongside his studies.

Hans Wegner Round Chair
Hans Wegner with his Round Chair

Kjærholm spent three years studying at the School of Arts and Crafts and his coursework included classes in drafting, lettering, perspective drawing and geometry. He excelled in all these disciplines but the study of geometry appears to have had the biggest impact on his work which is so evident in the way he related lines and angles throughout his later work.

PK25 Chair

In 1951, at the age of just 22, the final design he presented for his graduation went on to become his first major piece of work – the PK 25 Chair (as it was later named). Simply formed from a single piece of steel plate and a length of halyard line, the prototype was constructed at a local blacksmith’s in Hjørring over the summer of ’51. Even at this age, that innate craftsman within Kjærholm is glaringly apparent in his use and understanding of the material and the precision tooling required to create that precise, linear profile. He negated the need for any joints by drilling into the steel plate to provide access for a saw to make cuts in opposite directions. Once the cuts had been applied, the semi-segregated steel plate was then bent into shape in a press.

PK25 Detail

Hans Wegner Flag Halyard Chair
Hans Wegner's Flag Halyard Chair

This unison of steel and rope materials was clearly inspired by Wegner’s Flag Halyard Chair from 1950 but there were also ideas present here that would become defining features of Kjærholm’s work and unique aesthetic. He graduated from the School of Arts and Crafts in 1952 (he, rather precociously, returned to teach at the School in 1953 at the tender age of 24) and his PK 25 Chair design instantly launched him into the consciousness of his native country as the chair was exhibited at the Danish Museum of Art and Design the same year. One visitor whose head was turned by this design was none other than Søren Hansen, Director of the Fritz Hansen furniture factory.  Hansen, after receiving a tip from Wegner, hired Kjærholm to work at his factory and the PK 25 was put into a limited production run.

To be continued...