Cooper Hewitt says...

The Danish furniture and interior designer Finn Juhl, with Klaare Klint and Arne Jacobson, made Denmark a leader in modern home furnishings in the 1940s and 1950s. Juhl, in particular, led the fashion for Danish modern domestic furniture in the American market during the 1950s and 1960s.

Juhl trained in architecture at the Academy of Arts in Copenhagen. He graduated in 1934 and spent the first 10 years of his career working in the architecture offices of Vihelm Lauritzsen in Copenhagen. He made his debut as a furniture designer at the Copenhagen Cabinetmakers’ Guild exhibition at the Museum of Decorative Arts in 1937. Considered highly controversial in the 1930s and 1940s, Juhl’s furniture broke with the tradition of pared-down, historicist furniture forms popularized by Klint, who then dominated furniture design. Instead, Juhl experimented during the 1940s with new forms and production methods in collaboration with the highly skilled cabinetmaker, Niels Vodder. In 1945, Juhl introduced his characteristic chair form and construction at the Cabinetmakers’ Guild exhibition. The 45chair, as it came to be known, featured a one-piece curving seat and back that was separate from the sculpted teak wood frame, conveying the feeling of incomparable weightlessness. Working through the 1940s and 1950s with this kind of construction, Juhl and Vodder together produced a series of organic chairs, sofas, and tables that won 14 prizes from the Copenhagen Cabinetmakers’ Guild as well as six Milan Triennale gold medals. All the furniture was custom-made in limited quantities.

Juhl’s introduction to the American market began in 1948 when MoMA’s managing director of the design department, Edgar Kaufmann Jr. commissioned him to design MoMA’s second Good Design exhibition. An article on Juhl by Kaufmann for Interiors magazine caught the attention of the president of Baker Furniture Incorporated, Hollis Baker, who was interested in introducing a modern furniture line with Juhl’s designs. After meeting with Juhl in Copenhagen and in Grand Rapids, Michigan, a contract was signed in September 1950, according to which Baker would mass produce some of the models already fabricated in limited quantities by Vodder, as well as new models especially suited to the American market. The Baker line, known as Baker Modern, was introduced in June 1951. Altogether, Baker manufactured 24 of Juhl’s furniture models, including side chairs, armchairs, sofas, desks, coffee tables, sideboards, and night stands.