Finn Juhl

Finn Juhl was a Danish architect, interior and industrial designer and is mostly known for his furniture design. He worked outside the norms of the modernist movement of the time favouring organic shapes. He was strongly influenced by art such as work by the abstract sculptor Jean Arp and tribal art.These influences can be seen in pieces such as the Pelican chair and Chieftain chair. He favoured dark teak instead of the more commonly used oak of the time and gave soft edges to the hard lines of the modernist movement.

Finn Juhl initially began working mainly with fully upholstered furniture. Later he said that this was due to the fact that he didn’t really know about furniture construction or joinery. By working in upholstered furniture he only had to concentrate on the exterior of the furniture and could create the sculptural organic shapes he later became famous for. His daring flowing designs were a challenging task for the joiners tasked with production. Juhl thought more like a sculpter than a carpenter, his furniture designs aimed to express movement and life. Master cabinet maker Niels Vodder began work with Juhl in 1937 and the duo continued to work together until 1959.

Finn Juhl  was one of the first designers to introduce Danish Modern to the USA.  In 1951 he participated in the Good Design exhibition in Chicago and created 24 pieces for the show. At the Milan Triennale in the 50s, he won a total of five gold medals, further adding to his international reputation. During this period he also designed refrigerators for General Electric, glassware, ceramics, a line of furniture for the Baker Furniture Company of Holland, Michigan, and was the interior designer for the United Nations Trusteeship Council Chamber in New York City. As his international success grew so did his success at home in Scandinavia.

“Art has always been my main source of inspiration. I am fascinated by shapes which defy gravity and create visual lightness.”

Finn Juhl

Pelican Chair

Finn Juhl’s deep fascination with surrealism and sculpture inspired his design for the Pelican Chair, a design well and truly ahead of its time. His self taught approach enabled him to think outside the themes of the time and design in soft rounded flowing shapes. the Pelican chair was designed to fold around the body for ultimate comfort. Designed with relaxation in mind, the seat slants backward on four chunky legs and the back and armrests are oversized allowing several ways to sit comfortably. Initially released in a very small number for the Designers Guild in 1940 the Pelican went back into production in 2001.

The Chieftain Chair

Introduced in 1949 at the Cabinetmakers’ Guild in Copenhagen, the Chieftain is considered Finn Juhls’ masterpiece. An Icon in design the chair became an important force in the 1950’s Danish Modern movement in the USA . Because of this Finn Juhl is often considered the father of Danish Modern. Juhl was inspired by tribal art and the distinctive shapes within the chair echo tribal weaponry. The sculptural design is a far cry from the strict functionalist style of his peers at the time. For Juhl personally it marked a move away from the smaller useful chairs he had produced previously. With a wide, squat seat and an upward lift in the arm rests the chair and matching stool are produced teak or walnut with leather upholstery. In 2012, the Chieftain Chair won the Danish Design Award, Classic.


By 1955 Finn Juhls’ success in the American design scene began to inspire his design thinking. He particularly admired contemporaries such as the Eames duo. Juhl began experimenting with the use of steel and straight lines and the Sideboard of 1995 is evidence of this. The cabinet has brightly coloured panels and rests on a burnished steel frame and wooden feet. The sliding door panels come in either a harmonious blue or red/yellow scale reflecting Juhl’s deep interest in Goethe’s colour wheel. The cabinet is both practical and beautiful and reflects Finn Juhls’ love of colour and his belief in its use as an active element in space. It was relaunched in 2009.

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