colour in the work of Finn Juhl



It's probably sacrilege - and just saying this might mean I'm banned from the design museum - but I still find it difficult to like the furniture designed by Finn Juhl.

Written down, that seems like a terrible confession but looking at the furniture from the classic period of Danish design - so ostensibly at the furniture from the 1950s and 1960s but also back to the 1940s - I find it much easier to appreciate the robust lines and solid shapes of furniture by Børge Mogensen; the complete mastery of cabinetmaking techniques in work by Hans Wegner or the cool and rational engineering of furniture by Poul Kjærholm. I suppose, in the end, these judgements can only come down to personal taste.

However, having said that, furniture by Juhl began to make more sense - at an intellectual level rather than in terms of style or taste - after seeing the book on his watercolours by Anne-Louise Sommer and seeing the designs by Juhl for the cabinetmakers' exhibitions - where he showed his furniture - and his drawings for the room in the museum in Trondheim that he designed and furnished and, of course, with his drawings for the furniture and designs for the interiors for the UN building in New York.

For Juhl colour and setting were as important as form and style when he designed furniture. He is hardly unique amongst architects and designers at that period - so Le Corbusier experimented with large areas of strong colour in his interiors - but Juhl uses colour much more in his furniture than most of his Danish contemporaries. His palette is distinct with dark, dull sage greens, a fair bit of dark turquoise and deep ochres and deep maroons.

Much of his furniture was upholstered, with plain fabrics, so without patterns apart from the weave, but sometimes with strong contrasts between the colour of the seat pad and the colour of the back and for the cabinetmakers' exhibitions he used the same strong dark colours on the walls of the room sets so clearly the extravagant contours of the wooden chair frames were to be seen in silhouette against the right colour.

Several cabinets designed by Juhl were painted with strong technicolour shades - probably the Glove Cabinet - a folding or double-sided drawer unit from 1961 - is the best-known example with each drawer painted a different colour.

I'm even tempted to suggest that the use of tan leather for the large chairs such as Høvdingestolen / The Chieftain designed in 1949 is as much about getting a large area of consistent colour - about a subtle reflection of colour rather than using a textile that absorbs light - as it is about upholstery.


Watercolours by Finn Juhl, Anne-Louise Sommer, Strandberg Publishing (2015)