Poul Henningsen was unforgettable. His sharp wit, intelligence, and artistic vision live on in a collection of quotes he made during his lifetime. He once said, “It doesn't cost money to light a room correctly, but it does require culture." Throughout his life, he would produce light fixtures and lighting techniques that earned him a reputation as a true master of his craft.
Henningsen was born in Copenhagen, Denmark, in 1894. His mother was Danish actress Agnes Henningsen, and his f
ather was satirist Carl Eswald.
Poul spent a great deal of his young adulthood studying to be an architect. He attended the Frederiksberg Technical School from 1911-14, then went on to study at the Copenhagen Technical College for a further three years. He never actually graduated with an architectural degree, but that didn’t stop him from practicing architecture for several years. He began working as a self-employed architect in 1920. His contributions to Copenhagen architecture include many houses, two theater interiors, one factory, and a section of the famous Tivoli amusement park.
In 1925, Henningsen began to focus more and more on lighting concepts. He mused that a sparse and plainly designed room could be greatly improved simply by using the right lighting techniques. Henningsen didn’t rely on brightness, and was, in fact, vocally opposed to using too much intensity. Instead, he made lighting into an art form by creating just the right amount of glare and shadow. His goal was to harness the power of the electric light while bringing it a softness characteristic of the petroleum lamps of his youth.
Henningsen designed a multi-shade lamp that went on to win an award at the Paris World Exhibition. The lamp started out as the original “PH-Lamp”, but is now known as the “Paris” lamp. It was designed using scientific principles. For every inch of the light’s shades, Henningsen considered how much of the light’s glare should be shielded to create the perfect illumination for a home. His PH-Lamps are still in demand today. Some are simple wall sconces, while others are elaborately outfitted. All are highly artistic in appearance and precise in their function. With his lights, as with his satire, Henningsen never shied away from making a bold statement.
Always a critic of Danish society and architecture, Henningsen eventually forayed into the field of writing. His works were often playful, but sometimes scathing, revues that were designed to provoke a reaction. He often lamented the loss of culture and reason he saw around him. When Henningsen fled to Sweden during World War II, he wrote resistance poems which were cleverly camouflaged to hide their real meaning from the German forces occupying Denmark. Though his democratic spirit made him something of an outcast in his own time, later generations admired him.
Throughout his life, Henningsen worked in conjunction with Louis Poulsen Lighting. CEO Sophus Kaastrup-Olsen hand-picked Henningsen to be the first editor of the company’s magazine, “NYT”. It was suggested that this was done because Henningsen had recently been fired from another newspaper job where his views were considered too radical.
Poul Henningsen died in 1967, but his spirit lives on through his written works and his coveted multi-shade lamps.