Poul Kjaerholm was born in Oster Vra, Denmark, in 1929. He originally wanted to be a painter, but his father steered him toward a more practical career. Trained instead as a carpenter, he began his professional journey as a cabinetmaker with an apprenticeship at Gronbech. In 1952, he continued his education at Copenhagen’s School of Commercial Art where he was known as a knowledgeable and talented young man.
In 1955, Kjaerholm began a professional partnership with his entrepreneur and
manufacturer friend, Ejvind Kold Christiansen. This collaboration would span twenty-five years, ending only with Kjaerholm’s death in 1980. Kjaerholm appreciated the total artistic freedom that Christiansen afforded him.
The artist’s PK22 chair propelled him into the spotlight in 1956, when it earned him a Lunning Award. It was renowned for its sophistication and the elegant curve of its metallic legs. A rattan seat made the chair a light, classy choice for indoor or outdoor seating. The PK22 was the beginning of a long and successful career in furniture design.
In 1957 and 1960, Kjaerholm won the Grand Prize at the Milan Trennali. 1959 saw him take up residence as both a lecturer and assistant at the Royal Danish Academy of Arts. He went on to win another award, the Danish ID prize, in 1967.
Another famous chair was produced by Kjaerholm and Christiansen in 1965. This offering, the PK24 chaise lounge, was praised for its simple sophistication. A smooth combination of wicker and steel, the PK24 had a very laid-back appearance that seemed to invite the viewer to sit down for a rest – or perhaps a nap. An adjustable leather head rest was added for maximum comfort.
Kjaerholm cultivated his own unique style, which can be seen in pieces from 1952 and beyond. He took a minimalist approach to furniture design, but often spiced things up with playful shapes and fascinating contours. His famous PK61 coffee table was notable for its irreverent supporting structure that appears off-center and almost broken at first glance.
Another characteristic of Kjaerholm’s work was his love of natural materials. Strangely enough, he considered steel to be just as natural and deserving of care as any wood or stone. Though some of his pieces appear to be refined almost to the point of impracticality, Kjaerholm actually placed a high value on the functionality of his furniture. He dreamed of designing pieces that could be produced en masse and sold at affordable prices.
Instead, Kjaerholm’s artistic soul won out. He simply could not design pieces that lacked character. Minimalistic though his designs were, none of them wanted for personality. Kjaerholm managed to design pieces that were short on frills but generous in their form and function. They also retained a timeless appeal; one architect commented that it was hard to tell if Kjaerholm’s pieces were 5 or 50 years old.
Poul Kjaerholm died in 1980. His works were grouped into a collection and produced and sold by Fritz Hansen starting in 1982. Kjaerholm’s designs are featured in many permanent collections in museums in New York, London, Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Germany.