Poul Henningsen Part One: PH and the Heart of Danish Design

In the first of a series of posts about Poul Henningsen (PH), PH Magazine explores further the life of the designer, the inspiration behind his furniture creations and their legacy.

Poul Henningsen (1894 / 1967) began to design furniture as early as the 1919 and from this very early stage it was clear that PH thought differently to the designers who had crafted the aesthetic world in to which he was born. A trained architect, PH’s inspirations were often closer to home than the drawing board or the workshop and driven by resolving practical problems of product and design rather than intellectual theories.

One of PH’s first significant designs was the PH Dressing Table, created when PH was in his early twenties, simply because he wanted to create a piece of furniture that improved upon the heavy designs available at the the time. He created a piece of furniture that gives the illusion of being light and unobtrusive of appearance while being strong and practical. Henningsen’s Dressing Table is an item that even today fits seamlessly in to many interior environments.

At the time PH was working prolifically on reinventing furniture and lighting designs in the 1920s and 1930s, it could be said that he was part of a movement of similarly progressive architects and designers who considered that traditional methodologies of building and home design could be improved upon. This shift in attitude among forward thinking designers can be seen as early at the 1920s, when Kaare Klint designed a piano that was made of natural wood rather than the black gloss finish traditionally expected of a grand piano, so that it would appear more cohesive with other furniture in the room and also other musical instruments made of wood. PH continued this theme one step further with his 1931 PH Grand Piano design, when he questioned the need for the wooden casing found on grand pianos and decided it was altogether unnecessary. Liberated from it’s wooden box, PH’s Grand Piano design allows us to see inside the instrument as far as the very beating heart of hammers on strings, enabling the audience to experience music more authentically than ever before. PH’s Grand Piano is still as progressive viewed from a twenty-first century perspective as it was in the 1930s and the productions of the design currently produced by PH Pianos continue to be highly desirable for this reason. 

In synergy with the German Bauhaus movement of the 1920s and 1930s, Poul Henningsen approached design from the perspective that the issues of function and practicality must be addressed before aesthetics are to be considered and that aesthetics would then almost take care of themselves. Henningsen once said ‘There is no other way to create art than to penetrate deeper and deeper into material. Form is a given in a perfect mastery of the material’. PH believed that form must always follow function.

By focussing on selecting materials best suited to achieving the practical goals of his designs and setting himself free from the ideas of what furniture ‘should’ look like, PH was able to be truly groundbreaking. When PH unveiled his tubular steel furniture designs in 1932 at Denmark’s leading national industrial fair, they were considered by many at the time to be avant-garde, radical designs. Viewed from a contemporary perspective today we can see that PH’s tubular steel PH Snake Chair, PH Snake Stool, PH Chair, PH Pope Chair and PH Lounge Chair are durable, practical and beautiful.

In many ways, in the 1930s, PH’s mindset was simply ahead of it’s time: we can consider that his way of thinking now sits at the very heart of what can be classed as quintessentially brilliant Danish Design. Poul Henningsen’s designs can be thought of as Danish Design Classics even though these furniture pieces have never before been available to purchase in the contemporary furniture market.

 

Part 2: Poul Henningsen Part Two: Future Classics