Poul Henningsen Early Life – A Rebel by Design
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Born in 1894, the early life of Poul Henningsen (PH) was considered rather unconventional in his lifetime. The fourth child of writer Agnes Henningsen and satirist Carl Ewald, PH was born in to a highly creative family environment. Undoubtably, PH’s childhood enabled him to feel that he was free to undertake an ‘non-traditional’ and creative path as he grew older as it had already been demonstrated by his parents that this was not only acceptable, but also to be applauded.
A common theme throughout Poul Henningsen’s life that can be observed from his very beginnings was his desire to design and craft items by hand. In his earliest years, Poul Henningsen’s zeal for ‘making things’ took the form of items made on a workbench he was gifted at the age of three. Later, his creativity manifested itself in paintings, before he trained as a carpenter and
then as a stone-mason. These artisanal craft skills of two and three dimensional manufacture were all acquired prior to PH’s choice to study as an architect, giving him not just theoretical knowledge of design – but crucially, a deep interest and understanding in what would work in practice in home and building design.
From this point in time, Poul Henningsen’s output as a designer, architect and sometimes writer and cultural commentator was prolific. He consistently challenged the status quo of Danish life
on many levels, sometimes through the very practical re-designing of homes, furniture and everyday objects and sometimes as the source of often provocative writing and thinking of a more political nature.
Poul Henningsen believed that well-designed, functional and aesthetically pleasing environments were the right of every individual: this was the enduring philosophy behind all his work. Whether designing a two bedroom city apartment or writing for publications, making a good quality of life accessible for all was a recurrent theme. Inherent in Poul Henningsen was a desire not just to improve the day to day quality of life of the socially elite and the bourgeoisie, but also to make available ‘good design’ to working people.
Poul Henningsen’s furniture and piano designs sit distinctly apart from the creations of his contemporaries. PH created numerous ideas for furniture, lighting and design of public spaces. Though the range of items PH designed is diverse, they all have one commonality: PH’s desire to re-shape the future of the every day environment experienced by people from all parts of society in to something more functional, more practical and more beautiful.
PH rejected wholly the concept of ‘tradition’ in favour of re-inventing every day objects from their very core. PH believed in the concepts of transparency, democracy and the idea that well designed things should be accessible to and experienced by everyone – these ideas were fundamental to his creations. The result of this thinking is a Collection of designs available from PH Furniture that were once considered ‘provocative’ since they challenged the status quo, though in today’s world they are in perfect synergy with contemporary living.
Henningsen was inspired by the natural world around him and this can be seen in many of his creations. PH arrived at designs that are often soft and fluid, connecting harmoniously with their surroundings. The glass lid of the PH Grand Piano is reminiscent of a butterfly’s wing, the base of the PH Pope Chair and PH Desk like the delicate roots of a plant. The PH Lamp allows light to gently pass through it’s shade in the same way sunlight passes through the canopy of the leaves of a tree.
It could be said that PH had arrived at some of the many of the ideas that became features of ‘Deconstructivism’ a number of decades before the architectural concept became popular. ‘Deconstructivist’ architecture features designs that are free of straight lines, corners and symmetry – PH explored these concepts within a number his furniture designs fifty years before the Deconstructionist movement gained it’s name. The PH Snake Chair and PH Snake Stools are perfect examples: these asymmetrical seating designs consist of one piece of curved steel, mirroring the fluid architectural forms that would be widely applauded decades after their inception. Similarly, PH Pope Chair and PH Lounge Chair feature curved legs that defy the convention that a chair should generally have four harsh straight lines for legs placed at approximately ninety degrees to the corner of the seat, while the PH Grand Piano is a symphony of curves, warm leather and transparency that allows us to see inside the very soul of the instrument; encouraging the audience to move closer and to embrace the music.
PH seemed to understand deeply the very essence of ‘being human’: people are not simplistically angular and made of purely hard materials, so it makes sense that the environment in which we live should not be either. PH’s furniture is so very often constructed of the strongest of architectural ‘bones’, fleshed with the most tactile and beautiful finishings of smooth wood and leather. PH’s designs are not only practical and functional, but also sensual.
Poul Henningsen realised that it is the things that we look at and touch everyday that are fundamental to the quality of our existence due to the profound influence they have on our lives, even if it is only at a subconscious level. PH Furniture is proud to be the only manufacturer licensed to produce Poul Henningsen’s furniture under licence from PH’s family: in looking back in to the archives, the future of furniture has now arrived.