Art played an influential role in Finn Juhl’s life. Growing up, he wanted to become an art historian, but had to settle to learn architecture instead.
Nevertheless, he persisted, and found his passion in furniture design. Establishing his own design studio, Juhl worked on interior and furniture designs, often taking inspiration from art.
At a time when Functionalist design driven by International Modernism and Bauhaus was gaining popularity, Juhl shunned the ‘form follows function’ mantra. Instead, Finn Juhl’s designs were organic, and almost playful. His designs still kept to the minimalist style of the time, and were comfortable to use. The Pelican Chair, designed in 1939, is emblematic of this approach.
The Pelican Chair was the first chair designed by Finn Juhl.
The design, where he collaborated with cabinetmaker Niels Vodder, was displayed at the Cabinetmakers’ Guild Exhibition in 1940. Unfortunately for Juhl, the chair came under heavy criticism at the time, with the design being likened to ‘tired walruses’. It should have been rather unsurprising that in a time of clean modern lines and sharp edges, a plush armchair with an organic shape inspired by abstract art would stand out from the crowd. The Pelican Chair was far too ahead of the times and clearly belonged to the future. What the critics failed to notice, however, was Juhl’s skillful approach to the chair’s design. The outlandish design of the Pelican Chair lent a certain warmth to the functionalist approach of the time. The armchair was also comfortable to sit in, not limiting the users to certain sitting positions. Most of all, the design showcased how a sculptural design can be clean and minimal in style without being cold and stiff.
Finn Juhl quickly moved on, designing more interiors and furniture, and the Pelican Chair was all but forgotten. Juhl’s later creations like the Poet Sofa and the Chieftain Chair made him a popular figure in Danish Design, with his works being exhibited even in the United States. The Pelican lay buried, with its story assumed to have come to an end. By the time of Finn Juhl’s death in 1989, the Pelican chair had all but disappeared from the public eye.
In 2001, Juhl’s partner, Hanne Wilhelm Hansen, transferred the rights to produce his furniture to OneCollection to preserve his legacy. Henrik Sorensen and Ivan Hansen - the founders of OneCollection - discovered the Pelican Chair at this time and decided to relaunch it. This time, the chair became a fast favorite among design lovers. The winged chair was a perfect addition to Scandinavian and Contemporary style homes, with a warm, natural style. Functioning equally well as a single accent piece or paired with the Pelican table, the chair soon became a celebrity in the design world. And just like the phoenix rose from its ashes, the Pelican Chair was back, this time, receiving the appreciation long overdue.