Wednesday, March 31, 2010


In an industry dominated by male colleagues, Bodil Kjaer (1932 - ) is recognized as one of the leading Danish architects and designers from the 1950s and 1960s. Kjaer received her undergraduate diploma from COPENHAGEN'S STATE SCHOOL of INTERIOR ARCHITECTURE, did post graduate studies at LONDON'S ROYAL COLLEGE of ART and ARCHITECTURAL ASSOCIATION SCHOOL of ARCHITECTURE in addition to later being a professor at University of Maryland here in the U.S. Professionally she was a senior architect at Arup in London and also had her own offices in Denmark and London. Kjaer designed and developed products as “elements of architecture”, more pointedly solutions to problems of interiors as part of highly contemporary architecture; such elements included furniture, light fittings, glass, etc. Her scope of design also included homes for the African tropics; factories, office buildings, and universities in England and Italy; city planning and international competitions about the future of cities; university based research in architecture, planning and design; and consulting to various ARCHITECTS, ENGINEERS and THEIR CLIENTS in more recent years.

It's no surprise that Kjaer’s "elements of architecture” captured the eyes of fellow architects. The first American architect to specify Kjaer’s designs, the upholstered series, was Paul Rudolph, then Dean of Architecture at Yale, who wanted them for his first high rise building, Blue Cross/Blue Shield in Boston. Jose Luis Sert, then Dean at Harvard, was another enamored with Kjaer’s designs for a building he designed for Boston University. Kjaer’s outdoor/indoor group is believed to still be in use in that building 50 years later. And noted Hungarian architect and furniture designer Marcel Breuer elected to use Kjaer’s upholstered sofas in a building in New York.

Kjaer’s working table, a personal favorite, was designed as part of a series of elements of architecture in 1959 with the intention to build flexible working environments. It's essence is best conveyed in an insightful and charming summation by the designer herself from notes for an Exhibition of the Office Units in Berlin, 1995: “Furniture that will not overpower people. Furniture that will not scream and shout. The aim is understated elegance and furniture that will easily become part of a whole. And furniture that works with contemporary architecture (actually, become elements of architecture) and furniture to mirror the social and aesthetic ideas of an era. So, I guess that it is only natural that this furniture should appear in films in the 1960s as support for Sean Connery as well as Albert Finney and Vanessa Redgrave, and on television in Britain as support for politicians of the so called left as well as politicians of the so called right. And, also, as support for a TV-cook with a famous name like Clement Freud. And I guess, it is only natural that this furniture should act as support for EU-politicians in Brussels, diplomats in Russia and Brazil, as well as Prince Phillip at Sandringham Castle, the financier Evelyn Rothchild, and the presidents of Marks & Spencer, but also support Oscar Peterson, the pianist, Michael Caine, the actor, plus many more private and public persons, who bought this furniture in the past. Like the real estate agent in London, whose office I walked into when I was looking for a new home, and who, when I confessed to be the designer of his desk, made me sign it. Then I taught him how to take care of his desk. The prototype of the desk, which was made in ashwood with a matte, chrome plated base, was made for Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Mass. Later that year, 1959, the Polaroid Corporation of America bought one in ash with an orange baked enamel steel base for the reception at it’s first production plant, north of Boston. That same year a desk was made in American walnut for the women’s college that Hillary Clinton attended. It was a gift from the trustees, and so it was equipped with a silver plate with inscriptions. However, those were special examples. As an architect and designer I often ran into problems of finding furniture that would express the same form-ideas as those we employed in the buildings we designed and which would, at the same time, express the ideas of contemporary management. The office furniture I found on the market in 1959, I found to be clumsy and confining, while neither the new architecture nor the new management thinking was the least bit clumsy or confining. My clients, for whom I was designing office spaces, more often than not were flexible people with open minds. They were bright and ambitious, and had many new ideas as to how run industries and institutions. Many of these ideas that materialized around 1960 have since spread and become accepted as the way to do things today. So, I am not really surprised that this furniture, which I designed for the forward-thinking executives in 1959, is still being recognized as useful "tools" for a wide circle of leaders and management.”

A small production of reissued office units and upholstered designs did take place between 2007 and 2009 by Hothouse in Shanghai, but has since terminated. Ms. Kjaer’s vintage and reissued designs are sold internationally at fine dealers and auction houses.

Recently I had the pleasure and opportunity to correspond with Ms. Kjaer prior to this feature. Following my initial email, Ms. Kjaer gracefully responded and took the time to provide certain resources for this posting. I simply wanted to formally express my thanks and appreciation once again for her helpful interface.

related links:

images: (click on images to enlarge)
Ms. Bodil Kjaer (top)
Working table for C.I Design, Boston, 1959-1961 / E. Pedersen & Son, Denmark, from 1961 (2nd)
Easy chair for Harbo Solvsten, 1955 (3rd)
Daybed for C.I. Design, Boston 1959 (4th)
Lounge chair for C.I. Design, Boston, 1959 (bottom)

1 comment:

  1. Hi there,

    First off, thank-you for the lovely post on Ms. Kjær – I am a big fan of her work :)

    I was wondering if I could use the first image in a blog post of my own. Do you know who owns the copyright and what I would need to do to get permission?

    Thanks in advance (you can reach me on or @aral on Twitter).