Finn Juhl & Onecollection
Story written by Henrik Sørensen, CEO, Onecollection A/S
Finn Juhl’s widow, Hanne Wilhelm Hansen, called us in 1998 and asked if we could help her make one of Finn Juhl’s sofas – Model 57. We were initially very surprised as we did not know Hanne Wilhelm Hansen at all. However, we knew architect Bård Henriksen who was helping Hanne manage the rights to Finn Juhl’s furniture. It was him who had suggested that she got in touch with “the guys from Ringkøbing”.
Hanne Wilhelm Hansen wanted to have a single unit of the sofa produced for an exhibition that she wanted to arrange in honour of Finn Juhl who had passed away in 1989. Since we already revered Finn Juhl as one of the most important pioneers in Danish design history, this was a fantastic challenge that we immediately said “yes” to. We made the sofa, Hanne saw it and thought that it fantastic – and this was the beginning of a new chapter in Onecollection’s history.
A not too insignificant chapter headed by Finn Juhl that now seems to have just begun.
The 57 sofa was a fantastic piece of furniture with design and craftsmanship qualities that we had not worked with before. We studied Finn Juhl’s materials and archives in detail and asked Hanne for permission to re-launch the Poeten sofa and the Pelikan chair. And we got it. We got free access to Finn Juhl’s house where Hanne lived and consulted Mr. Oda’s furniture collection in Japan. Thanks to the help of skilful craftsmen, we recreated these two models. The Pelikan had been produced only in a couple of units in 1940 and never since but was now going to have its rebirth at the international furniture fair in Cologne in a whole new millennium. It was a gamble on our side. Finn Juhl’s furniture had not been exhibited for many years and had, by and large, been forgotten outside the art and design history circles. The exhibition was a draw – we jumped to the forefront of the retro wave and thought that we were now just going to keep riding it.
Things naturally did not go like this but the fair became a turning point where we showed, for the first time, furniture pieces that everyone had an attitude to. Most people thought that the Pelikans were ugly and compared them with tired animals; others thought that they were funny and there were yet again others who thought that they were simply brilliant.
Finn Juhl’s furniture immediately brought us into contact with foreign interested parties and a large U.S. company that wanted to reintroduce Finn Juhl’s furniture on the U.S. market paid us a visit on 12 September 2001. However, the Twin Towers in New York had just fallen the previous day – and Finn Juhl’s furniture turned out to be harder to sell than we had ever imagined.
Even so, we quickly said “yes” when Hanne asked us one day if we wanted to take over all of the rights to Finn Juhl’s furniture. We were simply not thinking rationally of the consequences – and thank God for that. Finn Juhl’s furniture consists of masterpieces which require the utmost in any way possible. They are expensive to develop, manufacture and, in particular, to hold in stock – and the sales were small.
At the same time, we had to fight the many people who claimed to be experts and arbiters of taste. The many old, used Finn Juhl furniture pieces manufactured by master joiner Niels Vodder and Bovirke found their way to the auction houses. They were considered to be genuine and original, whereas our re-launched models were deemed to be “new copies of a dubious nature”.
In reality, our models were manufactured exactly like the furniture in Finn Juhl’s own house. The only difference was today’s possibilities to use high-technology CNC machines which, together with our craftsmanship, provided unique opportunities for the furniture’s organic mode of expression and the delicate seams that were supposed to withstand everyday use.
Nothing is ever final when you talk about what is right and wrong about Finn Juhl. He was not a craftsman himself but always worked in close cooperation with one and it was probably always both parties that left their imprint on the result. This is why it was important for us to study Finn Juhl, get to know him and put ourselves in his shoes – since he was absent from the scene.
We cherished a strong belief all the time that the world would open its eyes to Finn Juhl’s artistic furniture universe and it is with great joy and satisfaction that we now find that Finn Juhl has taken us on a fantastic trip around the world where we meet furniture nerds interested in Finn Juhl everywhere. There is no one today who calls into question the originality of our Finn Juhl furniture – and the collection which contains more than 20 models is sold all over the world. His 100th anniversary is celebrated this year with a number of special exhibitions in Denmark and abroad – it is indeed a fairy tale!
A professional board of directors would have probably turned their thumbs down that time when Hanne Wilhelm asked us to take over the rights to Finn Juhl’s furniture but, fortunately, we did not have one. The freedom to make certain decisions ourselves and face their consequences is the reason why we think that things have been fun all the way through.
In the 1950s, Finn Juhl opened the doors to a Danish furniture export adventure, in particular, to the USA and is therefore rightfully called the father of the concept of Danish Design. We are following in his footsteps today. With the renovation of the Finn Juhl chamber in the UN’s headquarters in New York, the Danish State chose to fire the starting pistol for a contest among Danish designers. Onecollection will be responsible for both the re-launch of the original old Finn Juhl furniture and for the manufacture of the winning proposal designed by Kasper Salto & Thomas Sigsgaard. Finn Juhl is clearing the way for new Danish architects and it is our ambition to market – together with Finn Juhl – the best and cosiest Nordic design in the whole world.