Mid century, but modern,
Bodil Kjær is one of Denmark’s bestkept secrets, the creative force behind iconic 1950s and 60s pieces designed to make life better. As a collection of her work is reissued, she explains why usefulness never goes out of fashion
Bodil Kjær’s iconic designs – built to make life better – have been reissued after almost four decades. She explains why they’ll never go out of fashion
In 1963, Bodil Kjær was sitting at a drawing table in the office of her home in Christiania, Copenhagen, sketching a hostess trolley, the design of which she had been thinking about for a while. Her idea was to solve the problem of the long corridor between her kitchen and dining room, helping her to more easily serve the guests she liked to entertain. Typical of her work, the piece fulfilled a function that chimed with the changing ways people were living at the time.
‘I was interested in what was happening around the world and realised that in big cities, such as New York, London and Tokyo, spaces had become so populated there was less room for every person. We had to think of new solutions for how people could live a good life. The trolley was a result of that mindset,’ says Kjær. ‘It was about making life a little easier.’ It had a hotplate on the top, and three tiers on which you could stack plates, glassware and more. Made of rosewood – ‘a very fashionable wood for Danes at the time’, according to Kjær – it sold out as soon as it went into production, and continued to sell more quickly than it could be made.
Now 86, Kjær still lives in Copenhagen, and has officially retired from a wide-ranging career that has seen her develop furniture, office and university buildings and shops in Denmark, England, the United States and Italy. She has been an adviser to the British engineering firm Arups, which created the Pompidou Centre in Paris, and a professor at the University of Maryland. She may now have taken a step back, but her work is still making waves, with Form Portfolios recently purchasing the licences to many of her designs, some of which have already gone back into production.
The collection is named ‘Elements of Architecture’ because, as Kjær says, ‘that’s what they are. I’ve always thought of my furniture, lamps and vases as elements of architecture, with a connection to ➤
the space they are to be used in. There’s a coherence between the rooms and the products themselves,’ she explains. The reissued collection includes glass vases, a canvas bag, a lamp, an acrylic table, a swing seat, and a desk that is fast becoming a classic. Much of her work has achieved icon status, but in particular the ‘Office Desk’, designed in 1959, which has appeared in several James Bond films, and, most recently, the 2014 movie Kingsman: The Secret Service. ‘Oh, that table,’ says Kjær dismissively, while laughing. ‘I was working on an office in Boston and wanted something other than the weird desks that seemed to be everywhere: those ones with pedestals on either side, where people would sit with clenched legs. I knew that good companies are about teamwork, so they should have a table they can all sit around together.’ It is crafted from ash with a chrome base and has become what every journalist wants to ask her about when they meet her, even all these years later. ‘I seemed to be answering a question about it every ten minutes at Salone del Mobile in Milan,’ she grins.
The one common feature of the components in ‘Elements of Architecture’ is the way they improve the life of their owners. ‘Every single one was designed as a solution to a problem,’ she says. ‘ When I was looking at architecture of the 1950s, buildings were being created to make life easier and better, and I wondered why the same principles weren’t applied to smaller elements. I was very aware of how people felt, and what a difference good design could bring about. If you can make people comfortable, they can be happier.’ Careful and considered creations will always live on, Kjær believes, with the pieces able to traverse passing trends and movements, staying relevant as long as they remain useful.
Discussing the legacy of her own work, she is adamant that Form Portfolios’ latest reissues are not about breathing new life into her designs. ‘I have never seen them as something that would die,’ she says. ‘ You do not go out and do all I’ve done if you don’t believe the world needs it.’ bodilkjaer.com; formportfolios.com
‘I was very aware of what a difference good design could bring about. If you can make people comfortable, they can be happier’
From left ‘The Lounge Chair’ (1959), £2,656, Illums Bolighus (illumsbolighus.com). Bodil Kjær sits on her upholstered sofa (1959). Trolley by Bodil Kjær for E Pedersen (1963)