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

ELLE Decoration (UK) - - Contents - Words BIRGITTE ELLEMANN

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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)

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