July 1, 2008
Having the sole rights to Finn Juhl’s designs doesn’t make it easy for One Collection to manufacture them.
“If you look at the richness of all that Finn Juhl designed, so little of it has made it into production over the last 60 years,” says Preben Pontoppidan, the export director for One Collection, the Danish manufacturer that holds the rights to his many hundreds of pieces. “So we are going to introduce more of his pieces to the market.” But with the transfer of those exclusive rights, Juhl’s widow, Hanne Wilhelm Hansen, presented the company with a unique challenge: deciding not just what from his vast output to produce, but how to produce it. “It is extraordinarily tricky with Finn Juhl, because sometimes his drawings were incomplete. He would often finalize the last details in the workshops, and they might not be documented. That means there is a lot of interpretation when we pick a new product to produce.”
The company also updates some features out of necessity—in order to make the piece more efficiently or to improve its structural integrity, for example—while retaining other labor-intensive details for the sake of authenticity. “We try to do things as originally as possible,” Pontoppidan says. “But at the same time, we don’t feel that we have to stuff seats with the horsehair that was used back then. It wouldn’t be commercially viable.” The Pelican chair (1940) and Poet sofa (1941) are among Juhl’s most recognizable pieces, so it was obvious for One Collection to want to re-launch them. But especially with the Pelican chair, no more than a dozen were made originally, and the company couldn’t tell from Juhl’s sketches just what was underneath the iconic winged lounge. “Mr. Noritsugu Osa—a professor at Hokkaido Tokai University, who is now 60 years old—befriended Finn Juhl and probably has the biggest private collection of his work in the world, including a Pelican chair,” Pontopiddan says. “When we decided to produce that chair, we could not do it from the sketches. We either had to go out and try to buy one at auction—if one came up—or we could find someone who had one. Oda-san was very willing to offer help and advice. We had his chair crated and air-shipped back from Japan so that we could open it up and see how it was constructed.”
Once the company had capitalized on this astonishing generosity ( architonic.com places the value of an original near $50,000 and recognizes only four to have been made), it opted to do things differently. “The shell for the Pelican chair is made in a form today,” Pontoppidan says. “It just makes more sense to have a single piece then to construct it from wood—you can’t get the same strength. We are using a very hard foam material with steel reinforcement inside.” However, One Collection continues to hand stitch the upholstery. “It’s a very time-consuming process,” Pontoppidan admits. “You could do it differently, but they have always been hand stitched and you never see joins like that. It has tactility.”
Ultimately, the company makes all of its decisions for a single reason: “We want to make his designs available to a broader market,” Pontippidan says. With a starting price around $5,000, the current version of the Pelican is hardly a bargain but should be within reach of those who buy other Modern classics (the craft-intensive Chieftan chair, in contrast, runs closer to $15,000). Plus, the company promises to reintroduce lesser known but equally desirable models. “We are maybe producing 10 pieces right now, but we will probably do up to four new items per year from now on,” Pontoppidan says. “It’s kind of an endless pool to dig into.”