Design Moment: Chieftain Chair, 1949

Finn Juhl’s piece was a move away from the strict functionalism dominating Danish design


The series of ads for a Danish beer starring Mads Mikkelsen – that seems to be on TV all the time – are only just about bearable because of the classic 20th-century modern furniture that’s prominently used. The centrepiece is the Chieftain Chair designed by Finn Juhl (1912-1989) in 1949 and regarded as the most important piece of this most influential modernist designer. He is considered the father of Danish Modern and his stately chair with its organic shapes – the slightly curved wide back tapers into a soft V-shape – was seen as a move away from the strict functionalism that dominated Danish design at the time. Made in walnut or teak with leather upholstery, the chair – with its wide back and generous proportions – demands space.

Juhl described how he came up with the design: “I started drawing the Chieftain Chair one day in the spring of 1949. I was at home, and I started drawing a small sketch around 10am with just four vertical lines connected with something. By two or three o’clock in the morning I had painted it... Perhaps I had a vague idea for some time that I wanted to design something bigger. There had been so many small, handy chairs, so I probably felt like designing something a bit more pompous.”