Simple, strong and no-nonsense: three qualities that sum up the work of Danish architect and designer Bodil Kjaer (born 1932), who is known for her versatile furniture in boxy shapes. Her style is what you might expect from a woman who grew up on a Jutland farm and is inspired by modernist masters such as Mies van der Rohe – every piece is functional and stripped of superfluous details. Kjaer’s furniture grew out of her architectural explorations, and she describes it as ‘elements of architecture’.
Kjaer studied in London, Denmark and the United States before opening her own studio in Copenhagen in 1960. Her early experience designing public buildings led to a period creating furniture between 1955 and 1963, including office furnishings. These pieces weren’t initially intended for general production, but when architects including Paul Rudolph and Marcel Breuer began specifying them for their projects, they were put on sale.
One of these office designs, a 1959 desk for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, now produced by Karakter, achieved cinematic greatness. A slimline timber platform floating atop a light chrome frame, it was dubbed ‘the most beautiful desk in the world’ and appeared in three James Bond films.
Kjaer’s furniture, she explained, was big because it was made to suit the human frame; she had no interest in a chair that was more important than the person sitting in it. Her ‘Indoor-Outdoor’ teak furniture (1959), now manufactured by Carl Hansen & Søn, is a prime example of this.
Cube shapes are a recurring theme in Kjaer’s work, as seen in her wooden serving cart and nest of tables, both designed for her own home in 1963. Sometimes, her cubic forms take on a translucent quality. The acrylic and glass ‘Cross-Plexi’ table (1959), produced by Karakter, echoes the lightness of mid-century-modern architecture, as does her Plexiglas ‘Cross-Plex’ table lamp, which resembles a miniature building.
In 2017, Holmegaard reissued the ‘Crosses’ glass vase (1961), a cruciform shape that makes flowers appear as though they are growing in nature; it’s intended for wild flowers, not formal bouquets.
From 1965 to 1979, Kjaer worked as an architect in London. For a while, she joined engineering practice Arup, where she planned spaces for Penguin Books and the Universities of Oxford and Cambridge. She also spent time teaching. Today, she lives in Denmark, in a simply decorated home. bodilkjaer.com