Poul Henningsen – master of soft light

Louis Poulsen’s iconic PH 5 lamp is celebrating its 60th anniversary this year. The revolutionary pendant fixture designed by Poul Henningsen has just been launched in new, contemporary colors.

PH 5 pendant Louis Poulsen
The PH 5 lamp from 1958 is so popular in Denmark that it can be found in almost every other home.

POUL HENNINGSEN HAD been busy with the mystery of light since he was 18. He had grown up in the soft glow of oil lamps and recoiled at the new culture of electric lamps and blinding light. It led to research seeking harmony in lighting.

The result was a multi-shade lamp, or a glare-free shade consisting of several parts whose size, shape and position were designed to affect the distribution and volume of light.

When the lamp was presented at the Paris World’s Fair in 1925, it was nicknamed Paris after the destination city. Henningsen applied the principles of this lamp for the rest of his career.

Poul Henningsen
From 1925, Henningsen was a designer for Louis Poulsen Lighting.

Poul Henningsen’s mother was famous author and equality activist Agnes Henningsen. Poul was the illegitimate son of her and journalist Carl Ewald, and his childhood was spent in a tolerant and bohemian home.

Like his mother, Henningsen became a gifted penman and a sharp social critic. He wrote poetry and scripts for revues and edited articles for newspapers and magazines. In his time, he was known in Copenhagen for precisely these talents. Nevertheless, he went down in history as a lighting designer.

Louis Poulsen PH 3/2 table light
PH 3/2 is a popular table lamp. The classic design provides pleasant, glare-free light.
Poul Henningsen
Henningsen imitated the soft light of an oil lamp.

Henningsen studied architecture and worked in Copenhagen from 1920 onwards. In addition to buildings, he designed, for example, a part of the capital’s famous Tivoli and decorated theaters.

The correct illumination of a room does not require money, but insight.”​​​​​​​

At the time, Henningsen had a habit of often riding on trams. He wrote: “When one looks into first-floor homes from a passing tram in the evenings, one shudders to see how gloomy they are. Furniture, style carpets, everything in a home is secondary to the importance of lighting. The correct illumination of a room does not require money, but insight.”

PH Artichoke pendant by Louis Poulsen
The luxurious Artichoke consists of twelve steel arches and 72 copper leaves. The floor lamp is AJ by Arne Jacobsen, above the table is Henningsen’s PH Snowball.

The popularity of the revolutionary lamp provided Henningsen with a cooperation agreement with lamp manufacturer Louis Poulsen Lighting immediately after the World’s Fair. One classic after another was born, and Henningsen’s legacy continues to guide the work at Louis Poulsen.

Henningsen’s legacy continues to guide the work at Louis Poulsen.

The year 1958 saw the launch of two top products: the grand PH Artichoke for public spaces and PH 5 for homes. The latter of the two icons can still be found in almost every other home in Denmark, and it is indeed not unknown elsewhere either.

Poul Henningsen
Poul Henningsen and PH 5
PH 5 pendant light Louis Poulsen
The PH 5 pendant was launched in new, contemporary colors in the spring of 2018.

There hardly exists another lighting designer who has been copied as much as Poul Henningsen. The eloquent shapes of his lamps have created an entire style of lighting. But the copyists have often forgotten Henningsen’s true guiding light: function.

In his pieces, the shapes are not an end in themselves but have emerged based on scientific analysis. Henningsen was, in a way, a romantic functionalist. He also sought ambiance; the soft, cozy light produced by the oil lamps of his childhood home.

Poul Henningsen

Poul Henningsen in brief

• Danish Poul Henningsen was born in 1894 and died in 1967
• Studied 1911–14 at a technical school in Frederiksberg and 1914–17 at a technical college in Copenhagen
• The first characteristic lamp, Paris, was created in 1925
• PH Artichoke and PH 5 designed in 1958, for example, are still in production

View also:

Poul Henningsen's designs >
Louis Poulsen's collection >

Text: Pirkko Vekkeli Pictures: Louis Poulsen

This article was originally published in Avotakka.

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