Danish furniture designer Grete Jalk dreamed of improving the designs of a country that already had the reputation of the best manufacturing process in the world.  She focused on faster, simpler, and more economical production.  As she experimented with new production methods and materials, she designed beautiful pieces that were easy to make.  Jalk left her mark as an influential female designer, supporting and teaching countless other female designers along the way.

Grete Jalk - Danish Female Furniture Designer
Set of bent plywood Nested Tables by Grete Jalk, 1963. Photo courtesy of Ramblersen.

Design is Not Just a Man’s World

Born in Copenhagen in 1920, Grete Jalk chose to attend the Danish Design School at 20 years old.  Passionate about design and wanting to encourage more female designers, she decided to become a professor.  She taught design to female students at the Danish Design School from 1950 to 1960. During those years, she also enjoyed the school’s competitions. In 1954, Jalk opened her own studio where she began creating new designs for wallpapers and textiles.  Some of Grete Jalk’s Danish furniture can still be purchased here!

Grete Jalk - Danish female furniture designer
Pair of Easy Chairs, designed by Grete Jalk in the 1960s. Photo courtesy of 1stdibs.com

Breakthrough Modernist Furniture Design

Jalk began making modern furniture in Scandinavian style. Her rounded and modern designs didn’t attract consumers early on. However, design enthusiasts, collectors, and exhibitions noticed her talent. Her Bow Chair won a British furniture competition in 1963.  The Museum of Modern Art in New York bought the chair the same year and has displayed it ever since.  Due to the complexity of the design, only 300 copies of the Bow Chair were made during her lifetime. Jalk’s original works slowly gained popularity, but she truly found fame when large US and Finnish companies began producing her designs.

Two pieces of bent plywood are used to create Grete Jalk's famous Bow Chair
Grete Jalk’s Bow Chair (middle left) on display with other modern furniture. Photo courtesy of Nika Vee from Montreal, Canada/Creative Commons Attribution 2.0.

Experimentation with Seamless Transitions

In 1960, Jalk was described by a Danish critic as a fine example of “the strong weaker sex.”  She hoped to revolutionize the design process and explored different materials and techniques.  She designed beautiful nested tables and her famous Bow Chair out of bent plywood.

With this technique, she was able to create a chair or table using just one or two pieces of wood per design. Jalk’s bent plywood designs easily impressed design-trained eyes. However, the masses overlooked it as interest in plywood furniture was fading. Her Danish furniture, especially the Side Chair, is regarded as a rare, Mid Century Modern masterpiece.

1968 design of a Mid Century Modern Easy Chair
Grete Jalk Easy Chair in red fabric, 1968 design. Photo courtesy of 1stdibs.com, where the chair is available for purchase!

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