Poul Henningsen (1894—1967) was an influential Danish architect, designer and cultural author. He is famed around the world for his classic modern creations predominantly from the 1920s and 1930s. He is best known for his work in the fields of lighting and furniture. Henningsen had a unique modern style influenced by the Bauhaus and Art Deco schools.
He was a pioneer in the field of illumination, developing products that not only gave off a softer, warmer light, free from glare, but which were also highly contemporary in styling.
His furniture designs were, and still are, recognised as being truly innovative and helped to establish the Danish “brand” around the world. But, like many other architect/designers, it was only a matter of time before he turned his attention towards the piano.
Poul Henningsen interest in piano design may have been triggered by the work of Kaare Klint (another leading Danish architect). Klint was one of the first to produce a piano that had a natural wood finish designed to integrate as a piece of furniture. At that time black gloss was the order of the day. But Henningsen wanted to take things way further and his first instrument, the PH Grand Piano (1931) broke all the rules. It featured stylised brass legs and a transparent celluloid casing revealing the workings of the instrument. This was ground-breaking stuff.
Poul Henningsen produced four classic instruments: the aforementioned PH Grand Piano, the PH Bow Grand Piano, the PH Pianette, and the PH Upright Piano. The designs were customisable, so clients could tailor their piano to their own requirements.
Forward to the year 2010, and a new Danish company PH Furniture & Pianos acquired the rights to Poul Henningsen’s designs. They have subsequently revived many of his classic products including the pianos.
Today the PH Grand Piano is hand-built to order by Julius Blüthner Pianofortefabrik GmbH in Leipzig. PH Furniture & Pianos build the PH Upright Piano and PH Bow Grand Piano themselves in-house.
The New PH Pianette
Last month, the company unveiled a prototype version of the PH Pianette with a view of putting a production model on the market in the near future.
Poul Henningsen designed the PH Pianette in 1935 and Danish manufacturer Andreas Christensen built it. This small piano used a spinet (or “drop’) action which sits below the keyboard to minimise the instrument’s height. Spinet actions fell out of favour a long time ago and are no longer produced. This presented PH Pianos with a problem.
The PH Pianette’s original design was so stunning and futuristic that the company really wanted to proceed with reviving the product. So it was decided to replace the outdated action and acoustic workings with digital technology. The PH Pianette now has a digital sound engine.
The original instrument, being acoustic, had no knobs of buttons. So, to retain the authenticity of the design, the digital piano’s parameters are all controlled using a tablet or smartphone. And two matching loudspeakers have been designed to amplify the instrument.
PH Pianos hope to bring the new PH Pianette to market in the very near future.
The four revived pianos can be seen at PH Pianos’ central Copenhagen showroom, and Poul Henningsen’s own instrument (a PH Grand Piano), is on display at the Danish Design Museum a short walk away.
The PH Book
A new publication, formally entitled “PH Furniture & Pianos: The Revival of Poul Henningsen Design Classics” was also launched last month.
This authoritative 336-page coffee table publication documents, for the first time, Henningsen’s iconic Danish furniture and pianos. The large-format work catalogues, in detail, the subject’s extensive range of products and examines their full design histories. The book combines extensive photographic imagery with fascinating insights into the various artifacts—especially the pianos. It is a fascinating read.
PH Furniture & Pianos: The Revival of Poul Henningsen Design Classics can be purchased from the PH Pianos website, the PH Furniture website or from the PH Furniture & Pianos store in Copenhagen.