Illums Bolighus: The Store and the Catalog
Illums Bolighus has been synonymous with excellence in modern design for much of the past century. The emporium founded by the Danish businessman Kaj Dessau in 1925 became the leading entrepot of Danish modern design after the war, and one of the world’s great stores. Kaj’s aesthetic vision, executed in collaboration with his artistic consultant Brita Drewson, involved creating designed interiors, vignettes pulling together textiles, furnishings, and art in room settings. Innovative at the time, this approach became a best-practice marketing tool for modern design in Europe and the Americas. By the 1960’s, Illums Bolighus was an influential trend-setter in the modern design markets, and a destination for shoppers interested in modernist furniture, accessories, and art.The name
In 1961, Illums published a now famous and much-coveted catalog, “Illums Bolighus: Center of Modern Design.” Small at 6.5” x 5.5,” with sturdy teak covers, the catalog was intended to reach American and European audiences for mail-order business, but often inspired buying trips to the design mecca itself. Oriented toward pieces capable of disassembly—for easier shipping—the catalog nonetheless reads like an encyclopedia of Danish modern design. Classics from masters such as Finn Juhl, Hans Wegner, Poul Kjaerholm, Borge Mogensen, Arne Jacobsen, Greta Jalk, Nanna Ditzel, and Niels Vodder share space on the pages with works by lesser-known designers such as Kurt Osterig, Hans Olsen, Rosengreen Hansen, Frode Holm, Erik Worts, Folke Ohlsson, Karl Ekselius, and Ebbe Clemmenson. Simple, practical tables, chairs, chests, and bookcases are offered along with icons such as the Chieftan chair, the 45 chair, the Ant chair, the Swan chair, the Papa Bear chair, and the Spanish chair. Adding international flavor and cachet are a few works by Bruno Mathsson, Gio Ponti, and Marco Zanuso.
The 1961 Illums catalog stands on its own as a valuable introduction to postwar Danish design, depicting a cross-section of furniture designs and offering a gold mine of curatorial information. Organization by type—chairs, sofas, chests, coffee tables, dining tables, hutches, etc—makes it easy to “look up” pieces you are researching, and the photos are supplemented with critical information including designers, materials, and measurements. The catalog in my collection includes tipped in the April, 1962 price list, which tells us that a Finn Juhl Chieftan chair in oxhide sold for $231.00, a Wegner drop-leaf table was priced at $139.00, and a Jacobsen ant chair went for $12.50.
Shown here along with a photo of the teak-bound Illums catalog are three scans from the catalog: a Finn Juhl desk, a Harbo Solvsten easy chair, and an interior vignette featuring an Egg chair. Also shown is an interior shot of the Illums showroom in 1965, courtesy of Flickr. Together, these images provide a sense of the style and visual excitement associated with Illums.
Carlo Volf (2007), but a glimpse at the cover of any recent Illums Bolighus catalog—for example the one with the harp chair and Jacobsen lamp—also shows the company’s sense of its own history and desire to perpetuate a legacy of design savvy.Illums Bolighus is an ongoing and thriving business, having opened branches at the Copenhagen airport, Tivoli Gardens, and Arhus. It remains a factor in the design market, promoting interesting new designs such as the rocker shown here by