Grete Juel Jalk (1920-2006)
Grete Jalk was a Danish furniture designer at a time when it was largely an all-male profession. As one of the first women shattering the glass sealing of design, she studied under Kaare Klint at the Royal Danish School of Fine Arts and graduated in 1946. One of her earliest projects was a 1947 furniture set for the modern professional woman, a ‘den’ that consisted of a sofa bed, desk, and wall mounted storage system. In 1953 Jalk opened her own design studio, after she had successfully exhibited at the ninth Milan Triennale (in 1951). In the same year she won first prize in the Georg Jensen Competition in Copenhagen.
As a true student of Kaare Klint, Jalk’s design was at first largely concerned with the reworking of traditional furniture designs and anthropometrics. It was a rational design approach combined with traditional craft skills. Jalk’s work was highly praised and quickly she was widely respected for her furniture’s distinctive feminine lining and elegant hidden joints. Soon her designs were being produced by leading manufacturers such as Henning Jensen, Poul Jeppesen and Fritz Hansen. By the 1960s Jalk had developed her own distinctive style and unlike other students of Klint she gradually abandoned the anthropometrics style. This led to a new consciously modern style that reflected the times and social changes. This is apparent in the moulded plywood "Chairs for Him and Her" set that Jalk designed in 1963 and which won first prize in a furniture competition, organised by the English newspaper Daily Mirror. Although being ground breaking, especially the dramatic degree to which both the seats and backs were bent, the chairs never really came into production.
While Jalk’s work was acclaimed, most of her designs were only produced in limited numbers, most likely because of the relative unpopularity of plywood furniture that was favoured by Jalk. Only her relatively straight forward furniture designs were mass produced and where renowned for being easy to produce and assemble.
During the 1960s Jalk created several room sets for the new modern home, with the goal to design furniture that could create completely unique spaces and environments fully in tune with the needs of it’s inhabitants. For example her 1963 "Watch and Listen" living room unit was designed with the concept of making the television the centrepiece of the room and had space for an elaborate home entertainment system. Despite placing modern life at the heart of her work, Jalk continued to use traditional craftwork and regularly worked with traditional Danish cabinetmakers. She participated in nearly all yearly Cabinetmakers guild shows until the 1960s, continuously integrating the new needs and progress in design.
Later in life Jalk became a jury member of the prestigious ID prize and expanded into the design of exhibitions, including travelling exhibitions for the Danish Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
Her meticulous editing work on the now classic 4 volume bookset “Forty Years of Danish Furniture Design” published in 1987, showed Jalk’s tremendous ability in design critique and the vocalisation thereof in writing. ~HG