Modern Ways of Working

Bodil Kjær's Iconic 'Working Table'

Bodil Kjær is an architect, designer and city planner who is best known for the refined, modern office furniture she designed in the late 1950s and early 1960s. Early in her career, she designed furniture and interiors for buildings by luminaries such as Marcel Breuer and Paul Rudolph, both of whom inspired Kjær's penchant for clean lines and direct forms with an erudite assuredness. Her first designs were featured in interiors at Harvard University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Wellesley College.

Kjær with an example of the present lot

Kjær was driven to design desks because she felt that their forms had not been thoughtfully updated to fit the “open, creative and flexible” ways people began working in offices in the 1950s. The desk in the present suite is often referred to as the “James Bond desk” (though, it was originally called a 'working table' by Kjær) due to it being featured in three Bond films. It was originally designed for offices at MIT. The desk received accolades for its clarity and elegance; it also allowed for flexible additions so that individuals could choose the arrangement that best fit their needs. 

An example of the present lot in You Only Live Twice (1967)

I often ran into problems of finding furniture that would express the same form-ideas as those we employed in the buildings we designed and which would, at the same time, express the ideas of contemporary management. The office furniture I found on the market in 1959, I found to be clumsy and confining, while neither the new architecture nor the new management thinking was the least bit clumsy or confining.

Bodil Kjær

Bodil Kjaer b. 1932

Born in Hatting, Denmark in 1932, Bodil Kjaer is one of the foremost Danish architects and designers. Kjaer began her formal training at the Copenhagen School of Interior Architecture, completion of her studies, Kjaer worked for the architectural design company Arup where Penguin Publishing, IBM, and Oxford University were numbered among her clients. In addition to creating building designs, Kjaer was also a talented furniture designer. In 1959, she designed her iconic working table, a piece that has found a bit of celebrity. The design was used in three James Bond movies To Russia with Love, You Only Live Twice, and On Her Majesty's Secret Service and renowned owners of the form include Prince Philip, Michael Caine, and Evelyn Rothschild.

Although her furniture designs are highly sculptural, Kjaer states that she intended them to be a “solution to functional, monetary, and aesthetical issues” as she felt that furniture was meant to be a part of architecture. In 1960, Kjaer partnered with Verner Panton to curate a furniture exhibit for the Nordic countries at the Cologne Furniture Fair. The following year, Kjaer began to design in glass, eventually creating the Cross vase (1961, relaunched in 2017) as a universal vessel for all types of flowers. After working in London for thirteen years, Kjaer moved to the United States and began teaching at the University of Maryland, where she taught until 1989.