Previous to touring the Louis Poulsen facility, the extent of my knowledge about the Danish lighting company was that I loved the PH lamp in it’s many variations.
In fact, it’s likely that a died-in-the-wool Dane may not even know the name Louis Poulsen (though they’ll almost certainly know the name Poul Henningsen, the designer that “PH” stands for). They’re not a splashy brand and you won’t find any stores lining the major shopping streets of Denmark. Instead, they do all their selling through shop-in-shop concepts in lighting stores, where the shopkeepers are specially trained in the particulars of Louis Poulsen lights. They also sell business to business directly, which is from where the bulk of their revenue comes.
Their headquarters and factory, based in Vejen, Jutland, Denmark, are a strange mix of incredibly chic and industrial. While there, the presentation we get is extremely technical – there’s a lot about light temperature, glare, “comfort zones.” I don’t know, you guys, I’m not a lighting expert.
What I took away from the talk was that the first successful Louis Poulsen designs were,in large part, created by architects. This seems natural to me, both because so many of the mid-century modern Danish designers were architects (was architectural school a prerequisite for building a chair? Seems like it), and because the lights themselves are so architectural.
These are not ornate chandeliers; there’s always a function to the form. When you see the many leaves of a PH Artichoke lamp, for example, those are in place to prevent glare while providing a certain amount of light. Of course the aesthetic is important and that’s where Louis Poulsen really shines (ha ha) – in creating highly functional lights that are still beautiful, and even occasionally ethereal (see Shoichi Uchiyama’s Enigma series).
There are two parts to the Louis Poulsen showroom. The first showcases the interior lighting – what people might think about if they know the Louis Poulsen name at all. Across the room is the exterior lighting and, interestingly, that’s the bread and butter for Louis Poulsen. They creating outdoor lighting solutions for areas as varied as airports, marinas and streets. Their Absalon Street Lamp is their most copied lamp of all time. If you’ve ever noticed outdoor lighting – and there’s a good chance you haven’t because it’s always just there – you’ve probably seen Louis Poulsen’s work.
After a full tour of the showroom, we were able to peek into the factory as well. It’s a sprawling space that would have been impossible to see in our allotted hour of time but, as with other Danish design factories, it’s very impressive.
To see pieces that we’re used to only seeing finished in the process of being made – and made by hand at that – really brings home the skilled handiwork that goes into each piece. Previous to this visit, I pictured a “lamp machine” that just popped out lamps on a conveyor belt. Now I see the hard work, making each piece almost a work of art.
From now on, I’ll be more observant about lighting generally – both that of Louis Poulsen and otherwise – because I’m aware of the design, skilled work and industrial innovation that goes into it.
Like finding out more about what goes on behind the scenes at design companies? Check out our article on Bang & Olufsen’s factory.
Is there a Danish design company you want to know more about? Tell us about it in the comments!