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I bought it at Christie’s

New York architect Peter Pennoyer on what he loves about this mid-century table by a brilliant Danish designer

‘I do love Nordic design. When I was a child, our family made a trip to Copenhagen, and my parents decided that we should all have modern Danish furniture in our bedrooms. So in our old Victorian house, with its Williamsburg wallpaper, I had a fantastic cantilevered modernist wall unit. It worked fine.

‘I saw this table by Finn Juhl when I went to a viewing last fall. It’s a lovely object, absolutely intriguing. The wonderful thing about going to the showroom is that you spot things that might not have caught your eye if you were just flicking through the catalogue. You can turn things over and examine them in a way that you can’t in a museum. Going to auction piques your curiosity. You say, “Aha, who did this?” You want to know more.

‘The legs are quite minimal. The way the feet are clad in the same diameter as the upper part of the leg — that is just brilliant’

‘The catalogue described it as a “bench or low table”. The brass rail on the side is a clever way to prevent the cushion from slipping if you use it as a bench — but I think it works better as a table, with the wooden top visible.

‘As with all the best Danish furniture, the grain and the quality of the wood are very important. There are dark and beautiful elements in the teak. The steel and brass parts, meanwhile, are perfect: the whole aesthetic is right. As you can see, the legs are quite minimal; visually, they need those brass feet. The way the feet are clad in the same diameter as the upper part of the leg — that is just brilliant.

Finn Juhl (1912-1989), A benchlow table, designed 1953. Sold in First Open  Home on 27 September 2016 at Christie’s in New York
Finn Juhl (1912-1989), A bench/low table, designed 1953. Sold in First Open | Home on 27 September 2016 at Christie’s in New York

‘There’s a delight to be had in its construction. You can see the diagonal struts addressing the problem every table has, which is how to deal with lateral forces. You rarely see it done this way: normally there is a horizontal stretcher, or a shelf below, or the designer just beefs up the legs. But here the angle of the braces is driven by efficient engineering: the smallest possible amount of material has been used to make it absolutely sturdy. It has an elegant economy that I call “just enough butter for the bread”. And although the legs don’t fold down, the braces suggest that there is a metamorphic aspect to the piece.

‘When I first saw the table at Christie’s, I knew there was going to be at least one other bidder: while I was trying to read the number on the tag, somebody else was waiting in line. In the end, it was good value.

‘As an architect, I sometimes ask myself what a piece would have cost if I’d got our cabinetry shop to build something similar. The answer is usually: much, much more. People do remark on it in the office. When they wonder what the rail is for, I say, “It’s so your glass doesn’t slide off the edge when you’ve had too many drinks.”’