Design Classics #19: Arne Jacobsen AJ Lamp

The iconic AJ Lamp

Admittedly it’s a crowded field but the Danish architect and designer Arne Jacobsen is regarded as one of the most influential of the 20th century.

Alongside Verner Panton (that moulded S chair), Hans Wegner (the wishbone), Poul Henningsen (the artichoke) and not forgetting (for the technology buffs) Bang & Olufson, Jacobsen is well known for a huge number of design classics; the Egg, the Swan, the Number Seven and the Ant, all of which are still in production today. Not to mention several iconic buildings in Copenhagen, including the Royal Hotel where, not content with designing the building, he made several pieces of furniture, some of the fabrics, the door handles, the glasses and the lamps.

It is to his lights that we turn here. You will probably recognise this one but perhaps not realise that it was made by Jacobsen. Designed in 1960 for the Radisson Blu Hotel, Copenhagen (formally known as the SAS Royal Hotel), the AJ is a perfect example of Jacobsen’s purist design mindset.

He insisted on pure lines and clear proportions. Nothing was to be extraneous to the finished object and so it is with this task lamp. The shape of the lampshade clearly shows the direction in which the light will flow. In other words you can imagine the light before it is even turned on because the beam of light is already built into the design.

The AJ marked Jacobsen’s move towards using shapes in his designs; the circle, the cylinder and the triangle. In addition to his minimalist approach to his designs, Jacobsen also preferred to use soft muted colours which would not attract attention. He felt the object should not distract from what you were doing.

As an architect, Jacobsen did not just work in Denmark but was also responsible for St Catherine’s College in Oxford, where so great was his attention to detail that he apparently even chose the fish for the pond. It is said that had he not been so afraid of flying that he would have had a great impact on American architecture.

As a child, Jacobsen yearned to be a painter, but his father persuaded him to try the more secure profession of architecture. He went on to win a stream of awards although not everyone was a fan of his modernist style.  One newspaper said he should be banned from architecture for life.

During World War II, Jacobsen, the son of middle-class Jews, fled to Sweden, rowing across the Oresund in a small boat (these days there is, of course, a bridge; the scene of the latest Scandi drama to hit our TV screens). During the next two years he would concentrate on designing fabrics and wallpaper before returning to Denmark and architecture.

He died in 1971, resisting the word “designer” to the end and preferring to be known as an architect.

The AJ is manufactured by  and available to buy from



Tags : artichokeDesign ClassicsEgg chairHans WegnerHenningsenpantonS Chairscandiswan chairThe Bridgewishbone
Kate Watson-Smyth

The author Kate Watson-Smyth

I’m a journalist who writes about interiors mainly for The Financial Times but I have also written regularly for The Independent and The Daily Mail. My house has been in Living Etc, HeartHome and featured in The Wall Street Journal & Corriere della Sera. I also run an interior styling consultancy Mad About Your House. Welcome to my Mad House.