Danish furniture designer and architect Grete Jalk (1920-) was once referred to by a critic at the Copenhagen Cabinetmakers’ Exhibition in the 1960s as a fine example of “the strong weaker sex.” Prolific and versatile, she is known both for her individual pieces and for her ability to create entire environments finely tuned to their inhabitant’s needs.
Jalk was formally trained at the School of Arts and Crafts, going on to study with Danish master Kaare Klint at the Royal Academy of Arts in Copenhagen. Though she took part in exhibitions such as the Milan Triennial outside of Denmark, she made a name for herself with the work she did from her own design office for Fritz Hansen and Poul Jeppesen, and for her annual appearance at the Cabinetmakers’ Guild shows. One of her earliest such projects was a 1947 furniture set for a “self supporting woman’s den.” She created a sofa bed, wall mounted storage system and desk to establish a living space that was both bedroom and study for a professional woman. In 1952 she exhibited her award winning easy chair upholstered in oxhide and her demure dining room chairs upholstered in a wool fabric. The “Chairs for Him and Her” set that she designed for the 1963 show also won first prize at a furniture competition in England. She also came out with molded plywood chair in 1963 for Poul Jeppesen that was innovative for the dramatic degree to which both the seat and back were bent.
During the sixties she created several room sets for the new philosophies and equipment of the modern home. A 1962 living room set in walnut or beech had a coffee table that doubled as a worktable to accommodate the evolving personality of the living room, which was being used more for living and less simply for entertaining. Her 1963 “Watch and Listen” living room unit produced in pine had compartments built in for an extensive home entertainment system. With the television as the centerpiece, she designed shelving for storing and accessing a stereo system, tapes, records and even a small film projector. The unit was bookended by openly displayed speakers. Leaving the speakers open rather than covering them with the traditional lattice work was representative of one of the ways in which industrial design was becoming considered more seriously as part of the home landscape. Jalk designed pieces for almost every Cabinetmakers’ exhibit throughout the 1950s and 1960s, each time responding to and working with the advancements in design.