The PH Grand is a design icon but few people know how it came to be. The PH in the PH Grand Piano are the initials of the Danish designer, architect, and cultural commentator, Poul Henningsen. His most well-known contribution to design was in the field of lighting with the creation of the PH Lamp, in 1925. It’s a useful example of PH’s design ethos, showing Henningsen’s clear approach as one of function over form. The PH Lamp’s dinstinctive look arises from Henningsen’s aim to achieve glare-free and uniform illumination, with the use of carefully analyzed reflection and baffling of the light rays from the bulb.
The story of the design of the PH Grand Piano is similarly one of form over function and it begins in a late night bar in Copenhagen where Poul Henningsen was in the company of Leo Mathisen. Leo The Lion Mathisen was a Danish pianist, singer and bandleader and a leading figure of the Danish jazz scene in the years around World War Two.
Leo presented Poul with two design issues common to most traditional grand pianos; that while playing during concerts it was difficult and often impossible, with the lid of a grand piano open, to communicate with his band. He also told Henningsen that when not being played, he felt there was wasted space beneath the piano that could otherwise be used for the storage of drum kits. Henningsen’s design response, intially drawn on a napkin, was to create the flexi-glass grand piano lid and transparent music desk. They fulfill their usual functions as part of the grand piano, but act to give the pianist much better visual communication with his band. The PH’s dinstinctively floating keybed sits less contained and surrounded, also leaving the pianist more generally visible and feeling part of the band. And to allow for storage, PH added inwardly curved legs making more room for a bass drum to be easily slid beneath the piano when un-used.
The result is clearly futuristic, even today, and piano is incredible to see and play. Most importantly though, it was designed not simply to impress but as with most good design, to solve specific design problems.