Poul Henningsen was born in Copenhagen, the illegitimate son of the celebrated writer and activist Agnes Henningsen and the satirist Carl Erwald.
After studying at the Technical School at Frederiksberg and then at Technical College in Copenhagen he worked as an architect, serving briefly as the head architect of the Tivoli Gardens in the late 1930s. But his professional focus gradually shifted to the field of lighting design and it is for this that he is now best known.
Henningsen's long working relationship with Louis Poulsen began in 1925 and continued until his death in 1967. The lights he designed and developed for the manufacturer were rooted in painstaking analysis of the reflective qualities of light and are notable for their innovative glare-free form and uniform illumination. Poul Henningsen's designs are now recognised as classic examples of Danish design and are to be found in the permanent collections of many design museums around the world, including the Metropolitan Museum in New York.
In addition to his design work, Henningsen was a noted writer, journalist and critic.