How Alvar Aalto’s design became the platonic ideal of the stool
It all started with the leg. It was 1933, and Finnish architect Alvar Aalto and carpenter Otto Korhonen, who had been experimenting with wood bending since the 1920s, achieved a seemingly simple feat: a piece of Finnish birch, bent at a right angle so that it could be securely fixed in the wood. Surface. The reality was more complex. Slits were cut at its top, almost like a comb, and thin pieces of glue-dipped wood were inserted into the negative space and then bent with hot steam. Aalto liked to call this versatile L leg, which he patented that year, “the little sister of the architectural column.”
Its design has become a standardized part used in more than 50 different products. the first? The 60 is a lightweight, stackable, then flat-packable bench, bench, side table, plant stand, and more (use the E60, its sturdier four-legged cousin, if you need a step stool). After its unveiling at London’s Fortnum & Mason department store, orders have arrived. In 1934, 2,000 pieces were sent to England; Hundreds have been installed at Aalto’s Viipuri library. In 1935, Artek was founded in large part to meet production requirements. Made in Turku, Finland, using a 48-step handmade process, the Stool 60 quickly permeated visual culture, outfitting schools, churches and offices – Audrey Hepburn even posed for a photo with one in 1946.
Stool development over time. During World War II, a shortage of glue resulted in a less complex finger joint in the leg. The post-war boom introduced finer versions clad in teak, elm and mahogany, followed by bright renditions and faux leather seats in the 1970s. In the past decade, the bench has become a canvas — Rei Kawakubo added polka dots; Supreme made it on the chessboard. During this year’s Milan Design Week, Daisuke Motogi hacked the seat and suggested 100 clever uses. On the occasion of the chair’s 90th birthday, design studio Formafantasma has re-evaluated Artek’s criteria for selecting wood, launching the Villi (Wild) model, which uses a variety of samples that may show knots, stains or insect trails – some of which are the effects of climate change.
Yet it’s the classic, starting at $385, in clear-lacquered Finnish birch, that’s seared into our collective design consciousness (the near-identical, now-discontinued IKEA knockoff is partly to blame). Fans range from AD100 labels like Ashe Leandro, Neal Beckstedt and Toshiko Mori to singer Demi Lovato, who has one prominently placed in her Los Angeles entryway. For Beckstedt, who recently installed 100 machines in a Manhattan office, the appeal is “ultimate functionality — they’re lightweight, they scale perfectly, and they’re stackable.” Easy like that. artek.fi
Originally appeared on Architectural Digest
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