Thursday, February 18, 2010

Finnish Design pt. 1

Last night I attended the second lecture in the series "From Sauna into Cities - Aspects of Finnish Culture and Society". The lecture was on Modern Finnish Design and was given by Ulla Seppälä-Kaven.

She started her lecture with the 1930s as background. It is incredible that Alvar Aalto's designs from the 1930s look modern today. Aalto is the best known Finnish designer outside Finland. You can see the L-leg stool from 1933. To make this stool and other furniture, Aalto worked with the cabinet maker Otto Korhonen who lived in Turku. During the 1930s, Turku was more modern than Helsinki.

The Paimio Chair was designed by Aalto (and I think his wife) for the Paimio sanitorium in 1931-32. The lecturer pointed out that wood was an important natural resource for Finnish design and that bent wood was a reaction against tubular steel furniture. The Paimio Chair is designed for patients with tuberculosis and the sitting position is the easiest for breathing.

The Domus chair was designed for the new dormitories in Helsinki in 1946 by Ilmari Tapiovaara. Finland was recovering from the Winter War and there was a shortage of materials.
Seppälä-Kaven explained that Tapiovaara may have gotten the design for the seat from the depressions in the snow left by visitors to his sauna.

The 1950s are considered the golden age of Finnish design. The designers used plywood that had been used for aircraft production. The 1952 Helsinki Olympics were a show case for design.
The Palace Hotel, built for the Olympic visitors, was designed by Aalto and the furniture was designed by multiple Finnish designers. Antti Nurmesniemi designed the sauna stools. Olavi Hänninen designed plastic chairs for the Palace Hotel.

Other important Finnish furniture includes the Pastille chair. Seppälä-Kaven said that advertising for this chair in 1968 touted that you could float or sled in it. It was designed by Eero Aarnio. I would love one. Seppälä-Kaven said many people bought them for their summer houses.

The ball chair was designed by Eero Aarnio in 1963. My friend has one in her house. It was designed so that you could sit in it and work. Of course you will recognize Aarnio's bubble chair from my posts about the Turku library.

There is so much to cover that I will cover glass and textiles in separate posts. The lecture did take me back to a furniture store that my mother loved on the outskirts of Atlanta. It was a pre-Ikea Scandinavian furniture store and I remember browsing there whenever we headed home to Athens in I-85.


  1. Very interesting... I wish I was able to make these lectures, but bedtime has to take precedence. May I recommend a book called "Finnish Modern Design: Utopian Ideals and Everday Realities, 1930-97" by M Aav I think you'd find it interesting.

  2. I will look for it! I kept thinking of Keisha's chair and the chairs in the library!

  3. We have it if the library doesn't. I meant to sit in Keisha's chair, but didn't manage - hopefully another time.

  4. I love this design! Not too dissimilar from Scandanavian. Just before Thanksgiving, I found a set of 6 mid-century mod chairs from Denmark at a warehouse in Dorchester Mass - - they are superb, by Volther,FDB d. 1961. ($300 for all six!in superb condition). So stylish and comforatble - makes you want to stay at the table after dinner. What really fascinates me is that these designers (of this era) borrowed heavily from the Shakers of New England - nice tie back to our region. Borrowed yes, and added elegance and comfort to the simple and practical designs of the Shakers. No wonder it is so pleasing.

  5. Hi Joe,

    Those chairs sound great!

  6. I wonder what the Finns and Danes would say about the similarity of their design?
    There are a large number of contemporary furniture makers here in New England who look upon anyone who studied design in Denmark as a real master - you can see that the Shaker aesthetic probably led them to study abroad with a group of people who had a similar point of view about good design.