The culture of objects and design in Northern European countries has such a unique character that the style typical for the region created its own independent school and set of values when it became known worldwide. Scandinavian design at once carries an immediately recognisable design attitude, rich intellectual heritage and cultural tradition, an inspiration from nature, modesty of form and “timeless” beauty.
Alvar Aalto is one of Finnish design’s most important figures. Even though he graduated as an architect and made an international name for himself with his architectural works, his interest was piqued early on by design. He opened his own studio in 1923, and it remained open until his death in 1976. His creative works were characterised by a mix of the humanist approach and rationalist thinking. He designed his buildings with ultimate regard for the environmental conditions and locally available raw materials, and his furniture pieces are characterised by natural materials and organic shapes. He experimented at length with developing bent plywood, which he used as an alternative to frigid steel tubular frames. The soft curves and thoughtful proportions of his objects brought him great success.
The most famous of these is the Paimio armchair with its delicate curves, designed for the sanatorium of the same name in 1932; and the tea trolley designated serial number 901 from 1936, whose references include both English tea culture and Japanese architecture. Both pieces were made by Aalto’s own furniture factory, established in 1935 under the name Artek, which still operates today and sells products by contemporary artists in addition to those of Aalto.
As a freelancer, he collaborated with several glass factories, his best-known glass object being the Savoy vase originally intended for the restaurant of the same name in Helsinki. The contour of the hand-blown object, presented in 1937, evokes the winding shores of Finland’s lakes and is one of the most beautiful examples of abstraction of natural forms to this day. It is no coincidence that Iittala still offers several versions today. Aalto considered many of his designs as integral parts of a particular building, the progressiveness and timelessness of this is best demonstrated by the fact that many original pieces are still in use throughout Finland.