Listen to this article
The Artek stool 60, which was designed in 1933 and so celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, was a revolutionary piece of design. It might look like a simple, stackable, three-legged kitchen stool, but it is made with bent wood legs rather than tubular metal and was one of the earliest items to go into mass production which was, at the time, one of the main goals of modern furniture design.
The stool made its first appearance at the Wood Only exhibition in London in November 1933, to rave reviews. Designed by Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto (1898-1976), whose marketing slogan was “one chair is enough”, it is still the company’s best-selling product.
The method used for bending the legs has not changed. A piece of straight, solid birch is sawn open at the end in the direction of the fibres, forming the shape of a fan. Thin pieces of plywood are then glued into the grooves. This makes it possible to bend the wood by heating or steaming to the desired angle.
After the prototype had been made, Aalto tested its strength by throwing it repeatedly on to the floor and said: “We’ll make thousands of these one day.” Eighty years later, the stool has sold in its millions. To mark the anniversary, Artek (the company founded in 1935 by Maire Gullichsen, Nils-Gustav Hahl and Alvar and Aino Aalto) has commissioned a number of special editions, which includes a set with the tops painted orange, yellow, black, white and green, the same colours used in Aalto’s 1929 design of the Paimio TB sanatorium.
Tom Dixon and Comme des Garçons have also designed new versions, as has the German designer Mike Meiré, who says: “I believe you should only change classics when people have become very familiar with them. Suddenly, they can rediscover something they already know.”
Get alerts on Design when a new story is published