A friend of mine just returned from Finland and brought back one of those tourist magazines placed in hotel rooms to inform one of the local goings on. Knowing I have a keen interest in modernism and particularly furniture design from the mid-century, he brought back an issue from a hotel in Helsinki on Eerno Aarnio and a retrospective at the Design Museum. I thought I would make some comments on Aarnio.
Finnish design includes some notable creators: Artek design company, Alvar Aalto, and of course, Aarnio. Unfortunately, Finnish design is most times lumped together as Scandinavian. However, the Fins received modernism just as enthusiastically, even though impacted by many of the same influences as other northern European countries, such as the use of wood and natural substances.
Some of the most beautiful and exquisite creations of modernism came from the mind of the Finnish American, Eero Saarinen. Saarinen not only dealt with furniture and domestic objects, but also created the iconic Gateway Arch in St. Louis and the amazingly beautiful TWA Flight Center in New York City. Best known for his Womb Chair and his Tulip Table and Chairs, his originality and abundant creativity in designing furniture was extraordinary.
Alvar Aalto is well-known for his furniture designs as well as his other work in various other areas such as architecture. His most recognized works show a love for bent wood, looking raw or plain and uncovered. Admittedly, this characteristic of his creations have an extremely attractive straightforward quality almost irresistible in presentation.
Aarnio is known for his furniture and domestic designs, with the greatest recognition coming from his Ball Chair. This chair has all the qualities of a portrayal of the future in a Hollywood film during the mid-century. It uses a basic geometric shape, formed with fiberglass, a man-made material and manufactured with modern techniques. The Ball Chair is almost totally non-traditional and does not look back for any design influences.
The Ball Chair is meant to surround one in a private space. Not many chairs accomplish such a notion. This chair discounts the ability to group with other people. The conversation or interaction with others is not encouraged or desirable. Consequently, the chair occupies a great deal of space and due to its sculptural qualities, dominates a large area and seems out-of-place when a number of them are situated close together. This chair demands sole attention and other furniture in the same room has to make a similar emphatic declaration to garner interest.
The Bubble Chair is a so-called reduction of the Ball Chair. Since clear acrylic does not permit a base without the hardware seen and due to the structural weakness of the material, the only solution was to suspend the chair. This chair has the advantage over the Ball Chair of a greater view of the surrounding environment, but still is limited to special or particular interior applications.
The Pastil Chair is a rocker that can be used indoors and outdoors. It floats on water so it could be used in or beside a pool. Surprisingly comfortable, this chair, due to its robust nature, fits in many environments.
The Tomato Chair shares the sculptural aesthetic of most of Aarnio’s creative impulses. Like the Ball Chair, the Tomato Chair is a dominate figure in its decorative fixture. Not only does the color and shape make a bold statement, but the amount of volume consumed while holding only one sitter makes this chair more of a modernist throne than a simple place to sit.
Many of the designs, especially those of today, have a playful, serendipitous quality. Aarnio apparently loves the sensual, curving surfaces possible with fiberglass and plastic. So do I. Plastic has a quality of color not seen in other materials. Yet it is lightweight and can be manipulated in so many different ways. It can be fused, glued, welded and melted. The surface can be rough, textured, smooth, matte, glossy and coated. One can embed plastic in all sorts of materials such as metals and woods.
For more information on Eero Aarnio, visit this website: