The Function of Form

Artek’s Stool 60 turns 80 this year
by Emma Lundin

The secret of the original Artek stool’s success lies in its legs’ unique bends

Having been founded in 1935, the Finnish company Artek is a byword for future furniture design, even though the country has been establishing its design heritage for much of the last two centuries. Alvar Aalto’s 1933 three-legged stool, Stool Number 60, celebrates its 80th anniversary this year, and to commemorate the occasion, Artek set up an installation piece and pop-up shop at KaDeWe Berlin in May. With the quintessential Stool Number 60 embedded firmly in design consciousness, fans such as designer Nao Tamura, Comme des Garçons and Tom Dixon showed their appreciation by stamping their signatures on the icon for the collaboration. The much-loved design is the perfect marriage of mass-production and aesthetic functionality, with Aalto’s signature curved leg ensuring its place on the design map — truly embodying the master’s notion of beauty as “the harmony of purpose and form”.

The iconic stool incorporates hand-selected Finnish birch wood, which is dried for years before use and bent using patented methods, such is Aalto’s dedication to craft. Despite ikea flat-packing its version of Stool Number 60 — IKEA Frosta — to the masses, Aalto’s timeless piece is in an altogether different league; constructed as a hard-wearing item that can be passed down through generations. And as a Stool Number 60 costs £185, there’s only one thing that beats buying a brand-new Alvar Aalto-designed piece and that’s finding, or inheriting, a vintage one. With that in mind, Artek launched the 2nd Cycle brand online, alongside a host of pop-up cafes that saw guests relaxing on classic chairs that had been given a new lease on life, thereby teaching us a thing or two about sustainable design.

It’s only a matter of time before IKEA’s ubiquitous Frosta stools have to make way for vintage Stool 60s

Launched in 2007, 2nd Cycle is an eclectic collection of old Artek furniture sourced at flea markets, from people’s homes and municipal buildings. It provides insight into the company’s heritage as well as demonstrating the durability, quality and aesthetics of its designs. There is currently just one stand-alone 2nd Cycle shop in the world, a 600m2 space in Helsinki’s Kaartinkaupunki district, so the London pop-up offered Artek the perfect opportunity to bring its rescued goods to a new audience.

The first public showcasing of Stool 60 in 1935; Municipal Library in Vyborg, Russia

For the 2012 pop-up, London-based Montréal-born designer Philippe Malouin created a large, minimalist space on the ground floor of the New Oxford Street Old Sorting Office, which was furnished with items such as Aalto’s Chair 69 and Table 81 — both designed in 1935 and taken from TKK, the old University of Technology in Helsinki. Incidentally TKK became part of the Aalto University School of Science and Technology in 2010. The cafe’s message is as subtle as it is simple: these items will look just as good 80 years from now as they did 80 years ago. Fernandez & Wells, an expanding chain of cafes set up by Jorge Fernandez and Rick Wells in 2007, were asked to bring their food and service experience to the mix, running the 2nd Cycle cafe for the duration of their stay. They already pay a lot of attention to the spaces their cafes inhabit, and having used Artek furniture for their latest venture — a cafe in London’s Somerset House — Rick Wells and Jorge Fernandez relished the opportunity to collaborate with the design company. “The sense of place is extremely important to our brand,” says Wells. “While our core products stay more or less the same — the bread, the wine, the cheeses, the cured meats, the cakes — the design of each space will vary, using elements of the other sites. If the space works, it should give the customer a sense of belonging and ability to identify with the brand.”

Card tab embossing created for Artek’s abc Collection, 2012

Artek’s communications manager, Laura Sarvilinna, tells us that the company is planning further 2nd Cycle pop-ups, and Wells is looking to bring elements of the collaboration into his company’s future. “We got a very good reception and, yes, we hope to have future collaborations with Artek and maybe use some of the ideas for future cafes,” he says. With design giants such as Artek paving the way for classic furniture recycling,it’s only a matter of time before ikea’s ubiquitous Frosta stools have to make way for vintage Stool 60s in all our homes.