This classic Artek 60 stool has been around forever, or so it seems. Created in 1933 by the Finnish designer and architect Alvar Aalto, it was a revolutionary piece of design at its time. Now it is 80 years old and some famous designers are re-interpreting the master. But it seems like Aalto knew best.
The Artek stool 60 looks like a simple three legged stool, but it isn't. It is made with bent wood legs rather than tubular metal and was one of the earliest pieces of furniture to go into mass production. This was one of the main goals of modern furniture design so that it would be accessible to everyone.
Although bent wood is very common now, at the time it was unknown as a process. And the method used for bending the legs hasn't changed much. According to an explanation in the Financial Times, "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." And it stacks, a nice plus.
Some international designers have re-interpreted the classic. The German designer Mike Meiré has made the legs different colour combinations that recall the architectural Bauhaus movement. As he says
I decided to create a little disorder within this structure by giving each leg its own colour. When moving around the Stool, it constantly reveals new perspectives. Like when the day develops from morning to evening, our emotions change accordingly too.
British designer Tom Dixon has made his out of fluorescent orange to draw attention to this ultra simple piece of classic minimalism. He says
Aalto was a great lover of bright colours, and I can imagine that he too might have been fascinated by these extreme hues.
Mythology has it that after the prototype was made, Aalto tested its strength by throwing it repeatedly on to the floor and said: “We’ll make thousands of these one day.” Well, it has been eighty years, and millions of the stools have been sold.
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Designer Nao Tamura has re-interpreted it by featuring a cross section of an 80 year old tree. Called "rings", it celebrates the classic shape of the seat and that of the rings of the tree trunk.
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery then this is one classic design that has legs.