Finland’s Alvar Aalto (1898-1976) studied architecture at Helsinki University of Technology (renamed after the designer, the Aalto University School of Science and Technology) from 1916 to 1921 and set up his own office within two years of graduating.

 

In 1924, he married his first wife Aino, also an architect, and in addition to their architectural work they designed numerous interior items, from door handles to glassware, furniture and light fittings.

Aalto’s early furniture designs used tubular steel much like the Bauhaus pioneers, but he was developing ways to create the same effect using laminated timber.

Pictured is Alvar’s Iittala ‘Savoy’ vase.

He worked on the tuberculosis sanatorium at Paimio in Finland from 1928 to 1933 and the furniture he designed for it reveals the organic style for which Aalto was to become famous.

The success of these early forays into furniture encouraged him to open a furniture design company, Artek (Art + Technology), and his designs were soon gracing modernist buildings around the world.

Aalto’s signature building is the Villa Mairea in Noormarkku, Finland.

Designed in 1937, it combines his organic style with a collage approach to cultural references, shapes, colour and texture.

Fast facts

Style

Greatly influenced by the landscape, Aalto’s functionalist style was tempered by a love for organic materials, such as wood, cane, stone and linen.

His masterly handling of shape, texture and materials is as apparent in his architectural designs as it is in his furniture.

Best known for

Aalto’s three-legged stacking stool, the ‘60’ (pictured), can still be found in cafes across the globe.

What they’re worth

Because Artek has been manufacturing many Aalto designs since the 1930s, auction prices are generally reasonable.

A few early examples, however, can fetch enormous prices.

A ‘41’ chair (designed for the Paimio sanatorium in Finland; pictured) was sold at a 2003 London auction for the equivalent of $50,000.

 

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