Before there was IKEA, there was Artek, but there wouldn't be an Artek without the accomplished Finnish architect and designer, Alvar Aalto, whose ideas of pairing mass production with quality craftsmanship transformed the design and manufacture of furniture in the early 1930s. Now, the forerunner of Finnish design is celebrating the 80th anniversary of one of Aalto's most ubiquitous and beloved products, Stool Number 60.
Two special edition Stool 60s
If you don't know Aalto, you've probably sat in one of his armchairs or lounges, or at the very least an IKEA knock-off—the Swedish superstore has been flat-packing fake Artek furnishings for decades, including Stool Number 60, one of Artek's very first products.
The stackable, three-legged birch stool might not immediately strike you as revolutionary, but consider the fact that it marked one of the first large-scale productions of a high-end good that was designed rationally, without ornamentation, and was built to last. And it's beautiful, if you think of beauty like Aalto did, as "the harmony of purpose of form."
A stack of Stool 60s that have taken a beating but are still beautiful.
Like most high-end Scandinavian furniture producers, Artek designs its pieces to be handed down from one generation to the next. (Watch a Monocle video of the company's new storefront, 2nd cycle, which collects and sells old Artek furniture that hasn't lost its functionality.) So how do you create a stool that can withstand eight decades of wear and tear? You start with hand-selected, top-quality Finnish birch, the most common deciduous tree in Finland, and dry it at the factory for several years before manufacturing can begin, a process that involves a patented method of wood-bending to shape solid wood into an L-shaped leg, a shape used in much of Artek's current catalogue.
A lot of new furniture mimics the trademark Scandinavian simplicity, but all the world's sleek, teak credenzas and pared-down, bentwood furnishing point back to the same little stool. A single Stool Number 60 might cost you upwards of $280, but if you abide by Artek's "One Chair Is Enough" motto you can do Aalto proud and invest in a product that you "Buy Now, Keep Forever."
—Perrin Drumm, associate web editor. Follow her @perrindrumm.