How Alvar Aalto’s Design Became the Platonic Ideal of a Stool

Their design became a standardized part used in more than 50 different products. The first? The lightweight, stackable, and later flat-packable, three-legged Stool 60, a seat, side table, plant stand, and more (use E60, the stronger, four-legged cousin, if you need a step stool). After its unveiling at the London department store Fortnum & Mason, orders flew in. In 1934, 2,000 were sent to England; hundreds were installed in Aalto’s Viipuri library. In 1935, Artek was founded in large part to meet the production demands. Made in Turku, Finland, using a highly manual, 48-step process, Stool 60 quickly infiltrated visual culture, outfitting schools, churches, and offices—Audrey Hepburn even posed for a photo with one in 1946.

Savoy 7 Floor in Helsinki, designed by Aalto and his wife, Aino Aalto, in 1937, and revamped this year by Studioilse.

Photo: Anton Sucksdorff.

The stool evolved with the times. During WW II, glue shortages mandated a less complex finger joint in the leg. Postwar prosperity introduced finer versions clad in teak, elm, and mahogany, followed by brightly lacquered renditions, and faux leather seats in the ’70s. In the last decade, the stool became a canvas—Rei Kawakubo added polka dots; Supreme made it into a checkerboard; and during this year’s Milan Design Week, Daisuke Motogi hacked the stool, proposing 100 clever uses. For the stool’s 90th birthday, design studio Formafantasma reevaluated Artek’s standards for wood selection, launching the Villi (Wild) model, which uses a wider variety of specimen that might show knots, spots, or insect trails—some of which are effects of climate change.

Guidepoint office in New York by Neal Beckstedt.

Photo: Courtesy of Artek.

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