Timeless Designs

“Timeless”…it’s one of those rather over-used word in the world of interior design.  “Not affected by the passage of time or changes in fashion” is the definition in my dictionary.

I was lucky enough to be in London the other week, to go to the celebration of the founding of Artek, the Finnish furniture and design company, 80 years ago.   The company was started by Alvar Aalto, his wife Aino, Nils-Gustav Hahl, an art historian and writer and the Paris trained art lover, Maire Gullichsen, who was an early believer in Aalto’s talent.

We gathered at the wonderful Scandinavian Skandium store in Marylebone, where Christopher Wilk, the V & A  keeper of furniture, textiles and fashion gave a brief but fascinating talk on Aalto and Artek.

Aalto started his career as an architect and in 1929 won a competition to design a tuberculosis sanitorium in Paimio, in south west Finland, which was completed in 1932 and won critical acclaim worldwide.  But not only did Aalto design the building, he also designed furniture for it, specifically developing a method of steam bending birch plywood to create a chair, designed to make it easier for the TB suffering patients to breathe.

The chair launched Aalto’s career as a furniture designer.  He soon went on to develop a steam bent L shaped leg used on his Stool 60: at that time, designers didn’t name their furniture, but gave them numbers instead.

Both the Paimio chair (as it became known) and Stool 60 are still on sale today but I wonder how many people buying them realise that they’re choosing an 80 year old design?  It’s striking how enduring these truly timeless designs are, surrounded now by iPads where originally there would have been Bakelite wireless radios!

In the early 1930’s Britain had just emerged from the Great Depression, there was high unemployment, a large budget deficit and significant cuts were being made in public spending – does this sound familiar? But it was also a time that marked the start of a suburban house building boom, the mass production of electrical goods and the huge growth of the motor industry.

No doubt designers were keen to look forward to a brighter future and it is a testament to them that their designs have not only stood the test of time, but are thriving today.

How relevant will any of today’s designs be in 83 years’ time in 2098 I wonder?


Skandium shop window image, Tanya Leech.

Remaining pictures all courtesy of Skandium

© Tanya Leech 2015

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