by Julie Klein

For Stool 60’s 90th birthday, Artek is shining the spotlight on materiality. The Kontrasti version of the stool uses darker veneer tones to highlight the bending incisions; the Loimu variant is made using a unique flame-patterned birch; while Formafantasma’s Villi reworking brings out the beauty of “imperfect” birch that bears knots, stains, and the marks of insects from Finnish forests.

When, 90 years ago, Alvar Aalto launched Stool 60 in solid birch, it came as quite a contrast to the industrial aesthetic of chromed steel that had marked the pieces of many of his European contemporaries in the late 1920s — Le Corbusier, Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, Eileen Gray, and Marcel Breuer, among them. Born in 1898 in the forests of rural Finland, Aalto felt the need to create something closer to his roots. “He was very inspired by Thonet,” says Simone Farresin, referring to the firm that pioneered bent-beechwood furniture in 19th-century Austria-Hungary. “Aalto was years ahead of his time in terms of working with local supply chains. Instead of importing beechwood from central Europe, he developed a new technique that allowed him to bend native Finnish birch to produce the famous L-shaped legs.” Farresin is one half of Formafantasma, the Italian design duo he founded with his partner Andrea Trimarchi. The two are deeply invested in researching materials and the environmental impact of design. For the past two years they have been investigating the Finnish forests that supply Artek, the furniture company Aalto co-founded in 1935, which still produces Stool 60 to this day. “I’d seen their show [about the timber industry] at the Serpentine,” recalls Artek’s managing director Marianne Goebl, “and thought it would be of interest to get them involved in Artek, since the company is so intrinsically linked to the forest.” The research program resulted in a 2022 exhibition — Cambio: On Finnish Forestry, at Designmuseo Helsinki — as well as a special edition of Stool 60. “We had a choice: either work on a new product or apply all of Formafantasma’s findings about the Finnish forest to the product we sell at the highest volume,” Goebl explains. Stool 60 already ticked a lot of sustainability boxes thanks to its renewably-sourced material, use of offcuts, and easy flat-packing, but Formafantasma’s special edition takes all that one step further. For their Villi — Finnish for “wild” — variant of Stool 60, the pair used birch that bears knots, stains, and the marks of insects: as well as employing timber that would normally be rejected, Villi highlights the variations that occur in birch forests as a result of climate change and the expansion of human habitats. Updating the story about the Finnish forest that Stool 60 began back in 1933, Villi will run as a permanent and unlimited edition in Artek's catalogue.

Vyborg Library historical photo.

Formafantasma Cambio-on Finnish forestry. Photo by Jussi Hellsten.

This story was originally published in PIN–UP 34, Spring/Summer 2023.

Images courtesy Artek.