Friday, March 12, 2010


A is for Aalto, whose first name is Alvar, so he’s an A coming or going. He’s also a crossword puzzle favorite, as you can well imagine. (Secret History: His actual first name was Hugo; Alvar was his second given name.)

The Finnish architect and designer was born in 1898—when Victoria still sat on the English throne, to put it in context—and lived until 1976. In his long building career, he created such structures as the Finnish pavilion for the 1939 World’s Fair in New York City…

… and Finlandia Hall in Helsinki, which was finished in the early 1970s.

It is as a furniture designer that Aalto is most known today, at least in the U.S., where he is considered one of the fathers of Scandinavian modernism. Many of his pieces have become icons of the mid 20th century.

Chances are you’ve seen this little stacking stool. If you were at my place, you’d see one sitting next to my bed.

Two of his most famous chairs are this two-towned bentwood Paimio chair of 1932 …

… and the upholstered Armchair 400 of 1937, shown here in a festive zebra-print fabric. This image comes from Artek, the company Alvar and his architect wife, Aino, founded in 1935 (this family loved their A’s). Artek still makes Aalto furniture, as well as signature pieces by others in the Aalto tradition (see

Even if you’ve never heard of the man, you no doubt have seen this vase in one of its many manifestations. Originally designed in 1937 and called the Savoy vase, its descendants are produced in Finland to this day by the Iittala company (you can get them at the MoMa store,

Clearly it’s not an accident that aalto is the Finnish word for “wave"—as in "wave of the future." For more on Aalto, go to

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