Alvar and I

Musings about vintage design furniture

Posts Tagged ‘Alvar Aalto

From our 50’s couch – McDonald edition

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A collector’s dream: the immodestly titled Mark McDonald sale at Sotheby’s on 10 March, already featured on the ever interesting MONDOBLOGOThe North Elevation and Mid-Century Modern Interiors. Really great and instructive to see the beautiful pieces assembled  by a collector ahead of his time. Particularly nice to find a couple Nana Ditzel piece too, including this beautiful modular seating system below: pretty stiff competition for our very own 50’s couch!

Check also the Aalto Chair No. 31, a favorite around this blog. The estimate is pretty low: something wrong with it?

Let’s dream a bit of future blog posts written on this delightful desk by Charlotte Perriand. A similar table was auctioned by Sotheby’s in 2004 for $7,200.

Finally check out the Anatomy of a Sale videos about the McDonald auction.

Written by Alvar and I

March 6, 2011 at 10:19 pm

A Critique of Tubular Steel

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“In 1925 modern tubular furniture was born. Its birthplace was the Bauhaus, famed German school of architecture and design which Nazis later turned into a domestic science school for girls. It had a bony infancy. Fad-hungry interior decorators pounced on its chromium steel chairs and glass-topped tables. But many a buyer found it short on fun, however long on function. Trouble was – and still is – that metal furniture was cold in surface and line, clammy or hot according to the weather.

Alvar Aalto – Model No. 21

Meanwhile, in Finland, a brilliant young architect named Alvar Aalto and his architect wife, Aino, really got somewhere with modern furniture. Influenced by the Bauhaus and Le Corbusier (real name: Charles-Edouard Jeanneret), but experimenting in plywood instead of steel, they smoothed out geometric kinks, turned out chairs which combined the functional with good sense and charm. The Aaltos were the first to make chairs with pliant one-piece backs and resilient seats. They pioneered also in welding together layers of plywood with synthetic cement, cold-pressing them for six weeks into posture-pleasing shapes.

Alvar Aalto – Model No. 31

Exhibited on the Continent, in London, at Manhattan’s Museum of Modern Art (in 1938), their light, satiny furniture brought the Aaltos international renown, put them in the front rank of modern furniture designers. (Also well acknowledged by then was stocky, bush-browed Alvar Aalto’s high rank among living architects.)

Alvar Aalto – Model No. 42

Last week Alvar and Aino Aalto opened their own furniture store (Artek-Pascoe, Inc.) in Manhattan. The Aaltos’ plywood sandwiches of maple and birch are shaped in Wisconsin, shipped East for assembly. Colors of the finished pieces of furniture – many of them Aalto-patented – ranged from natural finish through cellulosed red and blue to black. On display also went Aalto-designed screens and glassware.

Alvar Aalto – Lounge Chair Model No. 43

The excellence of the Aalto furniture may help to discourage manufacture of some furniture that now passes for modern. The Aalto purpose is to use U. S. mass production to get their designs into ordinary U. S. homes. Though their simple, substantial furniture is well fitted for mass production, the Aalto assembly line has not yet cut prices to the ordinary buyer’s range. In full operation, it will retail an armchair now priced at $29.50 for $19, a $47 chest of drawers for $24, a $15 side table for $9. The Aaltos have already attained space-saving by designing stools that nest into each other, side chairs and even armchairs that can be stacked 20 high to save space.”

[TIME magazine, “Furniture by Assembly Line“, July 15, 1940 issue; with due thanks to Modernism101 for the pointer]

Aalto felt that steel tubing was unsuited to living spaces and he disliked its tinny sound. He took advantage of the elasticity of birch wood, whose spring qualities had hitherto only been only used for skis. Around the same time different solutions were followed by other designers, most notably Heinz and Bodo Rasch’s “Sitzengeiststuhl” (“the spirit of the sitting chair”) and Gerrit Rietveld.

Gerrit Rietveld – Zig-zag chair (1934)

Gerrit Rietveld. Zig-Zag Chair. 1934

The radical innovation of Rietveld’s design was that it did not follow the imaginary lines of a cube, but instead a diagonal.

Charlotte Perriand for the Exhibition “Tradition, Selection, Creation” (1941)

Phillips, de Pury & Company-Experimental armchair

This one was designed while Perriand was in Japan and made out of plywood and bamboo elastic bands. This armchair, an interpretation of Alvar Aalto’s designs (Model No. 31 in particular), was made for her exhibitions at the Takashimaya department stores in Tokyo and Osaka in 1941. The exhibition Tradition, Selection, Creation was opened under sponsorship of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry and the French Embassy. It can be considered the immediate outcome of Perriand’s official appointment as advisor to Japanese industrial art production from 1940 to 1941 and her collaboration with Junzo Sakakura. More from the Philips, de Pury & Company catalog description here.

Werner Panton – S Chair No. 275 (1956)

Manufacturing a chair out of a single plywood sheet had been achieved long before Panton’s design by Gerald Summer and Hans Pieck, but it is only with Panton that a cantilever design was made possible. Hugo Häring had proposed in 1949 a prototype made out of a single sheet of metal; the model was intended for production in plywood but never came to be.

[Most of the above information – including this post’s title – is taken from Stebastian Hackenschmidt’s essay “Cantilevered: Chairs as Material Experiments” for the MAK Exhibition Cantilever Chair: Architectural Manifesto and Material Experiment]

Written by Alvar and I

February 12, 2011 at 10:45 pm

From our 50’s couch

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1. A very interesting story on how Finnish design ends up in Tokyo and elsewhere in The ones that got away by Jonas Forth.

2. Our future one-stamp collection: ’2+3′ wallpaper by Ilmari and Annikki Tapiovaara in 1958 and ‘Paimio’ chair by Alvar Aalto in 1931-32 via wallpaper and chair « well centred.

3. The Boyd collection and Oscar Niemeyer’s Strick House via the North Elevation

Written by Alvar and I

January 26, 2011 at 2:34 am

From our 50s couch

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Spring is coming and so are auctions in the United States:

1. Wright Modern Design, March 23rd, with a large selection of American designers. Some fine European pieces too. Since the chair is the emblem of this blog, these two Alvar Aalto Model 21 have caught our eye. Not in pristine condition, but clearly pre-war models sourced in the U.K. See also several pieces by Pierre Jeanneret from Chandigarh (Wright offered some already last year): it will be interesting to see how they fare compared to last week’s Artcurial auction.

2. For Eames lovers, Wright Eames Auction on April 8th. Given the size of Charles and Ray Eames production and the number of knock-offs, we always found it a challenge to identify good Eames vintage. A catalogue raisonné would definitely help. We can trust Richard Wright to assemble a great selection for us. Looking particularly forward to a nice vintage ESU model.

3. Treadway-Toomey Galleries Auction, March 7th,  with two fine lots of a K.E.M. Weber armchair by Lloyd Manufacturing. See our previous post on Weber.

4. Rago Arts is inviting consignements for its Modern Auction on April 25th.

5. LAMA is also inviting consignments for its Spring Auction.

Written by Alvar and I

March 1, 2010 at 2:14 am

Webbings we like

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Aalto, Grabbe, Mathson, Risom: what do these four giants have in common? They all used webbing in some of their most famous designs. There is something both elegant and cheap to furniture using webbed canvas, and for a good reasons as often these designs were borne out of necessity.

Aalto is the precursor, with his Model 406 “Pension” Chair, designed in 1933 and a successor to the Model 41 armchair, with a higher back for comfort. But what makes this chair remarkable is the use of a cotton canvas webbing after many years of experimentation with laminated wood. The webbing offers smoother support and better airflow.

Alvar Aalto – Model 406 Chair – Artek

Bruno Mathsson successfully borrowed from Aalto the use of canvas webbing, which offered lightness and durability. Mathsson experimented with different woods and webbing materials from jute to paper. Further reading can be found here courtesy of Webvg.

Bruno Mathsson – Pernilla Chair

Jens Risom used webbing for his first collection for Knoll in the US. Wartime restrictions lead him to use webbing made out of parachute fabric and walnut. We particularly like the use of color in his designs.

Jens Risom – 654 W Side Chair – Knoll

 

Like Risom, Klaus Grabbe used military fabric due to wartime restrictions for his 1948 Chaise Longue. The thick exagerated section is very reminiscent of Risom’s chair, but made of plywood. Breuer is said to have inspired Grabbe, who also designed this other pretty striking reclining model .

Klaus Grabbe – Chaise Longue

Chaise longuee

Update: we ought to add this one, recently seen at RetroModern Design

Axel Larsson – Side Chair- Bodafors

Written by Alvar and I

February 28, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Aalto shrine

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An unlikely place where to find one of the most important collections of Aalto furniture in North America (don’t miss the building either).

Written by Alvar and I

February 9, 2010 at 9:56 pm

We want more catalogues raisonnés of furniture designers

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When stumbling across an attractive vintage piece, it would be nice to dig in our library (or even better online) the ultimate reference book or a catalogue raisonné to situate it in time and in the body of work of the designer. After all our visual senses, knowledge and memory are limited… Here are below some that we found.

The Furniture of Poul Kjaerholm: Catalogue Raisonné by Michael Sheridan

Alvar Aalto: The Complete Catalog of Architecture, Design and Art by Goran Schildt

Jean Prouvé by Laurence Bergerot and Patrick Seguin (review on Artcritical.com)

Complete Kagan: Vladimir Kagan–A Lifetime of Avant-Garde Design by Vladimir Kagan himself

Graham Mancha offers a nice selection of reference books at Design for Modern Living in the UK

The begining of an online catalog raisonné of Charles and Ray Eames on Eames Office and of Jens Risom furniture on Risom.org

Written by Alvar and I

February 5, 2010 at 10:03 pm