Aalto Isn't the Only Finnish Modernist: Meet Ilmari Tapiovaara

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By Kelsey Keith / Published by Dwell
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Looking at back at the varied career of Finnish furniture designer Ilmari Tapiovaara.

2014 marks what would have been the 100th birthday of one of Finland's most prolific modern furniture designers, Ilmari Tapiovaara (1914–1999). Tapiovaara, who began his career as an interior architect, was often overshadowed by Alvar Aalto, founder of Artek, the company who produced much of Tapiovaara's own work. In turn, Tapiovaara was heavily influenced by Aalto's work in both a material (bent birch plywood) and philosophical sense (that the designer's task is to "create a human environment rich with spirituality"). His pieces for Artek illustrate the idea so popular in midcentury Finland—a country less wealthy than its Nordic neighbors but blessed with abundant natural resources in the form of birch forests—that well-designed furniture should be inexpensive enough to be available to a broad audience. Later, he added frames of steel tubing to his collection of plywood and wood seating.

2014 marks what would have been the 100th birthday of one of Finland's most prolific modern furniture designers, Ilmari Tapiovaara (1914 – 1999), who produced a large body of work, particularly seating, for Finnish manufacturer Artek.

Tapiovaara was the subject of a retrospective at Designmuseum in Helsinki, which presented an array of sketches, prototypes, furniture, interior design, and personal archives to show his work in the context of social responsibility, as well as through the lens of Tapiovaara's longtime collaboration with his wife and colleague, interior architect Annikki Tapiovaara. Learn more about Tapiovaara's life and work—plus a testament to his influence by former Tapiovaara student and fellow Finnish design legend Yrjö Kukkapuro, whom Dwell profiled in June 2014.

The Lukki family of seating (Finnish for “daddy longlegs”) includes a range of armchairs and stools in a variety of finishes including sage and stone grey, new for 2014 from Artek.

The Kiki series of chairs, tables, lounge chairs, benches, and sofas was designed by Tapiovaara in 1960. The oval steel tubing framework for the furniture is a departure from the bent plywood seen in the designer's earlier work. Artek reissued the line in 2013.

Tapiovarra's 1954 Trienna coffee table is made of three pieces smoothly conjoined to form one surface with six rounded edges. The tables, which are made of formed birch wood with surface veneer in walnut, are manufactured in Finland by Artek.

Tapiovaara's Domus chair from 1947 was originally designed for the Domus Academica dormitory, on Helsinki University campus.

Here, a vintage Domus Lux lounge chair in beech plywood, a very rare version of the Domus silhouette designed by Ilmari Tapiovaara for Keravan Puuteolisuus Oy in 1948.

The Mademoiselle rocking chair in solid birch sports a high backrest with a low profile, not terribly dissimilar from the Windsor chair silhouette. It's also available Artek in a non-rocking version, most commonly seen in painted black.

The Pirkka line for Artek from 1955—which includes this low stool—embody the the kind of organic modernism for which Finland is known. The versatile design is available in a range of heights (low, counter or high bar), wood finishes, and types of seating.

Finnish furniture designer Ilmari Tapiovaara (1914-1999) featured with a miniature of one his chair designs. Of his proclivity to make more seating, Tapiovaara said, “A chair is not just a seat—it is the key to the whole interior"

A timeline of Ilmari Tapiovaara's multitude of chair designs. (For more sleuthing, we recommend the exhaustive fan site "In Search of Ilmari Tapiovaara" for many, many more archival tidbits on the designer.)