ICFF 2010: Dressing Up with Artek
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Bringing a little bit of handicraft to the show floor gave visitors a chance to see what goes into making a chair—and perhaps a little shock from the sound of a pneumatic stapler.

Bringing a little bit of handicraft to the show floor gave visitors a chance to see what goes into making a chair—and perhaps a little shock from the sound of a pneumatic stapler.

Aalto's Armchair 400, affectionately nicknamed "The Tank," is here reinterpreted with Maharam fabric and decorative embroidery by Sabine Steinmair.

Aalto's Armchair 400, affectionately nicknamed "The Tank," is here reinterpreted with Maharam fabric and decorative embroidery by Sabine Steinmair.

Claudy Jongstra's Drenth Heath is a densely hand felted wool made from her own sheep.

Claudy Jongstra's Drenth Heath is a densely hand felted wool made from her own sheep.

This new Maharam fabric is an homage to Aalto's beloved zebra grospoint, and mimics the original's pattern, although in three dimensions.

This new Maharam fabric is an homage to Aalto's beloved zebra grospoint, and mimics the original's pattern, although in three dimensions.

Here in New York the duties of reinterpretation fell on Maharam, the Philadelphia based fabric maker. "I love what Michael Maharam has done," Vingerhoets-Ziesmann adds, " because he's really absorbed the identity of the chair, and come up with something unique." Based on a digital scan of Aalto's favored Zebra skin upholstery, Maharam devised a topographic brushed felt fabric that mimics the design of the original, but in solid black. Another of the chairs features Claudy Jongstra's Drenth Heath, a hand felted wool in black brown that was created specifically for this application. Another of the chairs features a classic linen painter's canvas embroidered with tyrolean motifs by Sabine Steimair. The last is a neutral composition of Maharam's merino felt and a horsehair bolster.

Aki Lehtonen, looking like he may have just stepped out from a Aki Kurismaki film, has worked for Artek for 28 years. Ville Kokkonen, Artek's design director, asked how many chairs he thinks he's upholstered over the years, to which Lehtonen replied 52 a year (for a total of 1456). He says upholstering the Armchair 400 is relatively easy, but cutting the fabric to fit perfectly is not. "He could do it blindfolded now though," Kokkonen quips.

Later this year, Dress The Chair will continue in Sydney and Tokyo before concluding in Helsinki. "Our collection is big," says Kokkonen, "so it's a good way to bring out one of the old pieces and show that it's still got some life. A lot of people didn't know that they could have an Artek chair with their own fabric, so its good to show that we can be decorative too."

The hard part is cutting the fabric to fit properly says Artek upholsterer Aki Lehtonen.

The hard part is cutting the fabric to fit properly says Artek upholsterer Aki Lehtonen.

At the ICFF in New York, Aki Lehtonen, a veteran employee of Artek, puts the finishing touch on an Aalto Armchair 400.

At the ICFF in New York, Aki Lehtonen, a veteran employee of Artek, puts the finishing touch on an Aalto Armchair 400.

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