Designer of the Week - Alvar Aalto

Posted by Manhattan Home Design on Jan 21st 2019

After 20 DOTW articles, we were looking to do a little of a return to form. The more recent articles were longer, wodier, and featured both big and not-so-big names in the mid-century furniture industry. However, some of the latest ones didn't even mention mid-century furniture at all.

That is the reason why we're going to talk about Mr. Aalto. He was a Finnish architect and furniture designer and a huge representation of the Scandinavian Modern movement, who also saw the likes of Hans Wegner, Arne Jacobsen, Eero Aarnio, and many others (with a heavy Bauhaus influence, we might add). Aalto became so famous in Finland that they even named a university after him.

The Spirit behind the wood, and into the wood itself

On Aalto's dedicated website, there's an epigraph that reads: "My furniture rarely, if ever, arises as the result of professional design. Almost without exception, I have designed it in conjunction with architectural projects, a mixed bag of public buildings, aristocratic residences, and workers huts. It's great fun to design furniture in this way".

Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto was born in Kuortane, Finland, in 1898. He studied architecture at the Helsinki University of Technology from 1916 until 1921, and then opened his first practice in 1923, in the city of Jyvaskyla. he got married and went on to create the Artek company, along with his wife Aino Aalto (who was also a designer). Much like knoll or Herman Miller, Artek still stands today.

Aalto’s architecture has been described as “distinctively Finnish,” and the artist also translated this form of expression into his furniture, as he himself stated above. His first modern pieces were created for the tuberculosis sanatorium in Paimio, in 1932. Much like Frank Lloyd Wright, Aalto intended for his furniture designs to match the buildings they were designed for in both aesthetic and function.

Three years later, he would set up Artek in an effort to market his wife's designs, which also included lighting, textiles, and other objects. As he intended to "learn the language of wood fibers" he devised a new form of plywood design, which he had patented n 1933.

The most iconic chairs in all of Finnish design

He delved in lighting as well, though his wife surpassed him on this field. His most acclaimed breakthrough came with the Model No. 31 chair, the first plywood furniture item in the world to use laminated wood in  a cantilever fashion.

While other plywood designers simply attempted to bend the wood to their particular will (no pun intended), Aalto wanted to solve a much older problem: How can we connect horizontal and vertical pieces of a certain material in a way that looks natural, organic? His pursuit led him to reject other building materials such as tubular steel (which was very popular) and properly fiberglass. He saw these materials as too artificial, as if they were alien to nature itself.

On of the reasons why he is so celebrated and also unknown in the mid-century furniture spectrum is that he rejected mass production, industrial manufacturing (to a certain degree) and function over form. He was a true naturalist at heart. This philosophy of "organic" modernism, however, led him to become Finland's favorite architect.     



A pre-order is manufactured just for you or is in the process of being manufactured and allows you to save 40% since we can cut out any storage and warehousing fees.
Our specialized team will start handcrafting it for you and deliver it in just 2-12 weeks. The lead time should show on the page next to the Pre-Order option, feel free to chat with us to confirm it. The standard in the furniture industry is over 20 weeks.
If you have any questions, our team will guide you through the ordering process.


The team was a pleasure to work with - customer service, workmanship, and quality are outstanding. 8 weeks lead time is actually fast for the furniture industry!
-Suzanne Palmer

Being able to customize the color of my furniture was key for us. We placed a custom order, got the colors we needed, and saved big compared to in-stock items. Great experience overall, 12 weeks was worth it!
-Richard Eaton


Custom-made items are put in production within 48 hours after the order is placed.
Pre-orders are not able to be returned or refunded based on buyer’s remorse.
The following terms will apply:

  • Full payment is required for pre-orders.
  • Order can be cancelled within 48 hours without fees.
  • After 48 hours, cancellations will require a 20% fee from the customer.
  • After two (2) weeks a pre-order is placed, the order cannot be canceled, and will have the full right to receive full payment for the order placed for the pre-order item.