We are now returning to our Tuesday series in mid-century modern designers. Last time we featured Jens Risom.
Today we’re going to discuss one of the foremost mid-century designers in both European and American furniture tradition. Unlike most of his colleagues, he’s still alive, but probably retired, since he’s currently 87 years old.
We are, of course, talking about Eero Aarnio, another genius from Finland. Be careful not to confuse him with Eero Saarinen. Aarnio’s work is very distinctive, and he is 22 years younger than the creator of the beloved Tulip table and chairs.
Background, inspiration, and designs
Like most of his design comrades, modernist trends pushed Aarnio’s work towards the imitational, looking to condense natural items into his own artificial renditions. We’ve heard this about almost every modernist designer, but what made Arnio’s work unique?
First and foremost, Arnio’s designs were much more colorful and exaggerated than that of his peers. Some enthusiasts are quick to compare him to Hans Wegner, who was 18 years older than him. There might be an influence, but Aarnio’s designs are definitely not an homage to Wegner, much less a deliberate copy.
On one hand, Wegner was much more serious (yes, “serious,” you read that right) with his designs. He came to prominence a whole generation before Arnio, even if he continued to work for most of his life. There was quite a difference between the materials he used and the preconceived ideas he brought into furniture design.
But enough about Wegner, let’s talk a bit more about Aarnio. He attended Helsinki’s School of Applied Arts in 1954 and began a very quiet career as a designer once he graduated. He founded his own firm in 1962.
A brief look at some of Aarnio’s key designs
Taking the world by storm, however, Aarnio started getting recognition in the 1970s and 1980s, deviating from many of the established norms and conventions around furniture making.
The most distinctive examples of his work have to be the Tomato chair, the Bubble chair, and the unforgettable Ball chair, which might be his magnum opus.
His futuristic vision made him into a little bit of a science fiction staple: The Ball chair has made many appearances of movies and TV shows of that sort and, I mean, can you really blame those set designers? The Ball chair does resemble a space capsule of some kind.
His personal website is, quite ironically, very quaint, but features most of his important designs (apart from chairs). If you look at Aarnio’s works from a more comprehensive perspective, you can always see traces of other design trends, like the Bauhaus style on his Bossanova armchair and his Graphic chair.
Nowadays, there isn’t much information available on Eero Aarnio. Again, most times it seems like people just automatically confuse him with Saarinen. It is a sad situation given Aarnio’s importance and contributions, which are still ongoing. Hopefully this small piece will do him some justice.