There is perhaps no better example of functionalism than Stool 60. Designed by Alvar Aalto - the man who put Finnish design on the map, Stool 60 is in essence one of the simplest forms a stool can take. So what is it that makes this small piece of furniture an icon in design?
With a small round seating on 3 L-shaped legs, Stool 60 differed from other seating at the time in several ways. The design of its legs allowed it to be stacked efficiently in a circular pattern that was almost sculptural in nature. The legs were also manufactured by making use of a new form of working with wood. In this method, birch wood legs were sawed precisely on one end with several cuts. These cuts were then filled with thin strips of wood which were bent into the characteristic L shape using heat.
The final design for the stool evolved from a similar one Aalto made for his renowned Paimio Sanatorium. The original design consisted of a circular wooden seating supported on tubular metal legs. This evolved into Stool 60 with the help of Otto Korhonen, who was well versed with manufacturing and crafting using wood. Changing out the steel legs for wood, Aalto and Korhonen worked on finding a way to bend solid wood. Aalto’s focus on functionalism stripped the design of all unnecessary elements, attaching the legs directly onto the underside of the seat. This simple, pared down design of Stool 60 allowed it to integrate well in all spaces, as an extra seating, a coffee table, or as a surface on which to display objects. Variants of the stool with colors and upholstery as well as a 4 legged version named E60, were produced in the following years. For the 80th anniversary of Stool 60 in 2013, Artek relaunched the stools with colors inspired by Aalto’s design for the Paimio Sanatorium.
With an appeal that withstands time and design trends, Stool 60 is also a highly copied product. While the original design is still available from purchase from Artek (a company started by Alvar and Aino Aalto along with Maire Gullichsen and Nils-Gustav Hahl), copies and similar designs can be found across the globe.
So, to understand why Stool 60 is a design icon, it is necessary to ask what makes a product iconic. Is it one that brings about a significant change in its field, or one that captures the imagination of its viewers? By all accounts, Stool 60 by Alvar Aalto is a design masterpiece. It created a breakthrough in design and manufacturing at the time, and made a product that could be enjoyed by all, regardless of social class. Beyond all, the product has become ubiquitous in homes in the decades since its design. It is quite easy to spot a Artek Model 60, or one of its countless copies in interiors across the world today, almost 90 years later.