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Industry & Trends

A 90-Year-Old Furniture Icon Has a Big Problem

The Alvar Aalto design Stool 60 is one of the most iconic pieces of wooden furniture ever designed but it’s running out of one thing.

Back when famed furniture designer Alvar Aalto created his three-legged bentwood chair, Stool 60, 90 years ago it would have been hard to believe its manufacturer would be facing a totally unexpected problem: not enough wood.

But Artek, the Finnish company which has been making the stool almost since its start, said in a recent interview it was running out of the raw material to make the product and wasn’t sure where it would be getting future supplies. In a country famed for its forests, it seems that demand for paper and cardboard is outstripping furniture uses and apparently only one sawmill remains that can supply the A-grade birch needed for the stool.

“We don’t know whether, in 30 years, we’ll have enough quality wood,” says Marianne Goebl, Artek’s managing director. “How do we make sure that the next generation of Artek still has birch?”

To try to solve its supply issue the company asked Italian design studio Formafantasma to do an in-depth audit of Artek’s manufacturing process. The studio, according to the recent published report, came up with a 29-point list of recommendations, including that the company stop discarding so much timber purely for visual “imperfections.”

The studio even created a special anniversary edition of Stool 60 named “Villi” – Finnish for “wild” – that includes the imperfections that Artek has been removing for years. Future stools will be manufactured similarly. “Somehow our aesthetic perception has been trained over the years to think that a wooden product should look uniform,” says Goebl. “That is not what the forest produces.”

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