Column: I and Artek’s stool

“You can climb on the four-legged stool, but never on the three-legged one,” says Design Stories columnist Hanna-Katariina Mononen when describing her relationship with the classic chair designed by Alvar Aalto.

Aalto stool E60, birch
The four-legged E60 stool is a staple piece of furniture in Hanna-Katariina Mononen's home, almost like a family member.

ON THE VERGE of adulthood, I saved up for my first design classic (if you don’t count the Fiskars scissors with orange handles I had in my drawer). I was living on my own after leaving my childhood home, furnished in a rustic style, and had probably already read a few lines about modern Finnish design. I had decided that ‘Oh, this is interesting’ and included it in my identity development plan.

It said ‘60’ on the side of my coin jar, plain and simple. Quite sweet, really, and perhaps even a little self-consciously so. Be that as it may, my intentions were true: I wanted a classic of my own, Artek’s Stool 60. I can’t remember exactly if I took that coin jar with me to the furniture store, but I did buy the stool. Not a single thing I had bought before that – and to be quite honest, probably not even after – has felt as right, like the start of something truly my own. I finally owned the stool, packed in a flat box.

I never collected a stack of those stools, but I did buy a buddy for the first one: a four-legged Stool E60. I bought it used from the clearance sale of a defunct restaurant. My stools are neither the early rarities with finger joints nor even the later versions assembled with flathead screws, just the ordinary ones from the 2000s.

In my current home, as well as the previous ones, the stools have been used in numerous purposes, which is probably the case in many other homes, too.

Little did I know when putting money in my coin jar all those years ago that my design-based identity project would lead to me partly working in the field. I read more, expanded my knowledge and became a fan. Once I even got to visit Artek’s factory near Turku, where the stools are also made. The taller-than-me stack of legendary L legs waiting for the next stage of the manufacturing process was truly a sight to behold. I had made it to the backstage.

This year, Stool 60, designed by Alvar Aalto, turns 90. I’ve not even had my Aalto stool for twenty years. In my current home, as well as the previous ones, the stools have been used in numerous purposes, which is probably the case in many other homes, too. The stools are vagabonds that are constantly on the move but always at hand. They offer extra seating when more guests arrive and a place to put flowers on (and popcorn bowls on Saturday nights).

You can climb on the four-legged stool, but never on the three-legged one – a lesson I’ve learned all too well over the years. I’ve not been all that protective of mine. When we were renovating our current home, we just covered the stool in protective plastic and used it as a side table and a painting or paneling stool. It’s probably not right to call a piece of furniture a family member, but it wouldn’t be that far off.

Many things have changed in my homes over the years, but the Aalto stools are part of the infrastructure. I suppose everything else could be replaced, but these seats are a given, a default – a constant.

Artek 2nd Cycle store
The Decades exhibition is a tribute to the stool designed by Alvar Aalto in 1933. Image: Artek

My recommendation: Decades exhibition

SPEAKING OF stools, this year, Artek’s 90th anniversary is celebrated in many ways, one of which is the Decades exhibition on the stool’s history held in the Artek 2nd Cycle store in Helsinki. The exhibition is open from 11 May to 15 September 2023.

Artek 2nd Cycle, Pieni Roobertinkatu 4–6, Helsinki, Finland

Hanna-Katariina Mononen

The author, Hanna-Katariina Mononen, reflects on the issues of a beautiful and sustainable life in her monthly column for Design Stories. She thinks that just like in life, in the home, the most beautiful parts are unplanned – and often relatively ordinary as well.

Text and image: Hanna-Katariina Mononen

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