Whether the name Eero Aarnio means anything to you or not, the products of his industry during the 1960’s certainly will. His plastic furniture is amongst the most collected and revered in the world. Such is the fame of his work it has almost become a byword or stereotype even of retro design, featuring prominently in recent psychedelic extravaganzas like Mike Myers’ series of Austen Powers comedy movies. Finnish designer Aarnio was born in 1932, studied from 1954 to 1957 at the Institute of Industrial Arts in Helsinki and started in 1962 with his own office as an interior and industrial designer. Here we will be discussing his three most prominent works- the Ball chair, the Bubble chair and the Pastil chair- the common link between the three being the (at the time of conception) ground breaking spherical construction of each.
First designed in 1963, though not produced until some years later, the Ball chair was an instant sensation. Its fibreglass fabric and shape made it a complete novelty in the furniture industry of the time. The fibreglass ball sits on a metal swivelling base, and upholstered with foam/fibrefill. The original colours were white, red, black and orange. Intended by Aarnio to be a “room within a room” that, through its ability to swivel, can offer a constantly changing view of the world outside, sitting in this chair is a special experience.
Surrounding sounds are muted and seem more distant, making for a wonderfully cocooned feeling. Aarnio himself has a ball chair with a telephone in it, some had it fitted with speakers. Still often used by style magazines and noted designers such as Vivienne Westwood, the Ball chair set a new benchmark in ergonomic design and thinking without respect for the boundaries of possibility.
In 1968 Aarnio gave us the Bubble chair and again caused seismic effects on the design world. Based on the Ball chair but instead made of acryl and chromed steel, the Bubble is a reduction of the earlier model. Said Aarnio- “After I had made the Ball Chair I wanted to have the light inside it and so I had the idea of a transparent ball where light comes from all directions.
The only suitable material is acrylic which is heated and blown into shape like a soap bubble. Since I knew that the dome-shaped skylights are made in this way I contacted the manufacturer and asked if it would be technically possible to blow a bubble that is bigger than a hemisphere. The answer was yes. I had a steel ring made, the bubble was blown and cushions were added and the chair was ready. And again the name was obvious: BUBBLE.”. Completely transparent and hung from the ceiling, the Bubble provides the closest feeling one can’t get to floating without a jetpack.
Aarnio was nothing if not industrious, and at the same time as introducing the Bubble he was also winning an American Industrial Design Award for the last of our objects of desire- the Pastil chair. No more than a slightly flattened circle with a curved indentation acting as the seat, the Pastil was the final simplification of his original idea.
Able to rock, float, or slide down a snow-covered hill and available in any colour the Pastil was the ultimate in free thinking design. Its small stature and lightweight design makes it entirely mobile and able to fit in any sized room.
In a retro themed setting, Aarnio furniture is an absolute must.