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Artek: Topical yet timeless

  • Alvar Aalto
  • Artek
  • Finnish Design

The quality of “timelessness” is quite a mysterious one, which obviously only reveals itself retrospectively, says Artek’s managing director Marianne Goebl.

During Helsinki Design Week, the Artek Helsinki store on Keskuskatu presents the Timeless Content Inside exhibition that guides visitors to understand the core of Artek’s values.

In 2009, Artek packaging was labelled with slogans that make us question consumerism and the choices we make. The box for a stool says “One is enough” and the box for a lighting fixture “Contains timeless design”.

At Artek, timeless design has always meant that both the aesthetics and the quality of a product will stand the test of time. Artek furniture does not follow fashion trends, and its clear, quiet idiom attracts buyers decade after decade.

Riihitie plant pot was designed by Aino Aalto in 1937. Photo: Artek / Zara Pfeifer

When developing new products, how can timeless products be recognised?

“The quality of “timelessness” is quite a mysterious one, which obviously only reveals itself retrospectively. Will a product withstand the test of time not only in terms of durability, but also regarding evolving personal needs and aesthetical preferences of its users?” says managing director Marianne Goebl.

Goebl lists some qualities to look for: “Like a good companion, Artek products have a direct and honest personality. They do not seek to attract attention, but support the environments they are placed in through their clarity, functionality and poetic simplicity. And yet, they have a distinct and recognizable character.”

The products have stand the test of time in terms of both functionality and quality. Made of high quality materials, the structure based on standard components is simple enough to not depend on technological development and to serve the user as such year in, year out.

“A product with these fundamental characteristics may be more likely to stay current than a stylish statement.

But ultimately, it can only be judged by the next generations, if we have achieved to create something truly timeless,” says Goebl.

Part of a whole

Many pieces of Artek furniture and lighting fixtures were designed for the buildings designed by Alvar Aalto to be part of the architectural whole. Their classics have become the archetypes of chairs and tables, multipurpose and naturally applicable in various rooms.

The furniture can be used in many ways: the Aalto stool can be a seat or a side table, the classic Chair 611 a dining chair at home or a seat in a meeting room or part of a seating row in a church.

“Many of the models are 80 years old, so we have seen different versions of them over the years. From exhibitions, people remember certain fabrics or colour patterns even if the products have been in daily use with various surface treatments or upholstering,” says Artek country manager in Finland Anja Matilainen.

The natural materials of Artek furniture – wood, leather, linoleum and untreated brass – develop an appealing patina over time. The future of one’s piece of Artek furniture may lie at the Artek 2nd Cycle store where the brand carries a selection of older classics.

“At 2nd Cycle, we can see combinations from several eras that are often fun or exciting. Sometimes I hear people comment: ‘Oh, I didn’t know this is an Artek piece,’” Matilainen says.

The furniture can be repurposed to match one’s phase of life. The wooden parts can be renewed by painting, sanding and varnishing. The linen web belts of the webbed chairs and other upholstery can be renewed.

“In addition to maintenance services, we sell components if you want to make your dining table into a coffee table, for example. We can provide shorter legs – and then later in your life you can replace them again with longer legs. This is a revelation to many!” Matilainen says.

Timeless Content Inside exhibition at Artek Helsinki store from 8 June to 12 September 2020. Exhibition architecture and graphics by creative agency Kokoro & Moi.

This post was done in collaboration with Artek. Like everything at Helsinki Design Weekly, our partner content is carefully curated to make sure it’s relevant to our readers.

Photos: Artek / archives, Zara Pfeifer, Riikka Kantinkoski

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