furniture design, bent wood chairs, alvar aalto, and my dad


chaise-lounge model 43, alvar aalto, finland 1936

chaise-lounge model 43, alvar aalto, finland 1936

alvar aalto was an anti bauhaus modern designer “immersed in his struggle against metal in furniture design,” in the 1920s.*  he and his finnish business partner, otto korhonen, perfected the bent knee technique for their stool 60 and sold millions of them in the next decades.  for anyone who enjoys wood, working with wood and the beauty of it, bent wood remains a remarkable feature in furniture design.  aalto’s stool 60 and chair 43 were some of the early classics.  

Alvar Aalto

Stool 60 in Viipuri Municipal Library, 1933-35, Viipuri, Russia (formerly Finland). Architect: Alvar Aalto

stool 60

stool 60

i would also object to interior design in which there is no wood.  like the scandinavians who feature wood so beautifully in furniture and interior design, i grew up with a love for trees and their uses.  in this love, i was influenced by my dad.  he spent most of world war two as a boy scout and school boy in southampton, england, though there were not so many school days in those years, because of the german bombs.  when the americans finally showed up (thank God) and the allies were pushing back across france, my dad had turned 16, and went to work in the nearby new forest.

new forest, hampshire, england

new forest, hampshire, england

new forest timber, an old source for ship building in old england

new forest timber, an old source for ship building in old england

after training in north wales, he worked in nigeria and hong kong in forestry and conservation.  some of my best memories of my wonderful daddy include watching him skillfully chop down trees with an axe, working with him in his carpentry shop, and listening to him talk about wood and trees in forests we would walk through together.  

but aalto and my father held very different world views.  they both lived through terrible times of war and the dramatic changes in the world brought by the industrial revolution.  aalto became an avid proponent of humanism.  he believed that the solution to life’s problems were to be found in humanity, and that the reason for life was to improve humanity itself.  “We should work for simple, good, undecorated things, but things which are in harmony with the human being and organically suited to the little man in the street.” (Alvar Aalto, speech in London 1957)**  to aalto, wood was a tool for humanism.

on the other hand, in war torn england my father met God and did not waver through his life from his christian faith.  he saw, as i do, no hope in humanity without God, or in working for humanity alone. actually i do not see how anyone could walk through forests or work with wood and reject God and any relationship with Him.  the beauty of His creation screams His presence and the hopelessness of humanity compels me to His power and love.  as a young teenager my dad spent a lot of time chopping firewood with his boy scout troop.  once they were out in the woods camping when there was an unexpected air raid.  many nights he spent alone or huddled with his mum, dad and granny in the little air raid shelter in the garden. lots of time to think.  my dad thought of God, and though he died a few years ago, i know that now he is, through Christ, alive with God.  throughout his life he inspired many others to his same belief.  there is no other shelter.  

*Furniture Design, Jim Postel, 2007 (page 78).

** quoted in wikipedia


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