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Here you see a collection of vases in the Alvar Aalto collection from Iittala.

Alvar Aalto - Functional design from Finland’s most iconic designer

Alvar Aalto rose to fame in the early 20th Century as one of Finland’s most celebrated architects. Best known for his distinctly Finnish approach to architecture Aalto was committed to creating a full and complete body of work meaning examples of his designs can be found not only on the exteriors but also inside our Nordic homes in the form of furniture, lamps, and his iconic glassware. Join us as we dive into the world of Alvar Aalto, designer, architect and Finnish icon.
Wednesday 1st February 2023
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ALVAR’S EARLY YEARS

Born in 1898 in the small village of Kuortane in western Finland, Hugo Alvar Henrik Aalto was the eldest of four children. His parents were well educated and when Alvar turned 5 the family moved to the larger town of Jyväskylä where Alvar was able to attend the local Grammar school.

Aalto graduated in the spring of 1916 and having already set his sights on becoming an architect he moved to Helskini to study architecture.

His early years were not without struggle. Finland became independent from Russia in 1917 throwing the country into a civil war. Aalto, himself, took part in the fighting but soon returned to his studies, graduating in 1921.

He started his career as an architect almost immediately and after returning to Jyväskylä he quickly found himself inundated with work and began carving a name for himself within the design world.

Alvar Aalto’s early architectural career focused on Nordic Classicism, but it was during his Functionalist phase where he really made his international breakthrough. Aalto’s ability to place the user front and centre, prizing usability and functionality above all else, made him a lasting presence in the worlds of both design and architecture.

Here you see a portrait of Alvar Aalto.

Alvar Aalto

Here you see vases, candle holders and a wooden tray in the Alvar Aalto collection from Iittala.
Alvar Aalto vase smoke grey
180 mm
$155

PIONEERING SCANDINAVIAN DESIGN

Many of Aalto’s greatest and best-known works were public buildings and his company was commissioned to design buildings all over the world. In the design world, however, Aalto is better known for his work on a smaller scale, in the form of furniture and of course the world-famous Aalto vase.

Alvar Aalto is commonly considered one of the pillars of Scandinavian design. His approach to design was organic, shaping his furniture after the human form but above all he valued functionality.

Here you see the large Alvar Aalto vase in red, blue, green and amber.
Aalto is often regarded as the founding father of organic design. His collections have greatly influenced the postwar era of Scandinavian design.
Here you see items from the Alvar Aalto collection placed in a shelf in a modern kitchen.

THE AALTO VASE

One of the defining characteristics of Aalto’s work was his ambition to treat each building as a complete work of art, all the way from the external walls right down to the furniture and interior details.

With this philosophy in mind Aalto created Scandinavian design pieces that are still produced to this day. Most notably of which is the Aalto vase.

The Aalto vase started life as the Savoy vase, named after the restaurant for which it was designed.

Alvar Aalto in fact, never actually referred to the vase as just that, instead choosing to view it as a functional piece of art which can have many uses.

The original sketch for the vase caused a stir at the Karhula Iittala glassworks competition and the design itself was first showcased at the 1937 Paris World Fair, the rest, as they say, is history.

The Aalto vase in light pink with white tulips on a coffee table with a glass bird figurine and a magazine.

The undulating lines have led some to speculate that the vase was inspired by the lakes that decorate Finland’s wild landscape however the original sketch was named “The Eskimo Woman’s Leather Breeches” has led others to suggest that a garment of clothing might be the real inspiration.

Whatever lays behind the waving, meandering forms of the Aalto collection, it continues to capture the eyes and hearts of Scandinavian design lovers all over the world. This sculpted piece of glass is an engineering feat all its own. Even today seven Iittala craftsmen, 12 different processes and over 30 hours of work are required to produce a single vase.

Here you see the large and smaller version of the Alvar Aalto vase, a work of art even without flowers.

The vase is a work of art all its own. Fill it with flowers, leave it empty or fill it with candy at a party. The possibilities are endless.

The clear Aalto vase stands on a stack of magazines.

For Alvar Aalto four walls do not make a home, even from an architectural perspective he recognised that his art would not be complete without quality craftsmanship to fill it – a philosophy that goes hand in hand with our vision at Nordic Nest. His iconic designs have certainly become part of what makes a home to love.

Photography: Angeliqa Daldorph, Elof Martinsson, @red_j_story, @ebbavonsydow, @idaskvm, Iittala

Rebecca Sparling
Author

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