Admired as much for its sculptural presence as for its comfort, the Paimio Chair is a tour de force in bentwood that tested the limits of plywood manufacturing in the early 1930s. The chair’s framework consists of two closed loops of laminated wood, forming arms, legs, and floor runners, between which rides the seat—a thin sheet of plywood tightly bent at both top and bottom into sinuous scrolls, giving it added resiliency. Inspired by the architect and designer Marcel Breuer’s Club Chair of 1927–28, which was made of tubular steel, Aalto chose native birch for its natural feel and insulating properties, and developed a more organic form.
The Paimio Chair, the best-known piece of furniture by Aalto, is named for the town in southwestern Finland for which he designed a tuberculosis sanatorium and all its furnishings. The chair was used in the patients’ lounge; the angle of the back of the armchair was intended to help sitters breathe more easily.
Aalto’s bentwood furniture had a great influence on the American designers Charles and Ray Eames and the Finnish-born Eero Saarinen. In 1935 the company Artek was established in Finland to mass-produce and distribute wood furniture designed by Aalto and his wife, Aino. Most of their designs remain in production.
Publication excerpt from MoMA Highlights: 375 Works from The Museum of Modern Art, New York (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2019)