Hallway ArmchairBy Alvar Aalto
A classic modernist masterpiece conceived by Finnish architects and designers Alvar and Aino Aalto (1898–1976; 1894–1949) in 1932, the Hallway armchair is lightweight, slender and perhaps above all, comfortable. While it has since been coveted by collectors for use in nearly any room in the house, the chair was originally part of the furnishings for the Paimio Sanatorium — a facility that treated tuberculosis patients, tucked away in a dense pine forest in the rural Finnish city of Paimio. The Aaltos secured the commission to design the sanatorium as well as its furniture, washbasins, clocks and more as a result of winning an architecture competition. Like the other designs on the sanatorium grounds, the Hallway chair’s most prominent attributes — its sturdy simplicity and easily stackable frame — represent Alvar Aalto’s pursuit of humanizing objects through the optimization of both form and function.
Although the couple had no previous experience in designing a hospital, the Aaltos were careful to select colors and materials that would play a role in establishing a comforting, healing environment but also serve specific purposes. The Hallway armchair’s frame is made of solid birchwood, a material favored by Finnish designers, and the seat shell is pressed birch veneer finished with clear lacquer. Its lacquer coating was chosen for its hygienic quality, as it could be easily wiped clean — an essential quality in any hospital, but in the case of battling a very contagious respiratory disease, such considerations were critical.
From light fixtures and colors of the balcony rails to the innovative and sculptural Paimio armchair, the Aaltos’ work at the facility aligned with Alvar’s principle of functionalism, which has now come to be known as “organic modernism.” He concerned himself with the relationship between design and the physical and cultural landscape it occupied. The sanatorium’s furniture was warm and unadorned, and the space itself offered a wealth of common areas and welcomed copious sunlight (early TB treatment prioritized fresh air and sunshine).
The Hallway chair was manufactured by Finmar and garnered acclaim and attention around the world, with the Museum of Modern Art featuring it in a show titled “Alvar Aalto: Architecture and Furniture” in 1938.
Alvar Aalto Hallway Armchair
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