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Paimio Armchair
Iconic Designs

Paimio Armchair

About the Design

Created in 1932, the Paimio armchair, or Armchair 41, was intended to help people breathe easier. Finnish architect and furniture maker Alvar Aalto (1898–1976) — in collaboration with his first wife, Aino — designed a tuberculosis sanatorium and all of the facility’s furnishings, including the armchair, in the Finnish city of Paimio, after winning the commission in an architecture competition. During the mid-to-late 1920s, Aalto was working with bentwood processes and producing resilient, easily storable furniture that could be tucked away when not in use. His pioneering efforts yielded malleable wood for shaping the material into sculptural furniture — stackable seating defined by sleek curved contours, such as the Stool 60 or the Paimio armchair, a masterpiece for which the Aaltos are widely known.

Paimio Sanatorium was constructed with functionalism in mind. The building and its furnishings were designed to house patients suffering from tuberculosis, a bacterial infection that primarily attacks the lungs. At the time (this was prior to the use of antibiotics), sanatorium staffers were focused on getting the afflicted outside in the sunshine and fresh air. As tuberculosis was considerably contagious and is spread from coughing and sneezing, the surfaces in the Aaltos' building had to be easily disinfected and aired-out. These concerns extended to the design of the Paimio armchair. 

For the chair’s frame, the couple opted to use Finland’s native birchwood, which is strong and inexpensive and felt warmer and more organic than the tubular steel found in similarly shaped pieces, like the Wassily chair designed by Marcel Breuer

The laminated wood loops to form the arms, legs and a pair of flat skids while its sculptural seat and back, built from a single piece of thin plywood, look as if they are suspended and are angled to support ailing sitters in their efforts to breathe. 

An integral part of the revolutionary building, the Aaltos' Paimio armchair earned the couple acclaim as furniture makers. Branded “the first soft wooden chair,” the project inspired countless other designers, among them Eero Saarinen and Charles and Ray Eames, in its simplicity and striking form. Artek, which the Aaltos helped cofound, currently manufactures and distributes Alvar and Aino's wood furniture designs, including many light fixtures and furniture from the Paimio Sanatorium.

Alvar Aalto Paimio Armchair

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Armchair 42 “Little Paimio” Designed by Alvar Aalto, Finland, 1931
By Alvar Aalto
Located in Stockholm, SE
Bent birch and lacquered plywood. Measures: H 63 cm/ 2' 1" W 60 cm/ 1' 11 1/2" D 76 cm/ 2' 6" A very early example, stamped 'AALTO DESIGN MADE IN FINLAND'. Originally crea...
Category

Vintage 1930s Finnish Mid-Century Modern Armchairs

Materials

Birch

Vintage Cantilever Lounge Chair by Alvar Aalto, Model 31, Finland, Designed 30s
By Alvar Aalto
Located in Odense, DK
Rare armchair by Alvar Aalto, model 31 in birch, upholstered in cowskin. The general impression is really good. This armchair is one of several designed by the celebrated archit...
Category

Mid-20th Century Finnish Scandinavian Modern Armchairs

Materials

Cowhide, Birch

Alvar Aalto 31 Lounge Chair for the Paimio Sanitorium, Finland, 1931
By Alvar Aalto
Located in London, GB
Huonekalu-ja Rakennustyötehdas As an architect and designer, Alvar Aalto (1898-1976) should be celebrated for bringing Scandinavian modernism to global prominence. His sensitivity...
Category

Vintage 1930s Finnish Modern Lounge Chairs

Materials

Birch

Alvar Aalto Armchair 41 "Paimio" Produced by Artek, 1963
By Alvar Aalto, Artek
Located in Stockholm, SE
Produced 1963 by Artek, acquired new by previous owner. Designed by Alvar Aalto in 1932, Armchair 41 was created for the interior of a tuberculosis sanatorium in the Finnish city of ...
Category

Vintage 1930s Finnish Scandinavian Modern Armchairs

Materials

Birch

Armchair ‘Little Paimio’ #42 by Alvar Aalto for Artek, Finland, 1930s
By Alvar Aalto
Located in Stockholm, SE
Category

Vintage 1930s Finnish Scandinavian Modern

Materials

Birch, Plywood