Artek – Art & Technology Since 1935

Artek is a sales and propaganda center for the new housing ideology.

– Nils-Gustav Hahl, 1935

Artek was founded in 1935 by four young idealists: Alvar and Aino Aalto, Maire Gullichsen, and Nils-Gustav Hahl. The business strategy of the company was “to sell furniture and to promote a modern culture of living by exhibitions and other educational means”. The founders of Artek advocated a new kind of environment for everyday life. They believed in a grand synthesis of the arts and wanted to make a difference in architecture and design as well as in town planning.

Today Artek is renowned as being one of the most innovative contributors to modern design, creating new paths at the intersection of design, architecture and art. The Artek collection comprises furniture, lighting and accessories by the Nordic masters Alvar Aalto, Ilmari Tapiovaara, Tapio Wirkkala, Eero Aarnio and Yrjö Kukkapuro. Artek also works with leading international architects, designers and artists, such as Shigeru Ban, Konstantin Grcic, Hella Jongerius, Harri Koskinen, Enzo Mari and Tobias Rehberger. 

Artek’s collection is based on the original idea of standards and systems, initiated by Alvar Aalto’s bent wood experiments that resulted in the L-leg system. The L-leg, a solid wood leg with a laminated part bent at 90°, was patented in 1933 and quickly became a standard component of Aalto’s furniture designs. The standard and system thinking makes the furniture range versatile and allows it to be customised for individual projects. Artek’s furniture can be found in various types of spaces: public areas, private homes, museums, schools, restaurants, hotels and offices.

Artek’s headquarter is in Helsinki, Finland, where Artek also has a flagship store in middle of the town. International offices are located in New York, Tokyo, Stockholm and Berlin, where the international marketing team is based.

ARTEK’s Visionary Founders

Alvar Aalto was a highly talented architect and an eager spokesman for the international modernist movement, which he used as an inspiration to create his own unique style. Aalto was innovative and radical and became known for his experimental approach to bending wood. His style became known as human modernism. Alvar Aalto’s dialogue with nature, architecture, design and the human being has become a living legacy.

Aino Aalto was a down-to-earth rationalist with a strong sense of style, colour and a sharp eye for quality. Aino’s straightforward approach and interest in “simplifying the everyday life” helped to keep Alvar’s sometimes high-flying plans in touch with reality. Aino had a strong, independent input for Artek: she designed some of the classics that are still in production today and also held the role of Managing Director.

Nils-Gustav Hahl, an art-historian and a writer, played a crucial role in the history of Artek, as it was he who brought Maire Gullichsen and the Aaltos together. Hahl was a polyglot cosmopolitan with an extensive international network. Hahl was very active in the art circles and he was genuinely interested in trends regarding art, technology and the new social awakening. Hahl became the first Managing Director of Artek.

Maire Gullichsen, an art lover trained in Paris, was an early believer in Aalto’s talent. Maire Gullichsen became friends with a core group of young artists and intellectuals in the early 1930’s Helsinki who were all firm defenders of modernism. She rapidly assimilated the new ideas and began improving the world with the help of art. From the very beginning, Artek has been strongly involved in cultural life. Under Maire’s direction, Artek organised many exhibitions by world famous artists such as Picasso, Léger and Calder.

The worldview of Artek has been moulded by strong and talented people whose ideologies and radicalism is today more vibrant than ever. The founders created an accessible, humane and at the time very experimental style in modern interior decoration, much of its inspiration stemming from nature. The experience accumulated over 75 years and the continuity of traditional methods of production ensures that Aalto products will age in style and last from one generation to the next.

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