The breakthrough for Eero Aarnio did not come overnight, but three years after he finished the design for his ball-shaped chair, the piece was shown at the International Furniture Fair in Cologne in 1966 – and the Ball Chair was a sensation!
Earth is a sphere
The design was first put into production by Finnish furniture company Osko in 1966, which cautiously first produced only 100 pieces for the brand’s stand at the Cologne Furniture Fair. The technical director told “if we sell even one of these, I’ll eat my hat”, but during the first week, they sold to over 30 countries. And over the next years thousands across the globe, quickly becoming an internationally recognized symbol of 1960s style.
“if we sell even one of these, I’ll eat my hat“,
Aarnio’s design with an organic and playful form was like an echo of the pop culture and the spirit of the Swinging Sixties, also well known as the time of colorful pop art and contemporaries like Andy Warhol or Roy Lichtenstein. It is interesting that such furniture came not from London or Italy but from Finland. It may be because the pop euphoria in Finland was particularly great.
The “Ball Chair” is both simple and unconventional at the same time, irrational and rational in an almost schizophrenic way. Like a futuristic space capsule, the large fiberglass globe rests on an iron base and surrounds the person sitting in there like in a pleasantly rounded, cheerful soap bubble. The “Ball chair” creates a “room in the room”, it protects against the noises of the environment and offers a peaceful, relaxing and undisturbed area. The unfamiliar use of plastic marked the simple Scandinavian style of the 1950s and 1960s. At the beginning of the 1970s, the production was stopped for a short time. With the oil crisis came doubts about polyester and polyethylene as materials.
But with the Sixties Revival at the end of the 20th century, the “Ball chair” and “Bubble Chair” were reborn.
The “Bubble Chair” has always been the future
That’s why it quickly became very popular and appeared not only in 60s living rooms but also in science fiction films.
Agents in thrillers put themselves in the Ball Chair and the Bubble Chair in the following decades as well as naked and half-naked magazine beauties.
Although the pop culture is sometimes viewed as being trivial, according to many design critics, it was the last sweeping style direction. The last big attempt of furnishing the living rooms with social visions. The best example is Aarnio’s BallChair: The sphere was regarded at that time as the form of something great, like an astronaut capsule, the satellite Sputnik or the helmets of the Apollo astronauts. While sitting in Aarnio’s round chairs, people seemed to recognize how people will live in the future. In spheres, balls, bubbles and open spaces. Anyone sitting in the Ball Chair seemed to sit in the cockpit of a time machine. And who would not? Even Finnish President Urho Kekkonen took a photo sitting in the famous Ball Chair with ballet shoes on his feet. He said the shoes were his “slippers”, a very special present he got from his granddaughter.
Even Finnish President Urho Kekkonen took a photo sitting in the famous Ball Chair with ballet shoes on his feet. He said the shoes were his “slippers”, a very special present he got from his granddaughter.
The first article ever written on the Ball chair defined it as “the most exciting chair in the world”. In the decades since then, Eero’s Ball Chair was featured on the covers of many great magazines. Many astonishing people have sat in his chairs over the decades, from heads of states to Bond villains. Many movie sets and photo shoots have taken his chairs to all kinds of faraway places, here are some of the best…
“the most exciting chair in the world”
In the 70s, there was a brief sell-down because of the oil crisis. However, the “Ball chair“ and the transparent hanging version- the “Bubble chair” – have returned. They are still the future or, better said, again.
Design? A children’s game!
When Aarnio talks about making furniture, it sounds as if he had never thought much about it. Eero actually designed the first “Ball Chair “during the weekend in some school building, with the help of a plywood construction, with a lot of toilet paper and glue, because he thought- no furniture factory will ever accept to produce such a piece of furniture. He feels rather flattered than offended when someone calls him a “craftsman”. Perhaps Eero Aarnio is not so much a designer, but a plastic sculptor. A man with grounded visions. A design icon and plastic joiner with pop-vision.
These are the opposites that make his designs so popular. He communicates between the working world on the one hand and fun and games on the other. His round chairs, Ball and Bubble, are sterile, stern, but somehow comfortable. They force the people into a relaxed attitude.
After the “Ball Chair”, Aarnio had designed “Bubble”, the transparent, round chair which is hanging from the ceiling.
The idea of a transparent hanging ball chair
When you sit in the Ball Chair, it is dark and you feel like being cut off from the outside world. Aarnio himself says he wanted to cut a window into the chair to let light in – a stupid idea. Then he thought of building a chair of the same form and size as the ball chair, but from the transparent acrylic material. However, with this material, it is not possible to fix the foot, since it is very thin. So he came up with the idea to hang the chair. Initially, Bubble chair was still made of two parts, which were sewn together in the middle. But that did not look really good. Then he thought, why not to “blow” the chair
“I had the idea of a transparent sphere, where light could come in from all directions. Acrylics could be heated and blown like a soap bubble, and I knew that dome-shaped skylights were made like this. I got in touch with a manufacturer and asked if it would be technically possible to blow a bubble large enough for my chair and they said “yes”.
Bubble Chair is Sexy
The Bubble Chair It is settled somewhere between furniture and architecture, embodies mobility and settledness at the same time.
The three reasons made the Buble Chair well known: The Playboy Magazine featured the nude Carmen Electra in its millennium edition, Vanity Fair showed Donatella Versace, and the German men’s magazine Maxim showed the half-naked Gina Wild – in a Bubble Chair.
Thanks to the Playboy magazine, which featured the Bubble Chair three times on the cover, the Bubble Chair in the USA is the best-selling chair by Aarnio Eero. And, of course, there was always a naked woman in it.
“I do not know why the women in my furniture are always undressing.”
Even a scientific article on the gender-specific dynamics of Eero Aarnio’s furniture could not answer this question conclusively – there is speculation, that the Aarnios pill-shaped seats should be judged in the context of the sexual liberation of women through the birth control pills. The Creator does not quite understand all this. When asked how he had come to this form, he says “round is most beautiful.”
Eero Aarnio’s time: the time of great optimism
Before Aarnio, design furniture had been expensive and elitist. With his spheric chair’s design, the style furniture became affordable. His style was a generational breaker: When fathers visited their sons in their new apartments, they stood around, because they thought they could not find a chair. Finally, Aarnio’s futuristic seatings were not easy to recognize as such.
“A chair is a chair is a chair, but a seat does not have to be a chair.”
The objects seemed to stay around in the apartment, as casual as their owners. The only attitude they allowed was to relax. Anyone who is sitting in a Ball or Bubble Chair of Aarnio will immediately feel the need to talk about light, pleasant things. While working on his furniture Aarnio was thinking about a car.
“I wanted you to sit in my chairs like in a Porsche”
About Designer Aarnio Eero
Eero Aarnio was born in Finland in 1932. From 1954 to 1957 he studied at the “Istituto Delle Arti Industriali” in Helsinki and later, he worked as a freelancer in industrial and interior design. In 1962 he grounded his own design studio. The Aarnio Eero’s maxim was “Earth is a sphere”, and he designed his products smooth and round, without rough edges. His art design is well known amongst the most famous and trendy furniture designs. His Ball and Bubble chairs are a cult products of the 1960’s and a true icon of Finnish design.
Aged 83, Professor and interior architect Eero Aarnio has had an exceptionally long career and is one of the internationally most widely known names in the history of modern design in Finland. Like no other material before in the 60s, plastic changed the furniture design enormously. Eero Aarnio was one of the first Finnish designers that worked with synthetic materials, such as fiberglass, plexiglass, and plastics. His Ball Chair, a seat ball made of fiberglass with a round opening and a cushioned interior, was that he created in 1963. The hanging transparent version “Bubble Chair” cames to the world afterward. Aarnio Eero won the American Industrial Design Award in 1968 for his Pastilli Chair.
Aarnio’s work is displayed in the collections of the world’s leading museums and continues to appear in numerous international films, music videos and fashion catalogues , his creations can be seen in museums, like, for example, in the Museum of Modern Art (MoMa) in New York, in the Victoria & Albert Museum in London and in the Centre Pompidou in Paris.
In April 2016 Eero Aarnio exhibition was open at Design Museum Helsinki. It presents Aarnio’s dynamic personality and the colorful stages of his life with photographs, personalia, early experiments in design and films.
His Ups and Downs
Eero Aarnio‘ furniture marked the 60s, but while other pop artists lived their bohemian life, the Finn remains grounded. He met his wife Pirkko when he was a student. They get two daughters, live as a brave small family. The great success with Ball Chair will only last until 1973. Then the Opec states are throttling the production of oil, the price of petroleum is rising – and with them the prices for the plastics made from petroleum. Plastic furniture becomes more expensive. The pop art disappears from the museums.
Eero Aarnio continues his work but without luck. Many of its prototypes do not go in. Soon the company that produced his furniture takes e plastic icons out of the program. Aarnio has to leave the house, which he have built in the best location in Helsinki. The couple Aarnio makes ends meet only because his wife Pirkko earns money as a puppeteer in Finnish children’s television.
Why success reappears?!
Perhaps it was the retro wave that gave him boost.
Perhaps new urban generations want to experience the optimism they know only from their parents’ stories. To have plastic instead of eco jute.
Perhaps the internet helped him.
Perhaps the breasts of Carmen Electra helped him in Playboy.
“Why is that important?” He asks.
Ball Chair and Bubble Chair were reborn.
They are still the future or, better said, they are future again.
Find Out More
To Experience more from Aarnio Eero, we recommend visiting some of this museums or reding one of the books.
Represented in Museums
- Museum of Modern Art, MoMA, New York, USA
- Victoria and Albert Museum, London, Great Britain
- Design Museum, Helsinki, Finland
- Vitra Design Museum, Weil am Rhein, Germany
- Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris, France
- Musée des arts décoratifs de Montreal, Canada
- Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam, Netherlands
- Die Neue Sammlung, München, Germany
- Galerie für Avantgarde Kunst, Cologne, Germany
- Galerie für Zeitgenössische Kunst, Leipzig, Germany
- Kunsthal Rotterdam, Netherlands
- Kunstmuseum Düsseldorf im Ehrenhof, Germany
- Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe, Hamburg, Germany
- Brooklyn Museum, New York, USA
- Liliane and David M. Stewart Collection, Le Musée du Chateau Dufresne, Montreal, Canada
- Los Angeles County Museum of Art, USA
- Toledo Museum of Art, USA
- Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, USA
- Baltimore Museum of Art, USA
- Bauhaus Museum, Sydney, Australia
- San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMoMa), San Francisco
- Veletrzni Palace ( Praque Museum of Modern Art ), Praque
Books of Eero Aarnio
- That´s it. Vestígio, Consultores de Design, Portugal 2001
- Eero Aarnio. Fang Hai. China Architecture & Building Press 2002
- Assume a round chair–Eero Aarnio and the 60´s. Kunsthalle Helsinki, University of Art and Design, Helsinki 2003
- Eero Aarnio. Fang Hai. Southeast University Press, China 2003
- Eero Aarnio, Kaj Frank Design Prize. Design Forum Finland 2008.
- I Protagonisti del Design/Eero Aarnio. Hachette, Italy 2011
- A = 4 π r2 Eero Aarnio. Design Forum, Finland 2014
- Eero Aarnio-Värin ja ilon muotoilija. (Eero Aarnio-Designer of Colour and Joy). WSOY, Finland 2016.