Self-taught designer and early plastics pioneer, Neal Small (b. 1937) was known as the “Prince of Plastics” in his Chelsea neighbor where he opened up shop in the 1960s.
Before he left plastic industrial design to concentrate on a quiet life in the woods of Maine, Small created a number of innovative and iconic designs, including the “Origami” magazine holder and the Model 5031 acrylic coffee table. The 5031 coffee table, crafted from a single sheet of acrylic, was lauded as one of the purest modern forms of the time. Small still resides in Maine, and if you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of him driving around town in his black Subaru…that just happens to be adorned with black rats. Plastic ones, of course.
Finnish industrial designer, Tapio Wirkkala (1915-1985), was a master in the many mediums he used for his designs in glassware, tableware, cutlery, jewelry, art glass, furniture and more.
An artist and sculptor at heart, Wirkkala’s work took a necessary, practical approach after the war and turned to industrial design. A recluse that preferred the isolation of the woodlands of Lapland, Wirkkala’s main inspiration was nature and the frozen landscape of his homeland. He translated that love of home into some of his most well-known designs such as the iconic Ultima Thule (Ultima Thule is a mythological distant place located beyond the “borders of the known world”) and Aslak (a Finnish boy’s name meaning “supporter of Thorgest,” a 9th century Viking chief) glassware for Iittala.
Wirkkala also created an extensive collection of porcelain and stoneware for Rosenthal Ag starting in 1956, a career which produced eight tableware services and over 200 porcelain decorative objects, and colorful, blown glass for Venini.
And while Wirkkala is known for some of the most beautiful, modernist housewares of the mid-century, he’s also known for many utilitarian masterpieces. A plastic ketchup bottle (Paulig Company), an incandescent light bulb (Airam), the Finnish markka banknotes (1955-1981), and the Finlandia “Frozen Ice” vodka bottle (1970-2000).
A modest man, Wirkkala was “a maestro without a maestro’s affections.”
“… arguably the single greatest omission of design history.” –Nina Stritzler-Levine
Marsio (b. 1894) was a Finnish architect and industrial designer, and the first wife of Alvar Aalto. In 1920, Marsio earned a degree in architecture at Helsingin Suomalainen Tyttökoulu (Helsinki University of Technology), and four years later took an assistant’s position with a young architect by the name of Alvar Aalto. In 1925, Marsio and Aalto married and would begin a collaboration that would influence the design world for many decades to come. In 1935, the Aaltos, along with Maire Gullichsen and Nils-Gustav Hahlin, co-founded Artek Oy, a Finnish design firm with a storefront in a busy shopping district in Helsinki. There, the Aalto’s introduced their Functionalist masterpieces to Finland. In 1936, Aino and Alvar collaborated on a vase that was inspired by the dress of indigenous Lapland women, which was coined the “Savoy Vase” after it was displayed at Restaurant Savoy, a tony restaurant in Helsinki designed by the Aalto’s firm. The Savoy vase design won a competition by Karhula/Iittala and was subsequently shown at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris. That accolade, however, went to Alvar alone. And again, in 1939, Alvar won 1st prize for Aino’s Finnish pavilion design at the New York World’s Fair. But one of Aino’s must enduring contributions may be her simple, but iconic Functionalist pressed glassware for Iittala. Designed in 1932, it was inspired by the ripples that form on the surface when a stone is thrown into the water. While Aino Aalto’s contributions to the Artek legacy may never be fully know, her talents are unmistakable and the ripple effect created by her known classic designs has lasted for nearly a century. Aino Marsio-Aalto died in Helsinki in 1949.
Dieter Rams (b. 1932) is a functionalist German industrial designer known for his work with Braun and Vitsoe.
In 1947, having recognized Dieter’s talent his father enrolled his 15-year-old son in Wiesbaden School of Art to study architecture and interior design. After two years, Rams left the school to take a three-year carpentry apprenticeship after which he returned to the school and completed his degree with honors in 1953.
During his absence, the school took a decided turn toward modernism. It was then that Rams was introduced to German modernism and the Ulm School of Design. After graduating, he worked with Otto Apel’s architecture firm and was further exposed to modernism through the firm’s association with modernist colleagues in America. These brushes with modernism would prove fateful two years later when Rams accepted an in-house architect and interior design position with Braun to design new office space for the company.
Rams went to work planning a new space that included a wall-mounted shelving system. With this design, his collaboration with Vitsoe was born. With the approval of Edwin Braun, Rams took the idea to Vitsoe. One year later, the Vitsoe 606 Universal Shelving System was launched.
In the early 1960s, Rams used his architecture background and began work on a planned community in Kronberg for Braun employees. “Roter Hang” is a community of grouped and terraced bungalows that line a sloped hillside. There can be found his only fully-realized architectural design;his L-shaped dopplebungalow. Although Braun delayed the project, it was eventually completed by Rudolf Kramer in 1974. The community, as well as Dieter Rams’s personal home, which is a testament to his personal credo of “less for more,” due to its modest footprint and sparse decoration, have been granted protected status and designated a cultural monument.
Rams is known for his “10 Principles of Good Design,” one of which is “environmentally friendly.” In a 1976 speech, Rams said, “there is an increasing and irreversible shortage of natural resources.” He has long believed we must “move away from the throwaway habit” and “[that] it will be less important to have many things and more important to exercise care about where and how we live.” Dieter Rams products fully embody his 10th principle – simplicity and purity.
Dieter Rams retired from Braun in 1995, but continues to work for Vitsoe. He and his wife still live in the Roter Hang bungalow in Kronberg.
“Question everything generally thought to be obvious.”
― Dieter Rams