Eero Aarnio's Ball Chair
The Ball Chair is probably the best-known work by the innovative Finnish designer Eero Aarnio. Designed in 1963, this iconic chair features a truly futuristic look, based on simple and minimalistic geometric design which ensured its place on the sets of many Science Fiction movies of the 1960s.
In 1962, Eero quit his job at the Finnish design company Asko and started his freelancing career. After moving to a new house with his wife, he noticed that they did not have a suitable big chair, so he decided to design one himself.
The Design Process
Instead of designing a traditional armchair, Aarnio decided to do something completely new. Bored with traditional materials like wood, he decided to use the potential of modern materials like plastic or fiberglass to create a simple, modern and rather unconventional design. After further simplifying his early drawings, Aarnio noticed that his design has become, as he said, “merely a ball”.
Eero’s design was, at the time, a radical innovation in furniture design and something which was never done before, so he had to reinvent the designing process. To ensure that the chair is comfortable, he pinned the full scale drawing on a wall and sat in front of it in a regular chair, while his wife drew the course of his head on the wall. That’s how he determined the height of the chair and, being a sphere, the other lines were easy to deduce.
At the time it was first designed, the Ball Chair was something completely new both in terms of design and materials used. While most of the designers still mostly used wood and other “noble” materials, Aarnio made his chair out of fiberglass, with upholstered seat placed inside the spherical shell. The combination of shape and materials amplifies the voice of the person sitting in the chair, while the sounds coming from the outside are muffled.
The Ball Chair went into production in 1965 and was available in white, black, red and orange colours. The following year, six chairs were ordered for the Cologne Furniture Fair, and while many thought that none of them would actually be sold, it proved to be a huge success. In just one week, the chair was ordered from over 30 different countries and the success earned Eero Aarnio reputation of a world-renowned designer.
The Legacy of the Ball Chair
The Ball Chair went on to become one of the international fashion icons of the 1960s. Many have argued that the optimistic spirit of the era that preceded the 1970s oil crisis is epitomized in this classic piece of modern furniture. The German newspaper Die Zeit wrote that Aarnio’s work reflects a “naive belief in progress”, while the notable German Vitra Design Museum has called the Ball Chair a “symbol of the optimistic and consumer-centric 1960s”. The museum argued that Ball Chair is part design, part architecture.
In The Washington Post, the Ball Chair was described as the prime example of Eero Aarnio’s timeless style which manages to retain its success and popularity through the decades, even though the world faced many crises since the optimistic Swinging Sixties. With its modern and unconventional look, the Ball Chair became an integral part of popular culture that was seen countless time both on TV and in the cinema. Tim Burton’s Mars Attacks, Men in Black II and even Vivienne Westwood’s fashion shows all featured this classic of industrial design. As the Spiegel magazine notes, Eero Aarnio’s Ball Chair has accommodated both supermodels and secret agents throughout the years and is still a recognizable piece of designer furniture today.
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