Ball Chairs by Eero Aarnio
Finnish pop aesthetic
In front of the glass-enclosed balcony on the first floor are two Ball Chairs by designer Eero Aarnio. The chair is well-known, one of the classics of Finnish design, from 1963. Design scholars consider it one of the most iconic objects of the 1960s, an expression of the new pop aesthetic in design and an emblem of the space age.
Although Aarnio is praised for his space travel aesthetic, futurism was never his intention when designing the Ball Chair.
When Aarnio starts his career as a freelancer in the early 1960s, he is an unknown designer. He dreams of creating a piece of furniture that people will remember. Like many of his time, he has a fascination with fiberglass. This material, invented in 1930, was unaffordable until then due to international patents.
Aarnio is also not the only one who experiments with round shapes in his fiberglass furniture. Take Verner Panton’s Panton Chair, for example – another fiberglass design classic. At that time, however, nobody dared to do what Aarnio did: create a complete sphere of the beloved material to create a chair that resembles an entire room.
The Ball Chair produced by Asko could be special ordered with a telephone installed in it
Aarnio’s goal had always been to design a piece of furniture that would make passersby stop when displayed in a shop window. According to Aarnio, a piece of furniture is the most essential and prominent product of an interior, and a chair is the most challenging and fascinating to design. On January 11, 1963, he draws the first design of the Ball Chair. He knows right away: this is the showstopper he’s looking for.
Aarnio’s original 1963 sketch of the Ball Chair. Photo courtesy of the Design Museum, Helsinki
Making the first prototypes of the chair took quite some effort. Because Aarnio thinks that furniture manufacturers are not interested, he wants to make the prototype himself. He does not have a studio in which he can work. That is why the first chairs are made in a handicraft room at the school where his father-in-law works.
Together with his brother-in-law, Aarnio makes various versions of his design until the final, now so well-known design is in front of them.
Production of the fiberglass shell of the Ball Chair at the Artekno factory in Helsinki. Photo by Colombo-Kokkonen, courtesy of the Design Museum, Helsinki
From patience to success
Several companies are looking at the Ball Chair in subsequent years. Unfortunately, the chair doesn’t turn out to be such a resounding success as Aarnio had hoped. In 1965 he contacts his old employer, Asko, a large and successful company that produces various types of furniture. They are immediately impressed.
The Ball Chair is then exhibited for the first time at the Cologne Furniture Fair in 1966. In the first week, many orders are immediately placed by interested parties worldwide. Finnish newspapers pick up the chair, after which the New York Times also reports on it. Things move quickly after that – within a few years, the Ball Chair has become an international design icon.
Actress Françoise Dorléac sits in an Eero Aarnio Ball Chair in this image promoting the 1967 film Billion Dollar Brain, directed by Ken Russell.
The Philosophy of Eero Aarnio
According to Aarnio, ideas for products arise either purely from dreams and imagination or from the desire to solve a problem or update a new product – depending on whether the goal is purely a work of art or a utility object.
To this day, Aarnio’s personal favorite Ball Chair is one with a white shell and black upholstery. He cherishes the feeling of seams drowning in color, like a magical substance spreading in the chair. Your inner world and thoughts lie in the chair, a cocoon nest that shields you from outside noise.
An iconic photo of Aarnio in a Ball Chair