Alvar Aalto and the eight-legged stool




Alvar Aalto and the eight-legged stool
Alvar Aalto and the eight-legged stool
Alvar Aalto and the eight-legged stool


Text by:
Margriet Craens

Commissioned by:
Kinder Modern New York

wood & octopus ink




3th Lucas Maassen & Sons project. This time we try to find our context in objects and projects we get inspired by. While diving in design history we found out that it is actually kind of boring.... specially for a 10 year old. So we attempt to re-write history in a more exiting way but without messing with the essence of it.

 For example the three-legged Alvar Aalto stool:



Alvar Aalto seemed like a man possessed, the way he was frantically working in his studio today. He was alternately drawing, calculating, sawing, sanding and polishing. Aalto had returned from a trip to the Mediterranean with his head full of ideas. The Mediterranean was his favorite travel destination; ever since he and his wife had spent their honeymoon there, they returned at least once a year. 

This time he had been completely intrigued by the octopus. The animal had become an inspiration for his latest design: an eight-legged children’s stool. Aalto was fairly sure that nothing of the sort had ever been designed before. Personally, he thought it was an incredibly fresh and solid idea – and functional at that: all those legs would provide ultimate stability for a little child. Perhaps the stool no longer looked like an octopus but it retained its organic appearance. And he had another ace up his sleeve: he would paint the seat with the ink from an actual octopus!

Fear of decaying ink was not the only reason that Aalto had been working feverishly. In his excitement he had made a phone call to the furniture factory to announce that he had designed a fantastic new stool. Tomorrow, the director would come to see if he wanted to produce it. 

Aalto had just finished polishing the eighth leg when his wife called him for dinner. Nothing to his wife’s detriment –no doubt she possessed other qualities – but the smells coming from the kitchen were nowhere near the aromas from the steaming dishes he had been served during their holidays. He took a last look at his workshop. The stool was all but finished. The only thing left to do tomorrow morning was to assemble the eight legs – already neatly arranged with the corresponding screws laid out – to the seat. True: he had always loved simplicity and orderliness, but he had never been this well prepared before.

After consuming some unidentifiable stew, Aalto was suddenly overcome with fatigue. He closed his eyes and fell asleep, just like that, sitting at the dinner table. His three children had no idea what was happening. They called him and tapped him on the back but their father wouldn’t wake up. Obviously, he wasn’t going to fulfill his promise to take them fishing tonight.

Aalto’s only daughter, the middle child and the cheekiest of the bunch, was upset – but she had a plan. In school she had seen a boy playing with a rubber band gun, made of a small planch with a clothespin attached. That might serve to shoot her father and wake him up. She took a clothespin from the line and a rubber band from the desk, and she pinched a planch form the workshop. There were so many planches, surely her father wouldn’t miss this one. Before she had a chance to fire the gun however, her mother caught her and sent her to her room. 
The eldest had been disappointed. He had declined a roller skate party for nothing. The worst part was that he hadn’t arranged for a pair of roller skates. “Why don’t you just take you skateboard?” his mother said. She was clueless, as usual. It did give him an idea though: why not make the skates himself? After all, he was twelve years old and quite handy.

In his father’s workshop he found seven curved planches in a row. Perfect! Surely his dad wouldn’t mind if he borrowed two. He mounted skateboard wheels to the planches. He made toe stoppers from an old tennis ball he found lying around by cutting it in two halves that he attached under the bent ends of the planches. Then he took of his sneakers and fastened them to the planches with a few screws that went through the soles into the wood. 

If he took one more planch to make a hockey stick, his father would still be left with four. That should be just enough for a stool, the project he suspected his father to be working on. He taped the planch to a longer stick and proudly looked at the result. Now he could go to the party after all!

Meanwhile, mother had reluctantly set herself to do the dishes. She sighed and looked at her youngest son, who was left alone at the table with his sleeping father. Such a shame: he had been so much looking forward to go fishing. She walked to the workshop and picked up the first planch she saw that had a hole in it – she knew nothing about wood. From her sewing kit she took a length of thread, which she tied through the hole in the planch. To the other end of the thread she tied a crooked needle, to which she hooked a piece of bread. She gave it to the youngest with a thermos flask of tea. Now he could go fishing in the pond in the garden, with his own tackle.

Aalto didn’t lift his sleepy head from the table until the next morning. He was still sitting there, no one had been able to wake him up. He hurried to his workshop.

There he found five of the eight planches missing! He paced up and down. He was in such a panic that he was unable to think about how and why the pieces had disappeared. At his wits’ end, he screwed the remaining three legs under the seat. What should he say to the director? He could hardly come up with a story of an amputated octopus, could he? 

An impressive figure appeared behind the glass of the door. Aalto opened nervously but even before he had a chance to speak, the director barked: “Brilliant! Three legs instead of four! Minimalism is all the vogue. Do you know what they say in England these days? Less is more! And it actually saves me a lot of material costs!” He slapped Aalto on the shoulder. The designer was completely lost for words. The only thing he managed to say while pointing at the seat was: “octopus ink”. The director looked at him with big eyes: “And sustainable too? Aalto, dear fellow, this is going to be such a trendsetter!” 

He turned out to be right, the stool was a hit. Aalto became famous for a design he had never intended. He didn’t dare to make the eight-legged stool until several years later. When he showed it to the director of the furniture factory, it made him roar with laughter. 

(Story by Margriet Craens)