It’s a meeting of the minds almost a century in the making. Oct. 19, 2018, Finnish furniture company Artek and ceramic tile manufacturer Heath released their The Artek + Heath Collection. Combining colors and glazes inspired by vintage tile installations in Heath’s Sausalito, CA, factory and Alvar Aalto’s Stool 60 and Tea Trolley 900 in Artek’s archives, the result is a collection of iconic designs with authentic Mid-Century Modern furniture flair.
Blending of Kindred Spirits
Founded in 1935 by Alvar and Aino Aalto, Maire Gullichsen and Nils-Gustav Hahl, Artek has maintained a mission of “sell[ing] furniture and promot[ing] a modern culture of living, by exhibitions and other educational means” since the beginning, according to their website. With manufacturing just outside of Turku, Finland, the brand’s minimalistic aesthetic utilizes simple forms of bent blond wood.
Similarly, Heath was started by Edith and Brian Heath in 1948. The California-based company began as a small-scale pottery shop with the intention of creating goods that maintained the highest level of integrity matched with timeless design.
Together, the collaboration between the two Mid-Cenury brands is a celebration of ingenuity of design mixed with vintage patterns and colors which still strike a chord with people today.
The Tea Trolley 900
Designed in 1937 and inspired by British tea culture mixed with Japanese woodwork—both of which the Aaltos were acquainted through their travels and popular design aesthetics at the time—the Tea Trolley 900 features a bent wood frame, rattan basket and ceramic tile tray top.
For the collaboration, Heath designed six unique tiles inspired by its vintage collections and the glaze experiments created in its Heath Clay Studio:
- Deep Sea: Utilizing a glaze technique used on tile and vases, Heath layers two glazes to create shade and texture.
- Universe: Developed in 2016 by Tung Chiang, Heath Ceramics studio director, and Winnie Crittenden, Heath master glazer, glaze is sprayed onto plastic sheeting to create organic beads. These beads are then transferred to the tile using various pressures.
- Landscape: Inspired by a vintage Heath tile relaying the landscape of the West, freehand glazing creates a combination of crisp and soft lines in a warm color pallet.
- Maze and Orbit: Created through the vintage technique of applying glaze with a squeeze bottle while the tiles are on a spinning wheel, Maze’s bows are precise and geometric, while Orbit displays a more blurred pattern.
- Penumbra: Glaze is poured onto tile in a technique Heath uses when creating color swatches, resulting in beautiful geometric patterns.
Because the glaze is applied by hand, each is unique and created as part of a limited edition of six pieces maximum for their six tile designs.
The Stool 60
The Stool 60, designed in 1933, is a multi-use piece, usable as a seat, table, storage unit or display surface. The legs of solid bent wood and simple top allow for the stool to be stacked one upon the other.
In the Artek + Heath collaboration, an additional element is in the fact that leg heights come in 17.32-inch, 14.56-inch and 11.81-inch.
Two color options are available, both inspired by Heath’s Coupe dinnerware glazes, Custom and Universe.
The Custom collection comes in three colors: Rosemary (green), Pumpkin (orange) and Moonstone (blue).
Teaming with House Industries, the Universe glazes are individually silkscreened, evoking the colors and patterns of space.
The Meeting that Never Was
In celebration of the Artek + Heath Collection, the Archers, a multidisciplinary design firm, were commissioned to create an installation for the Vitra showroom in New York City which was called Take Five.
The multidisciplinary firm imagined what a meeting between Edith Heath and Alvar Aalto would look like if they had met in the 1960s—the prime of their creative endeavors. Although the designers never met, their aesthetics and sensibilities during the height of Mid-Century Modernism could have easily translated into a collaboration such as the one occurring today, nearly 60 years later.
The showroom was designed to appear as if it were a hotel conference room and lounge just moments after Heath and Aalto have left the room, the product of their collaboration—the Artek + Heath Tea Trolley 900—rotating on a display stand.
The installation, which closed Dec. 1, brought the design thinking behind both brands to the forefront, celebrating the collaboration while honoring the brands’ founders.
“From what we know about Edith’s tough spirit, meeting Alvar Aalto would have excited her,” said Chiang, “and very likely, the reciprocal is true. Both were of the Bauhaus movement, passionate about local materials, and becoming absolute experts in clay and wood, respectively—pioneering techniques that brought to life colorful, resourceful and ever-lasting designs.”
Marianne Goebl, managing director of Artek, added, “If Edith Heath and Alvar Aalto had ever met in person, something truly powerful could have developed. The Archers’ installation brings to life the setting of Edith’s and Alvar’s possible encounter, unveiling what happened, when Artek and Heath actually collaborated this year: a beautiful collection built upon our founders’ unique approaches to design and craftsmanship.”