Northern Renaissance

Finland and Italy both have a strong tradition of manufacturing wood furniture. Harri Koskinen’s Muu collection of tables and chairs for Montina marries Scandinavian aesthetics and Italian technique. Working with a typology perfected by Alvar Aalto in the 1930s, the young Finnish designer has reduced the wood chair with sled legs to what must be its most elemental form, topping a slender frame with a slice of plywood, both in oak rather than Finnish birch. The armchair seat’s upholstery is equally pared down—just a sheet of leather or felt affixed directly to the wood. This September the elegant collection won the prestigious Compasso d’Oro prize, awarded by the Italian industrial design association ADI.

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In 2000 I happened to meet Marco Romanelli in Venice. He was formerly the editor of Domus magazine; now he’s the artistic director of Montina and O-luce. He invited me to propose something to Montina. I presented two concepts: one was Muu, a collection with many pieces; the other has not yet been realized.

I proposed those first sketches in spring 2001. I got a note from Marco Romanelli saying, “Your proposal was quite okay, but Montina might not need this type of furniture at the moment.” For more than a year I didn’t have any idea if we were going to do anything. Then in August or September 2002 I got a message from Montina saying they had done a prototype.

The first item I designed for the collection was the dining chair, which has no armrests. Next was the lounge chair, with or without armrests, which has an optional leather covering. Last year we also made a small round dining table and a small square coffee table that works as a bench as well.

Every year the Salone del Mobile is full of chairs, so I think it’s challenging to do another one. I was quite happy to play with very basic elements and solutions. I knew the Montina line quite well, and though their collection is interesting and varied, in my opinion they were missing the basics.

The product didn’t change much from the original proposal. Of course the details—the joints, and maybe the scale—changed a little bit, but the idea behind the collection is really as I meant it to be. Some ergonomic details needed refining. For example, the height of the backrest was too short. We made slight changes, but none aesthetic. It’s rare that designs don’t change at all.

I had thought that we would have a mold-pressed frame finished with veneer, but the structure is done in solid wood, which Montina specializes in. That was a big surprise for me, but it was a nice way to do it. If this collection had been made in Finland, it would have had mold-pressed legs.

Because Muu won the Compasso d’Oro, we will do some new elements for this series. We have talked about doing a bigger rectangular dining table that would seat eight people, which should be realized this spring.

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