Ilmari Tapiovaara

llmari Tapiovaara (1914 - 1999) was one of the greatest interior architects and designers of his era. Uniting imagination and craftsmanship, Tapiovaara continually sought to refine and improve everyday objects and his long career produced some of Finland's most iconic and enduring designs.

Ilmari Tapiovaara studied interior architecture at the furniture design department of the Central School of Applied Arts in Helsinki, graduating in 1937. On graduating he worked as an assistant for six months at Le Corbusier’s Paris studio. Returning to Finland in 1938, Tapiovaara was employed as artistic director and designer at Asko Oy, the largest furniture manufacturer in Finland. He then worked as artistic and commercial director for the furniture company Keravan Puuteollisuus Oy.

In 1946–47 Tapiovaara worked alongside his wife, Annikki Tapiovaara, to design furniture for Domus Academica, the new student housing facility in Helsinki. One of the designs produced for this project was the Domus Stacking Chair which quickly attained the status of a modern classic. Tapiovaara was a great admirer of Alvar Aalto’s work and his designs were rooted in the same principles of social equality and functionalism.

In addition to dozens of chairs and other furniture, mostly intended for public spaces, Tapiovaara also designed interiors for many banks, offices, hotels and showrooms from the 1940s onwards. In 1952–53 he was employed as a professor at the school of design of the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago, and he also worked for a while in the office of Mies van der Rohe.

In the late 1950s, he travelled to Paraguay, where he designed furniture on behalf of the UN development programme, and in the mid-1970s he worked in Mauritius in a similar project. He also worked in an expert capacity in Yugoslavia, participating in the development of a centre for furniture and joinery industry. 

Ilmari Tapiovaara was awarded a total of six gold medals at the Milan Triennials in 1951, 1954, 1957, 1960 and 1964. He was awarded the Good Design Award in Chicago in 1951, the Pro Finlandia medal in 1959, the Finnish State Design Prize in 1971 and the Furniture Prize of the SIO Interior Architects’ Association of Finland in 1990.

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