Since it was founded by Alvar Aalto in 1935, Artek has made bentwood chairs and three-legged stools so sturdy they typically outlast their first buyer, taking on a charming patina of nicks and scratches as they age.
For its new project, 2nd Cycle, Artek is reclaiming those weathered pieces. The company has scoured shipyards and rummage sales throughout the world, pulling tattered chairs and stools out of retirement in attics and warehouses. Once safely back in Arteks workshop, the furniture receives a quick makeover (no major surgery; just a new leg or screw here and there) and is fitted with RFIDs, the microchips that are more often used for such mundane purposes as tracking inventory at Wal-Mart.
The RFIDs keep a record of each seats provenance. A collector who purchases one of the specimens at a special exhibition200 are currently for sale at Londons Dover Street Marketcan point a mobile phone at the piece and be linked to a website with detailed information about its journey, then add his or her own part of the tale. (Eventually, all new Artek pieces will come with RFIDs, to certify authenticity and track their future movements.) One current story tells of how a leather-upholstered stool, recovered from a Helsinki flea market, spent most of its life in the barracks of a construction site, its seat emerging pocked and paint-splashed. Considering the cost of leather in the 1960s, though, Arteks specialists presume it belonged to someone in charge, like an engineer or inspecting architect.
For Arteks creative director, Tom Dixon, 2nd Cycle is about celebrating the brands heritage. Since Artek furniture has always lasted for generations, it has the unintended consequence of being environmentally responsible. I dont think Aalto consciously set out to create a sustainable company, says Dixon. It just happened naturally. We are close to the source of our materials, and we make things with longevity that are anti-fashion in a way that makes them timeless.
2nd Cycles rescue effort, though, is far more likely to thwart the efforts of antique dealers than to save the earth; with todays appreciation for mid-century icons, its hard to imagine one of Arteks archetypal stools or schoolhouse chairs ending up as landfill. But Dixons aims, at least, are noble: Were ready to start taking responsibility for what happens to our products after they leave us, he says. genevieve roth