design classic: Chair 406 by Alvar Aalto


First produced in 1939, Chair 406 was designed by the Finnish architect Alvar Aalto (1898-1976). 

The frame is in laminated and bent birch with solid birch cross rails. In this example, the webbing is in natural linen but the chair is also made with black linen webbing or with leather strapping. Chair 406 is still in production by Artek although now only available in Finland.


Its form and details come from the honest and straightforward use of laminated or plywood techniques of production so, for instance, the ends of the side pieces are rounded off by sanding because cutting plywood square, as carpenters do with solid timber, can leave splits or tears along the edge of the outer layer of the piece. 


The open shape of the side pieces form a stretched or distorted S shape - so in effect the seat is cantilevered without back legs and means that there is some flexibility or a slight give in the seat and back that makes the sitting position comfortable even if the chair does not have traditional padded upholstery. 


A high back gives good support and the long arms and their relatively low position makes them comfortable as a rest for the elbows if your hands are in your lap - so when reading a book - but also support the under arm if you sit with your arms along the wood with your hands over the end, palm down, and from that position the arms provide perfect support and balance when pushing up or steadying yourself to stand up.


Upper and lower cross rails of the seat and frame in solid birch are tenoned into the side pieces and the lower section of the frame below the seat is thicker to give it strength and make it just slightly more rigid. A middle bar across the back is simply placed across the frame with a lapped or halving joint and drilled and fixed with screws … not the most elegant part of the design but originally this was intended to be a relatively simple and relatively cheap chair.