Finnish-American furniture, crafted in creative union, by two iconic designer-makers: Artek + Heath — kindred companies with over 150 years of design and manufacturing experience between them.
What does this Limited Edition Collection include?
The Artek + Heath Collection includes our take on Artek classics: the Tea Trolley 900 with custom glazed tiles. Alvar Aalto’s Stool 60 with silkscreened Universe top, each one-of-a-kind. The Universe Platter as a complement. And, the Stool 60 transformed into a three-piece nesting set with varied heights for varied functions.
How did this partnership come about?
Our collaborations often come in unusual, yet intentional ways. Working with people we admire leads us to more people we admire — always.
Tung, our Clay Studio Director, has an obsession with designs that move seamlessly between museum and household and, not surprisingly, Alvar Aalto* designed many of his pieces just like this. A chance introduction in New York City brought Cathy, Robin, and Tung of Heath to Marianne, Cliff, and Adrian of Artek. The spark ignited, inciting plans for country and factory visits, and a connection was formed on a very human level. We knew we wanted to work together on a greater scale— both companies share transparent and honest production, bringing the handmade and the machine-made together, revealing natural, exciting intersections to build upon. From there, ideas unfolded effortlessly.
*Tung’s dog is named Aalto :)
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What defines collaboration, in this case?
Design is an experience best had in person (our opinion, of course). The internet, Cloud, and email are aids, not substitutes for the real and important interaction between humans, hands, and places. This concept defines our collaboration — crafting and making decisions closely in union, on-site, with the other in mind — two companies with history, versed in design, working together to an effortless and wonderful result.
What’s most exciting about this project?
So many things! For one: that after 70 years in business, we feel comfortable breaking into new materials and pushing our design perspective even further. With that, we couldn’t have asked for a better partner in Artek, whose legacy and perspective on design is similarly historic yet modern — honoring the past while moving forward. The relationship between us — and the discoveries it brings — is perhaps most exciting.
All this to say, realizing the similarities between Heath and Artek elicited contagious energy in both of us. Our histories, commitment to craft and material, manufacturing practices, and good design brought us together. Once off the ground, the synergy we experienced was joyful, making collaboration effortless.
Working with an iconic design brand that we greatly admire has been invaluable (turns out, the admiration goes both ways!). There’s incredible longterm and potential energy for Heath, our customers, and our design team in contributing to furniture design. With it, we’re offering more Heath to the design world, strengthening relationships, growing, and learning ourselves.
And finally: quality over quantity. The limited edition nature of the pieces ensures we’re standing by what we’re putting out, not making for making's sake, but rather manufacturing at a human-scale, with integrity and respect for what both companies are capable of.
Let’s talk Tea Trolleys — how did they become part of the Collection?
When visiting Finland to observe Artek — its setting, history, and original designs, we quickly understood that they’re making things in the same way, using the same methods they always have. Sound familiar? It did to us.
The best designs are open to change, but change ought not be drastic or violate the original design intent — ever. So, in considering the most seamless contribution — minimizing impact — to any of their already-perfect pieces, we looked at forms that naturally intersected with our skills and expertise. And so began our interest in the Trolley.
Designed in 1937 by Alvar Aalto, the Tea Trolley 900 is a distinctive, functional, and versatile marriage of material and form: the circular wheels and square top, the richness of the Finnish birch wood, and the woven basket. With typical emphasis on the wheel, we excitedly went to the top, highlighting an area that celebrates something we know very well: ceramic tile. Of course!
We have over 30 tile sizes and over 100 glazes. Respecting the original 16-tile design of the Tea Trolley, we chose the 6x6 shape (very close to Artek’s original size), and thought we’d bring a range of glazes forward that represent the history of Heath — past and present.
There are a total of 36 trolleys (six unique tile designs, six of each). The Trolley is made and assembled in Finland as it has been for over 50 years. Once it’s sent to us, the tiles are made and installed individually at Heath SF. Each is done by hand. Each is completely original.
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How were tiles designed, refined, and chosen to pair with the Trolleys in this collaboration?
The vintage tiles mounted outside our original Sausalito factory have inspired and fascinated us for many years. Developing new glazes and techniques based upon them really excites us, though recreating them is no easy task. Glaze formulas change — capturing the spirit of the past and reproducing what we see take trial and error, like cracking a code. Once cracked, we take it even further, working with current and new methods and exploring what we’re capable of today. We have the Clay Studio to thank for providing us the exploratory space we crave.
With that, translating glazes the Clay Studio developed for three-dimensional pieces onto the flat surface of a tile is another technique all together — as all shapes take glaze differently.
With over 30 sizes in our arsenal, we chose a 6x6" tile to very closely resemble the original design intent of the Trolley. Engaging in a long span of design thinking and innovation, it took 3-4 months for us to identify the final six designs. In the name of design, creativity, and exploration, it’s work we greatly enjoy.
A couple additional features unique to the Artek + Heath Tea Trolley: grout. The original Alvar design was ungrouted and Heath Tile, with its unique character, needs grout to accommodate the ever-so-slight variation that occurs naturally during our production process. (Not to mention, this creates a fully sealed surface.) And finally, due to Heath tiles being thicker than those on the original Trolley, the bent-wood frame is uniquely customized for the collaboration — so special!
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Why translate the "Universe" glaze into a silkscreen top for the Stool 60?
As a company that has explored glaze for decades, we know that a glazed surface is not flat. More than color alone, it is layered and dimensional. We landed on a silkscreen technique that alludes to a pattern we had explored in the Heath Clay Studio, creating a new design that’s as multi-layered, random, and ethereal as its complementary ceramic surface. This Silk Screened Universe Stool marries function and abstraction — the form of the stool is functional and fixed, while the pattern is abstract. We love how an awe-inspiring color and pattern atop the iconic Stool 60, one of our favorite designs, evokes both grounded simplicity and otherworldly complexity.
If you look at the Milky Way in the summer and again in winter, it looks different, changing as the galaxy moves. So we asked: how can we render such a dynamic quality into something static? This became the Clay Studio's inspiration for the Universe glaze technique, and the catalyst for 'glazing' the surface of Alvar Aalto's Stool 60.
We greatly admire the ability of David Dodde — a master screen printer and friend of ours at House Industries. Silkscreening relies on a process called "registration," or applying and matching layers. By applying each layer in "blind registration," Dodde allowed for the uncontrollable — similar to how we approached workshopping the "Universe" ceramic glaze. This unmatched silkscreening ensures that patterns overlay one another entirely at random to create a complementary illusion of constellation.
How did the Stool 60 Nesting Set come to be?
As you well know by now, Alvar Aalto’s Stool 60 is one of the most iconic of pieces. Alone or stacked, it’s sculptural and distinct, form as much as function. Similar to the Tea Trolley, we asked how we could respectfully add to an already-iconic design.
While visiting the Artek showroom and restaurants using their custom designs, we saw that the stool was far more than a piece of furniture, but integral to a system of design — both functional and sculptural — its “L leg” key to the spiral that’s created when they stack. Naturally, this became a starting point for us.
Maintaining one as the original — the tallest — we added two additional stools with trimmed legs for a nesting set of three platforms with endless functionality and varied heights. Together, they’re a sculpture, saving space and adding visual interest. Separately, they’re a night stand, a planter, a baby stool, a table — or whatever you imagine them to be.
The beauty of color, central to both Heath and Artek, ties together two companies, two continents, and the resulting collaboration. With 2018 marking 70 years of Heath, the three stools, in three heights, have been brought to life in three colors — rosemary, pumpkin, and moonstone — inspired by our classic and refreshed 2018 Coupe dinnerware palette.
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What's next for the pieces in this Collection?
Each of these pieces was made in limited runs between two countries. We greatly enjoyed our experience, and it’s quite possible we’ll do more in this vein together. Until then, this is the extent of the Collection.
What’s next for the custom Heath tiles?
At this time, they’re only available as limited editions for the Tea Trolleys. However, the learning and enjoyment that resulted from this collaboration will not soon be forgotten, and custom glazed tiles just may be in Heath’s future...