Finnish designer Ilmari Tapiovaara (1914-1999) developed a unique aesthetic based on the remarkably international education he received from several of the masters of the mid-century style. While running his office in Helsinki, Tapiovaara went abroad to work for Alvar Aalto in Artek's London office in 1935, for Le Corbusier in Paris in 1937 and for Mies van der Rohe in Chicago in 1953. Tapiovaara received his formal education in Finland as a student of industrial and interior design at the Institute of Industrial Arts in Helsinki, and combined this background with his exposure to the different components of western design movements to create his furniture and textiles. He wrote that, "a designer can be compared with a surgeon. Once you know your trade, you can practice it anywhere.If your work is good, it will do everywhere."
Tapiovaara started out working on interior design for the Domus Academy in 1947 and for the Tech Student Village in 1951. Many of his early furniture and textile designs came from these commissions. For the Tech Student Village, for example, he created the successful "Lukki" or "Daddy Long Legs" chairs that were manufactured by Lukkiseppo, and his famous "Domus" chair was designed for the Academy. His textiles, often designed with his wife Annikki, were unique because he would enlarge the images to enjoy their expanded space rather than shrinking them down into the traditionally smaller, repetitive patterns. An example of a popular fabric executed in this style was the "2 & 3" wallpaper designed for a child's nursery and manufactured by Heal's. Around this period, the late 1940s to early 1950s, Tapiovaara also had an eye on the ever-expanding international export market and began designing his furniture as knockdowns. Each piece, like his entry to the 1948 "Low Cost Furniture"competition at the MoMA, was made to be completely taken apart to facilitate shipping and lower the costs.
Before branching out on his own, Tapiovaara worked for two of the major Finnish furniture companies. He served an Art Director for Asko from 1938-1941, and as Artistic and Commercial Director for the cabinetwork factory at Keravan Puuteolisuus from 1941-1951. His Helsinki office, opened around 1950, was involved in furniture and industrial design commissions for a number of different companies. He embraced the functionalist philosophy that a piece of furniture, both its use and structural conception should be understood at first sight. While his pieces retained a sense of innovation and character, this belief made him an ideal candidate for the design of public spaces like students housing, cinemas, the Leningrad Concert Hall, airplane interiors for Finnair and the Intercontinental Hotel in Helsinki which he finished in 1973. His industrial design projects included the "Polar" series of cutlery for the Hackman Company, radio equipment for Centrum, and color planning for the paint company Winter & Co.
Tapiovaara exhibited his work widely and with great success. He was awarded gold medals for his chairs at the Milan Triennials in 1951, 1954, 1957 and 1960 and received a Good Design award in Chicago in 1950. He also received the Finnish State Design award in 1971 and a prize from the Finnish Culture Foundation in 1986. He worked as a teacher of interior and industrial design at the Institute of Industrial Art in the 1950s and again from the late 1970s until the mid-1980s.