Ilmari Tapiovaara graduated in 1937 as interior architect from the department of furniture design of the Central School of Arts and Crafts. Even before graduating, Tapiovaara went abroad to work for Alvar Aalto in Artek's London office in 1935. Right after completing his education Tapiovaara got a position of assistant at the office of Le Corbusier, in France. These were not the only times he learned from international masters; he also worked with Ludwig Mies van der Rohe in Chicago, in 1953.
All this international education influenced Tapiovaara’s work. He developed a unique aesthetic, which contributed significantly to the development of the Finnish modern aesthetic. Due to the influence of Alvar Aalto, as well as his admiration for the designer, Tapiovaara’s work was remarkable for the application of wood to the language of functionalism and industrial production. In his projects, Tapiovaara always sought to create a human environment, well lighted and welcoming.
The furniture designed by Tapiovaara has always been part of a whole, with architecture as a starting point. He was a pioneer in designing more affordable furniture with components that could be efficiently packed for oversea shipping and could be easily assembled after delivery. He had a strong sense of social responsibility and had a democratic approach to design, believing everyone should have access to affordable, good design.
Tapiovaara worked for two of the major Finnish furniture companies, Asko from 1938-1941, and at Keravan Puuteolisuus from 1941-1951. Among his great projects was the 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 offices. For instance, one of his most famous design is the "Domus" chair that was designed for the Academy.
Around 1950 he opened an office in Helsinki together with his wife, Annikki who was involved in furniture and industrial design pieces for various companies. He believed that the use and structural conception of a piece should be understood at the first sight. This belief made him an ideal candidate for the design of public spaces like students housing, cinemas, hotels, the Leningrad Concert Hall and airplane interiors for Finnair. He did not only furniture but also, graphic design as well objects such as a radio and cutlery, like the "Polar" series of cutlery for the Hackman Company. His textiles also were really well received by critics, often designed with his wife, he would augment the images to enjoy their broaden space in preference of making them smaller and repetitive patterns.
Tapiovaara’s work was exhibited and awarded widely. He won 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 professor in different Institutes, not only in Finland but also abroad. Tapiovaara deceased in 1999, as one of the most famous Finnish designer. ~HG.