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Alvar Aalto (1898—1976) Finnish architect and designer

Wells Wintemute Coates (1895—1958) architect and industrial designer

Walter Gropius (1883—1969) German-born American architect


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(established 1883)

This well‐known Estonian plywood furniture company was founded in 1883 and by the turn of the century had become the largest plywood and furniture manufacturer in Russia. Luterma (the A. M. Luther Mechanical Woodworking Factory) was renowned for its high quality plywood, which was used for the manufacture of suitcases and pails as well as furniture. The company's early furniture types included office and railway furniture as well as domestic designs. In 1908 Luterma established a sister company in London, the Venesta Plywood Company (the name Venesta deriving from Veneer and Estonia), its international outlook being supported by the establishment of branch offices in many European countries including Germany, Sweden, France, and Italy. By 1914 much of its output reflected a straightforward functionalism although there were occasional examples of striking innovation as in the sculptural, flowing forms of a screen of 1908 (Model no. 1138) anticipating developments in Finland by Alvar Aalto and Artek. With the closure of Russian markets after the First World War, Luterma played an important economic and social role in the production of furniture, a significant amount of which was geared towards utilitarian, everyday types. Prior to the First World War Luterma had boasted one of the largest furniture departments in the Baltic Countries, producing folding chairs and tables for the British market alongside domestic, public, and office furniture for Baltic markets. With the considerable expansion and industrialisation of Tallin arose the need for production of a new furniture range that would be suitable for the rapid growth in the provision of rationally planned apartments and housing designed to cater for the expanding working class. Luterma had begun to develop its interest in this sector through mounting a competition in 1919 for well‐designed inexpensive wooden furniture for small flats. Alongside such initiatives Luterma converted its Tallin warehouse into a modern showroom for an extensive display of domestic and office furniture. In the mid 1930s the company promoted a ‘Furniture for Everyone’ initiative supported by the Ministry of Economics, producing flexible modern designs using standardized forms with interchangeable modular units that could be combined in different ways. Such designs embraced the principles of Modernism and empathy with the existenzminimum (‘living in a minimum space’) design aesthetic that had been explored elsewhere in avant‐garde circles in Europe—in Vienna, Warsaw, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, and other cities involved in progressive large‐scale housing programmes. In Britain, Jack Pritchard who worked for the Venesta Plywood Company, Luterma's sister company, was involved with the architect Wells Coates in the design of the ‘minimum flats’ at Lawn Road, Hampstead (1932), and the Isokon plywood furniture designed by Walter Gropius and Marcel Breuer. Luterma's similarly adventurous, but less high‐profile, policy continued until 1940 when Estonia was annexed by the Soviet Union.

Subjects: Industrial and Commercial Art.

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