the Savoy vase by Alvar Aalto, a Finnish design icon

Savoy vase, Alvar Aalto

The creation of an iconic vase

Alvar Aalto revived Finnish glass design with his entries in the various Karhula-Iittala glassworks competitions throughout the 1930s. The Savoy vase (or simply Aalto vase) is based on his sketches for a series of glassware Eskimoerindens skinnbuxa (The Eskimo woman’s leather trousers), which he submitted to this competition in 1936.

The Aalto glassware displayed at the Paris World Exposition in 1937, in the Finnish Pavilion also designed by Alvar Aalto. Photo Henry Sarian, Alvar Aalto Museum.
The Aalto glassware displayed at the Paris World Exposition in 1937, in the Finnish Pavilion also designed by Alvar Aalto. Photo Henry Sarian, Alvar Aalto Museum.

The first series of glassware was made to be shown in the Finnish section at the Paris World Exhibition in 1937. The vases were an immediate success and the most popular size, now known as the “Savoy” vase, is still in production today. The original colours were clear, brown, sky blue, sea green and smoke. The colours were dependent on the glass available at the works for the manufacture of utensils.

Concerning the inspiration of Aalto on the shape of the vase, one can read different explanations. He could have been inspired by the rippling leather dresses of the women of Lapland, or by the thousands of lakes in his native Finland. The shape of the vase also evokes those of the movement of a wave, “aalto” meaning “wave” in Finnish. Although it’s more often called the Aalto vase, it got its Savoy name from the restaurant of the same name in Helsinki, where the vase has been in use since 1937. In effect, Alvar Aalto and his wife Aino Marsio were in charge of creating the furniture of the Savoy luxury restaurant. To complete its decoration, the restaurant owner bought a vase from the designer, as well as his rights. This work naturally took the name of its new owner, namely Savoy.

Aalto vase, photo Bart Pluym
photo Bart Pluym, @bart_pluym on Instagram

The Savoy vase, an organic design

Alvar Aalto laid the foundations for a new design: organic design. He rejects the rigid forms of geometry and favors natural materials. This humanist seeks through his work a balance between construction and landscape. He tries to create a link, a harmony between man and nature. As with the Savoy vase whose sinuosity lines draws the valleys and lakes of Finland. The presentation of his work of glassmaking in 1937 in Paris has made known throughout the world this new way of thinking.

Aalto vase, photo Erik Mäki
photo Erik Mäki, @aaltovase on Instagram

The Savoy vase, a timeless design

The sleek design of this vase allows it to go through time. It appeals to all generations, and has inspired many creators. Its enigmatic and poetic design and its many color variations allow this vase to adapt to all interiors. It’s for sure a striking piece of home decor.

Savoy vase, photo Enok Holsegådr
photo Enok Holsegådr, styling and art direction by Atelier CPH for Oak Magazine

The iittala glassworks produces and distributes the Savoy vase worldwide. It offers different sizes and colors. If I had to choose a piece, it would surely be the 120 mm vase in desert colour, as in this picture (I really like how the light tan colour adds warmth), or the 95 mm and 160 mm clear vases, the perfect set to decorate a marble fireplace or a beautiful wooden sideboard.

I would be curious to know what you think of this iconic piece. And if you like it, which declination would you like to have at home?