I stumbled across the designer and architect Carl Gustaf Hiort af Ornäs many years ago when I saw his lounge chair and sofa combination at a local flea market. This is more than 10 years ago and I could probably had them for nothing, but I didn’t pick them up. They were well made and had a certain worldly class about them but I had no idea who had designed them.
It was only later when I started seeing his chairs pop up at auction houses that I connected the dots and started looking into his background and furniture production. Not much is written about him and very few pieces are attributed to him, and when they are it’s only furniture and specifically chairs. You can see some of them in this original catalogue.
The interior designer Carl Gustaf Hiort af Ornäs – nicknamed ‘Nalle’ – started a furniture manufacturing shop in 1945 on Lauttasaari in Helsinki (Veneentekijäntie 14) by the name of Helsingin Puunveisto Oy / Helsingfors Träsnideri Ab (Wood Carving Ltd) together with his brother. The woodshop, showroom and office were all located in this building:
Rolf Mesterton was the man in charge of producing the furniture but there were several other carpenters at work in the woodshop. Hiort af Ornäs’ furniture was exhibited and sold by the shop Nupponen who also distributed Olavi Hänninen’s designs. Puunveisto’s furniture were also sold by Gösta Westerbergs Möbler in Stockholm, Sweden but didn’t, in spite of a good selection of chairs, tables and shelves, do too well and production costs were high, causing Hiort af Ornäs economic troubles. The company was later sold to Nupponen after which Hiort af Ornäs’ interest in the company waned. Hiort af Ornäs’ second wife, Orvokki, was the owner of Nupponen after having inherited it from her father. She passed away in 1989.
Before the Finnish wars 1939-1944 af Ornäs spent time in Pori working at Björneborgs Mekaniska Verkstad and also allegedly dating the artist Tove Jansson. He studied at the Helsinki University of Technology to become an architect but he never graduated. He did however become known as an interior architect but perhaps more known as a furniture designer. In his own work he developed techniques to bend veneer in 3 dimensions (a hard thing to do at the time) and among other chairs the back of the Siesta chair is fitted with a complete bent veneer plate to give it a comfortable round touch.
His furniture bore names such as Siesta, Mandarin, Melon, Tapio and Capri (lounge chairs) – Harri, Manhattan and Pajatso (sofa sets) – Mauri (table). It can be noted that the chair Siesta, which now sells for up to 5000 at auctions, had an original asking price of 745 marks in the 1960s – approximately 1100 euros now when adjusted for inflation.
Hiort of Ornäs was born on 27 February 1911 and lived most of his life in Tapiola/Espoo in Finland but later moved to Spain and passed away in 1996.
His house that he drew and built in Tapiola, Espoo, Finland, ‘Villa Hiort’, still stands and here are some of the original drawings. It is a beautiful example of 1950s modernism.