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Kiki Sofa

Omar El Amri
Apr 17, 2019 · 4 min read

Designed by Ilmari Tapiovaara
For Artek

Ilmari Tapiovaara once said, “A chair is not just a seat; it’s the key to the whole interior.” That sense of urgency for well-designed furniture in his statement could not have resonated more than in his most iconic work, the Kiki sofa.

It was 1960 when Tapiovaara set out to make well-designed furniture accessible to a broader audience — a constraint in design that has often yielded the most well designed products. To achieve this, he took a stark departure from the solid birch and organic shapes that dominated furniture design at the time.

His solution, the Kiki sofa, with its steel tubing and modular system, was revolutionary for its time. It was an instant success and established the direction for furniture design for decades to come.

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The Kiki sofa is available as a 2-seater, 3-seater, or as a single armchair. And it comes with a system of matching parts, including a multi-purpose chair, a stool, a bench, and a side table; with oval steel tubing as the structural and unifying element of the whole collection.

The polyurethane foam and polyester wadding of the seat are robust and ergonomic. And the incline of the backrest makes for a cozy sitting angle. This sofa was conceived for both private and public use, so its handcrafted comfort is equally as inviting for sitting and watching a show as it is for longer ‘lounging traps’.

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For Kiki, Tapiovaara employed a clean-cut design idiom that transcends both time and place. It’s completely conceivable that this sofa could have been designed fifty years ago or fifty years from now and anywhere in the world.

Kiki comes in a wide range of fabrics and leathers, demonstrating its visual generosity and versatility. Its surfaces display distinctive planes and clean, smooth-edged contours, and its black powder-coated tube frame has an elegant oval cross section.

Even its manufacturing is oriented towards the design: welding is done without leaving a mark and the high-quality lacquer provides the astonishingly lightweight, yet enormously stable frame with a graceful appearance.

Seemingly weightless, the Kiki sofa is intended as a mannequin, able to be dressed up in numerous ways, to travel effortlessly and assume different personalities. As a result, it disappears into the room and allows you to completely focus on why you are there: the people you are with or the show you are watching.

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The Kiki sofa is long lasting. Its black powder-coated steel frame is built for durability, and its range of high-quality upholstery options can last for generations. Its aesthetics will never go out of fashion as it remains one of the most popular pieces of furniture since the sixties.

Originally conceived after the manufacturer approached Tapiovaara asking him to design a product that made use of his surplus metal tubing, the Kiki collection was environmentally-friendly from its inception. And its maker, Artek, is strongly committed to sustainable manufacturing in keeping with the vision of its founder, Alvar Aalto. In addition, the compact size of the sofa means it can fit naturally into smaller spaces, further minimizing its environmental footprint.

With the Kiki sofa, Tapiovaara reduced the concept of a sofa to its most essential parts: a seat, a backrest, and frame; requiring only 8 tubes and 2 rectangles. As a result, while its contemporary sofa designs have faded into the dustbin of history or have been relegated to museum pieces, Kiki remains one of the most popular pieces of public furniture today. This is because it captures the essence of what a sofa should be, and the essence of things never dies.

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