The Luther Factory

Posted on november 1st, 2010

Exhibition – ‘The Luther Factory: Plywood and Furniture’, The Museum of Estonian Architecture, Tallinn, May – August 2004 and the accompanying catalogue: J. Kermik, The Luther Factory: Plywood and Furniture, Tallinn: The Museum of Estonian Architecture, 2004, ISBN 9985-9400-7-5.

In 2002, following the publication of the A. M. Luther monograph, I was invited to curate an exhibition of Luther furniture at the Museum of Estonian Architecture. The aim of the project was to consolidate my previous research on A. M. Luther and to create an overview of the company’s design legacy which uniquely span over 70 years. An extended catalogue with edited texts from my previously published work on A. M. Luther and the chronology of the company’s furniture designs accompanied the exhibition. The catalogue was published in Estonian and English to make this material available for international researchers.

One of the aims of this exhibition was to represent A. M. Luther’s history, which had been undeservedly overlooked by design historians, and to emphasise the importance of its contributions both to plywood production and furniture design. My curatorial programme intended to create the most up-to-date and complete catalogue of A. M. Luther furniture designs and products.

In contrast with the company’s last promotional exhibition of 1939, which responded to the need to introduce contemporary and affordable furniture to wider groups of the modern society, the exhibition curated for the Museum of Estonian Architecture took a historical viewpoint.

Display of furniture and pre-fabricated plywood seats was articulated and zoned with additional photographic and textual information. The conceptual axis of the exhibition was set up to track Luthers’ ideas from early standardisation to modernist design principles. The location of the venue had a symbolic meaning because the Rottermann’s Salt Storage, which has been recently re-furbished for the Museum of Architecture, is situated in the historic business and trade area next to the Port of Tallinn, where A. M. Luther’s production started in 1877.

Exhibits included in the show reached fifty chairs, a small selection of related products to illustrate different plywood processing and finishing techniques (e.g. plywood seats) and photographic panels. I was able to identify and document some Luther models through additional research during the 18-month preparatory period prior to the exhibition.

This project was supported by the Estonian Cultural Endowment, the Estonian Ministry of Culture and the University of Brighton FRSF Grants Award Scheme.


This is a useful and descriptive insight into radically transformed living environment of the early years of the last modernist century, which saw new types of minimum dwelling and efficiently organised offices, with changing attitudes towards spatial relationships and requirements for inexpensive and lightweight furniture products.
(Eesti Päevaleht [Estonian Daily Newspaper], 19 June 2004 review by T. Ojari)

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The History Of Plywood

Posted on november 1st, 2010

J. Kermik, A. M. Luther 1877-1940. Form innovation risen from the material, Tallinn: Sild, 2002. 352 pages, ISBN 9985-9398-8-3.

Developed from my doctorate thesis (RCA, 1999), this monograph is presenting the history of the A. M. Luther Woodworking Company (one of the world leading plywood and furniture companies) with the particular emphasis on early industrial innovation in plywood technology and furniture design. A. M. Luther’s technological achievements and contributions to the development of modernist aesthetics and standardisation are also discussed in the context of British modernism.

Following its publication the A.M. Luther monograph received 2 major awards in 2002: E. Pütsep Memorial Research Award (Sweden) and National Culture Award 2002, Estonia.

The main purpose of this study was to evaluate and discuss the activities of the A.M. Luther Woodworking Company of Estonia in the context of the regional and international plywood industry. Research method and context combined elements of business history, the history of technology and the history of objects.

Previously published information available on A.M. Luther, both in Estonia and in the West, was limited and often contradictory with much of the material remaining unexplored. Due to 50 years of Soviet occupation, the Estonian archives had not been open to Western researchers and sometimes also to Estonian researchers. Therefore, the references to the Luther Company’s activities in literature were not only limited, but often inaccurate.

I was able to identify 2 unique archives with previously unresearched materials relating to the Luther Company’s Western European connections. Luther’s involvement with British modernists as well as Gropius and Breuer, suggested that the company’s foreign contacts and design programme contained much more than a successful international marketing structure. Luther’s contribution to international developments and its contacts with leading European modernists Gropius and Breuer during the mid 1930s had been unknown to Estonian design historians. It was at this stage that I realised the existence of two separate ‘histories’: one of the international plywood industry, the other of the Luther Company, both incomplete without each other.

Arguably, the period of the Luthers’ involvement (1877-1940) coincided with the most interesting development stage in the plywood industry. The seventy years which followed the application of the ingenious principle of cross-banding thin layers of wood to the industrial production of three-ply veneer seats in America in the 1870s, introduced plywood boards, joiners’ board for furniture production, technical plywoods as well as pioneering experiments in bending techniques. This period also included major developments relating to the standardisation of furniture as well as the impact of the ideologies of Modern Movement.

One of the aims of this research was to represent A.M. Luther’s history in the context of international developments and to emphasise the importance of its contributions both to plywood production and furniture design.


The A. M. Luther Factory reached the production of furniture which was informed by modernist aesthetics by the 1930s – as was the case with most large scale manufacturers in their field. The description of this journey forms the most original part of Kermik’s book and namely this is where he makes his contribution to Estonian and International design history discourse.
(Areen Sep. 19 2002 review by K. Kodres)

Image Information

  1. Book cover. J. Kermik, A. M. Luther 1877-1940. Form innovation risen from the material, Tallinn: Sild, 2002, 352 pages, ISBN 9985-9398-8-3.
  2. Chair with ergonomically profiled plywood seat, model no 3883, A.M. Luther, 1890-1900.
  3. A.M. Luther (Luterma) plywood stool no 2111, 1928-1930.
  4. Following the publication of the A.M. Luther monograph Jüri Kermik received a National Culture Award 2002, Estonia.

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