After studying industrial and interior design at the Central School of Applied Arts in Helsinki, Ilmari Tapiovaara worked briefly in the office of Le Corbusier. In the early 1940s, he designed several pieces of furniture for various Finnish furniture manufacturers, including Asko and Keravan Puuteollisuus. By 1951 Tapiovaara had set up his own studio with his wife Annikki.
In 1946 the couple was awarded the opportunity to design all furniture and interiors for the Domus Academia, a new student-housing complex in Helskini. The most successful product to come out the project was an elegant stacking wooden chair. The design would catch Hans Knoll’s eye a few years later at an exhibition in Chicago, and in 1951 he began importing the Domus Chair, introduced to the Knoll catalog as the Model 140 series.
Tapiovaara went on to teach at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago and worked for a time in the office of Mies van der Rohe. He is most recognized, however, for his contributions in furniture, which he continued to design throughout his career, working with Artek, Merva, Thonet, Schaman, Hackman, and Olivetti.