Finnish designers today rank among the most exciting in the world: so don’t miss the chance to appreciate the graceful and sophisticated forms serving basic everyday functions in architecture, design and homeware…
A reputation for cool design
Stand in the middle of Helsinki. Look up and look around. If your interest includes architectural form, you are sure to notice particular prominent themes and genres. Then peek into shop windows. There is something special, something different, something refreshing about the furniture, the footwear, the ornaments, the homewares. Welcome to cool Finland!
The Finnish reputation for original and practical design has its roots in a rural lifestyle where necessity was the mother of invention. Modern Finnish designers have come up with a mixture of graceful and sophisticated forms that serve basic everyday functions, from the textiles of Marimekko to the glass of Iittala.
Helsinki is packed with top class design shops and museums, so make sure you add a guided visit to the Marimekko factory, the Arabia glass and tableware exhibition, and the Kiasma Museum of Contemporary Art to your itinerary. Experts from these establishments will willingly share their thoughts on the guiding principles behind their particular design styles.
The city offers an ideal place to get to know Finnish design and to buy top-class Finnish design products. Located in the centre of Helsinki, the Design District Helsinki is an area full of design and antique shops, fashion stores, museums, art galleries, restaurants and showrooms. Here you can find the most interesting names, classics and trend-setters. Design District Helsinki claims to be not just a neighbourhood but also a ‘state of mind’. It is 25 streets and 170 spots on a map from shops to galleries and from design studios to design hotels. It is creativity, uniqueness, experiences, design and Finnish city culture.
Helsinki’s Design Museum, housed in a 19th century building that’s Beaux Arts in style, presents a permanent collection that focuses on the 20th century. Here you can see minimalist and functional, ceramics in eternal shapes, blown glass, silver coffee servers and a whole wall of chairs.
There are many architectural landmarks to be seen in Helsinki: Alvar Aalto’s Finlandia Hall and the ‘Church in the Rock’ by Timo and Tuomo Suomalainen, provide an exciting trail of architectural treasures. Throughout the rest of Finland you will also find an exciting array of architectural examples. The Metso Library in Tampere, for example, is the work of Raili and Reima Pietilä.
A popular holiday option is to embark on the Finnish Design and Architecture road tour, a journey totaling some 830 km from Helsinki through Seinäjoki and up to the Lakeland city of Jyväskylä. The extent of various architecture styles and designs on the tour is quite amazing. Jyväskylä itself is the home city of Finland’s most famous architect Alvar Aalto (1898-1976), a master of functionalism, not only in areas of architecture, but also of design. Objects designed by Aalto are still a common sight in both public spaces and private homes.
Sibeliustalo Lahti Finland photo Sami Lettojärvi
In the 1950s and 1960s, Finnish Design won global fame. The breakthrough came at the Milan Triennial in 1951, when Finland was awarded six Grand Prix prizes, four honourable mentions, seven gold medals and eight silver medals.
At the following triennial Finland took a quarter of all awards on offer. Names such as Gunnel Nyman, Kaj Franck, Tapio Wirkkala and Timo Sarpaneva were on everybody’s lips. Marimekko, founded by Armi Ratia (1912-1979), revolutionised the conventions of “good taste” and colour, homes were given facelifts, and various enduring modern design classics emerged, including Olof Bäckström’s orange-handled, ergonomically-designed Fiskars scissors from 1967.
It was time to bridge the gap between the traditional and the modern, to combine elements from the traditional and the contemporary. In an attempt to bring beauty into the everyday world, with a new accent on natural materials and uncluttered shapes. The Functionalist architect Alvar Aalto, who designed the interior elements of his buildings, from furniture to lightning, led the way. Artek was founded in 1935 with the prime aim of marketing his designs, such as the timeless Aalto vase which you will still see on sale in Finnish stores. Industry played its role in the process by accepting affordable utility ware for serial production alongside expensive one-off works of art. Ordinary homes acquired objects which elsewhere would have counted as elitist rarities.
In the early 21st century, design faces new challenges, but designers continue in the tradition of using natural materials while adding a sophisticated elegance that departs cheerfully from the conventional. Janna Syvänoja, who makes stylist jewellery from recycled paper, is a prime example of this new generation. Ritva Puotila’s paper yarn creations also represent the continuation of the tradition of stylish simplicity in Finnish design. As artistic director for the Woodnotes company, Puotila has created a distinctive style that exploits the attractive qualities and functional strengths of the material.
Oiva Toikka is celebrated for his decorative glass bird collections. The international appeal of the Finnish approach was underlined in 2004 when the ‘Lehti’ bowl by Marja Jauhiainen was accepted into the collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum in London – an honour she shares with Tapio Wirkkala. The Lehti (Leaf) bowls are a metallic recreation in brass, sterling silver and silver-plated brass of brittle autumn leaves, using unique processes which achieve a superficial but deceptive fragility.
Some Top Finnish Design Names
Aarikka’s most important products include jewellery, gift articles, toys, games, Christmas decorations and mobiles. Through Kaija Aarikka’s works, the beautiful adaptability of Finnish wood has found a new route to worldwide appreciation.
Arabia products have been designed by the likes of Alvar Aalto, Stefan Lindfors and Kaj Frank. Arabia has both classic and modern collections of tableware, glassware, cutlery and cookware.
Artek’s history and development have remained faithful to Alvar Aalto’s basic values. Artek’s product quality and design have remained top class since their beginning in the 1930s. Complementing the line of classic furniture, Artek produces carefully selected, well-designed and innovative products that preserve Aalto’s spiritual legacy.
Iittala glass products – including Alvar Aalto’s vases – draw on nature’s shapes and themes, and are design classics that never go out of date.
Kalevala Koru is the trademark for jewellery crafted from bronze, silver and gold according to the ancient tradition captured in the Finnish national epic, the Kalevala. Most of the Kalevala jewellery models are date from the Viking Era more than a thousand years ago, but some of the items in the broad collection are almost twice that
age. All are replicas, variations or combinations of originals and are made in collaboration with archaeologists.
Artistic innovation, uncompromising quality and outstanding craftsmanship are the hallmarks of the unique Lapponia jewellery collection.
Marimekko Corporation is a Finnish textiles and clothing company established in 1951. There are three product lines: clothing, interior decoration and accessories. The bold and colourful designs, such as the ‘poppy’ pattern, have enjoyed a renaissance in recent years – another example of how the best Finnish design stands the tests of time and changing fashion.
Ceramics, glassware, textiles, interior decoration items and delicacies contribute to the Pentik collections. Pentik items are popular in everyday use and make great gifts. The company designs a versatile range of products under its own brand in cooperation with carefully selected international partners. Over half million items are produced at the company’s own factory in Posio in the Finnish Lapland every year.