Finnish Design

My previous post about Finland turned out to be surprisingly popular. It was picked up by the Finnish tourist board's Twitter account, and is still one of the most visited pages on the site with a regular trickle of visitors, from Finland and around the world. In light of that it seems like a good idea to write something else about the place. There are a few topics I could have chosen, but in the end I decided on design.

It should probably be said at the outset that I'm no expert on art, architecture, design or anything like that. I'm sure there is much more knowledgeable writing about this available, if you want it. But during my visits to Finland I've come across many examples of what I consider to be good design, and that's what I want to share with you - an outsider's view on Finnish design, if you like.

Probably a good place to start is with Alvar Aalto, who seems to be pretty much a 20th century Nordic Leonardo da Vinci. He was, among other things, an architect, with a very distinctive style. He designed a great many buildings in Jyväskylä, particularly in the university, and indeed all around the world, but probably his most famous is Finlandiatalo in Helsinki.

Just being an iconic architect wasn't enough for him, though. He also decided to turn his hard to furniture making, along with his wife Aino Aalto. Have you ever seen any of his pieces? Well, if you've ever gone into an Apple Store then you'll have seen his High Stool 64. The Paimio Chair is also pretty recognisable.

And then, because achieving world renown in two fields was too easy, Aalto dabbled in a bit of glassware too. One of his most successful creations is this vase.

One other thing ought to be said about Aalto's buildings, though. Several of them on the Jyväskylä University campus suffer from what's known as Bad Air.  No-one seems entirely clear what this is all about, but it seems to be a peculiarly Finnish problem that afflicts buildings throughout the country and manifests itself through headaches and nausea. It may be something to do with mould developing in the Finnish climate. My own, completely uninformed, opinion is that this is a consequence of the Finns having grown up in a place with absurdly good air quality. In Britain, for example, we're well used to breathing pollution, so no-one notices a bit of mould here and there.

So that's Alvar Aalto. Next, there's Marimekko. This is a modern design brand with shops across Finland. They primarily produce a range of fabric designs in bright colours, like the poppy-based Unikko. It's a bit like the Finnish equivalent of Liberty Print. Here's a Unikko oven glove.

And here's a Unikko mug (yes, I do quite like this design, how did you guess?)

Another well-known Finnish brand is Iitala, who produce glassware. Of course, our friend Aalto worked for them in his time too. They have a certain range of glass bowls, which you'll find in virtually every Finnish household. And mine, naturally.

There's also Arabia, who specialise in ceramics. Here's a nice cup and saucer:

Photo by Richard Spoun

So, all this arty stuff's very nice, but what about something more practical? A design that saves us time? Well, look no further than the Finnish Dish Drying Cupboard, invented by the Finnish Association for Work Efficiency. If you're feeling lazy, drip drying is an easy way to deal with the dishes, but then you still have to put the stuff away. Who's got time for that? Well, why not put a drying rack in a cupboard over the sink? I can't see why it hasn't taken off outside Finland.

Photo by Richard Spoun, genius by Finland

I hope you found this brief trip around Finnish design interesting. If unlike me you know what you're talking about, you can always put me right in the comments. Or, if you're looking for something to do, you can always read my book, or you might like to check out my other articles about Finland here.