Is Finnish design the same as Scandinavian design? While there’s much about Finnish design that both influences and is influenced by heritage and trends in Nordic design, it’s also a unique category that deserves to be explored as such. The “Wild at Heart” exhibition shown during Stockholm Design Week 2020, focused on three main pillars of Finnish design as it relates to contemporary design: humor, social impact, and raw beauty.
Designer Tero Kuitunen curated the exhibition, and brings his signature artistic-meets-kitsch style to the selection.
On Finnish humor generally, Kuitunen notes, “It’s always said with a twinkle in your eye. It’s serious humour in a way. It’s not very loud. It’s more about the idea. If you think about the designs, it’s from the colors and concept, or even the name. There is this Finnish oddity that I love. The sauna culture for example: you go crawl around in the snow after a sauna. There are these small things that make Finns quite quirky.”
But Tero explains that finding the core of Finnish design also means exploring global influences: “There was this task for this exhibition to find the DNA of Finnish design, but it is very hard because everything is so global these days. It’s not so clear maybe what is typical for us. It think everything is going around. For me, finding inspiration from different countries is important,” he says. Still, Helsinki as a city has fostered something special, with the municipality putting more time and money into urban design including the relaunch of the Amos Rex museum, a new library, and other public spaces.
That’s true of many of the Nordic cities, with capitals and smaller cities putting urban planning and design at front of mind. “What I like about Scandinavian countries is that they all peer over at each other and get inspired. I often hear from Swedes, ‘I love how Finland does this.’ We have a sibling relationship with Sweden!” notes Tero.
Aside from the philosophical pillars, global and regional influence on Finnish design, there’s always a home-grown aspect to the work. Tero mentions Tove Jansson’s beloved Moomin’s as being important to his sense of humor and aesthetic.
Tero says, “I grew up in the 90s, so the only thing I saw on TV was Moomins. I think there is something so comforting in those stories. I remember from those, there was an episode called Midsummer Madness where they found the floating theatre. I actually built my own theatre. I got my mothers Velvet gown and made the curtains, and I kind of build my own theatre when I was ten. That floating theatre… the theatrical element, the colours, magical things happening. It was like, ok, now is my time to create this childhood fantasy!”
Thanks to Tero’s international vision and deep understanding of Finnish influences, the “Wild at Heart” exhibition was a great primer for delving into modern Finnish design and art.
These are the designers from Finland to know right now:
Led by duo Aamu Song and Johan Olin, Company is an art and design studio that’s all about exploring localized, specialized craft and design. They explore countries that have a strong tradition of industrial design and create projects there, using heritage-based craftsmanship to uncover the “secrets of” a place.. So far Company has produced “Secrets of Finland,” “Secrets of Korea,” “Secrets of Mexico,” and a handful of others. Their work is bold, graphic, and slightly cartoonish, but is always grounded in the industrial processes employed in each location.
Mifuko was launched in 2009 by designers Mari Martikainen and Mia Impiö. While Impiö was living in Kenya with her family, she began searching for ways to build a company that brought together Kenyan and Finnish design. The result was Mifuko, which now employs around 600 artisans to create woven baskets and bags. The company also works with rural women’s groups in Kenya to support positive financial and social impacts. The products are high quality, functional, and beautiful: the design trifecta!
Artist and designer Milla Vaahtera’s products play with ideas of space, shape, and tension. She creates mobiles with brass blown glass items, particularly working with specialized glass blowers and silversmiths to make ethereal pieces. Finland has a long history of glassblowing but the industrial and commercial aspect has been outsourced over the years, creating a vacuum in small towns that once thrived. Vaahtera’s work pays homage to this rich heritage and offers a small remedy by employing local artisans.
Carpentry is alive and kicking with craftsman Antrei Hartikainen. Bringing together sculptural shapes and expert knowledge, Hartikainen’s furniture pieces blur the lines between functionality and artistry – why have one and not the other? He’s been hailed as one of the best carpenters working in the Nordics today, and his impeccable, clean lines make it clear why.
Focusing on color and texture, Tero Kuiten’s work brings playfulness to functional pieces like mirrors, lamps, and vases. His interest in how people interact with household items – specifically the idea of touch and bringing humor to that – is a fresh take on the idea of fun in design, making each piece feel both quirky yet grounded.
Klaus Happaniemi & Co
Founded by Klaus Happaniemi and Mia Wallenius, this design studio and lifestyle brand is known for their dreamy textiles and home decor. Happaniemi is an illustrator who creates prints based on Finnish folklore, traditional crafts, and nature. This love of history is evident in the brand’s work and brings a unique Finnish aesthetic to the international stage. The brand is also focused on ethical production and resource management at every step of the design process, making their home goods even more desirable.
Interested in more emerging design? Read about Swedish designers.