Since the 1970s, Finland has been developing a distinctive design style, heavily influenced by nature. Known predominantly for their furniture and glass designs, Finnish designers are distinguished by their material sensibility, clear design aesthetic and ecologically sensitive design techniques. These ten designers, studios and brands represent the key players in shaping Finnish design today.
Marimekko was founded in 1951 by Viljo and Armi Ratia, as an extension of their existing company Printex. Their vision was to create a Utopian company that would bring happiness to everyday life through the creation of high-quality products and aesthetic experiences. Marimekko’s unique identity was established by their unparalleled use of printed fabrics, distinctive patterns and bold colors. Described by founder Armi Ratia in 1962 as “a cultural phenomenon guiding the quality of living,” the studio transformed the tradition of textile printing in Finland. Their inventive patterns are applied to clothing, accessories, interior decorations, fabrics and tableware and are sold in approximately 40 countries. All of their products are also designed to have a minimal impact on the environment. But Marimekko don’t just create quality products; they create an outlook on life that encourages courageousness, egalitarianism and positivity.
One of the best known contemporary design companies to have come out of Finland, Artek was launched in 1935 by four young idealists: Alvar and Aino Aalto, Maire Gullichsen and Nils-Gustav Hahl. At the time, their business concept was to ‘sell furniture and to promote a modern culture of habitation by exhibitions and other educational means’ – and with this mission, they stood for a new kind of design environment, emphasizing the significance of everyday life and the synthesis of art, architecture and design. Their vision continues to this day – Artek is still renowned for its innovative contribution to contemporary design and its values of ethics, aesthetics and ecology. Key elements of all Artek designs are functionality and timelessness; the company still produces many of the founders’ original designs from the 1930s. In 2010, Artek celebrated their 75th anniversary, and continue to extend their range of furniture designs, collaborating with Finnish and international artists, designers and architects.
Friends of Industry, Harri Koskinen’s design studio, was established in Helsinki in 1998. Koskinen’s main focus is product design, although his studio also works on concept design, exhibitions and architectural projects. His extensive client list includes the likes of Artek, Design House Stockholm, Iittala, Issey Miyake, Muji, Panasonic, Seiko Instruments, Swarovski and Venini. Koskinen has been recognized internationally for his uncompromising design approach, and talent for creating objects that are both beautiful and functional, such as the Massive Attack light and industrial design Cyclebar. Though he works across a number of design disciplines, Koskinen has recently made a name for himself in the design of contemporary glass. These pieces embody the trademark values of Finnish glass design with their clarity of line and minimalist forms.
Mari Isopahkala is an award-winning freelance designer based in Helsinki. Her multidisciplinary practice includes product, jewelry, furniture, lighting, textiles, exhibition and spatial design. The combination of lighting and glass has been a predominant motif in her recent work; although she is best known for her jewelry collections Winter Pearl and Suma, created for Lapponia Jewellery, and her successful cutlery range, Konkkaronkka, for Marimekko. Designs such as Furring showcase her innovative approach to materials, combining silver and reindeer hair, whilst her KURKI mobile LED light is an adaptable and ecological amalgamation of lighting system and sculpture. Isopahkala aims to use her designs to create a reaction and to tell stories by creating beautiful and meaningful products. She strongly believes that there always needs to be a reason for creating something, even if that reason is pure function or pure beauty.
Fashion designer Satu Maaranen’s striking designs demonstrate a profound appreciation of craftsmanship, and a vision of continuing high quality on Finland’s design scene. Her inventive combination of traditional haute couture – dramatic hats, exaggerated bows and sculptural proportions – along with work-wear-inspired shapes and earthy cottons, comes together in her latest stunning collection, Garment Landscapes, which won the Grand Prix at the Hyères Festival in 2013. The collection was inspired by the Land Art movement of the 1960s, where haute couture and fashion innovation gave rise to garments with exciting juxtapositions of sculptural tailoring, bold colors and brushstroke patterns. On a visual level, Maaranen is known for her distinctive, experimental use of color and dimensions, but she also places great emphasis on the concepts behind her designs, claiming their superiority over the process of creation, and even the outcome.
Arja Renell’ is an international artist, architect and urban designer. These three fields come together to create an interconnected design practice that forms the basis of all her works. Deeply inspired by the built environment and its various physical and social networks, Rennell’ uses space as a medium, lending her works an understanding of the multi-layered nature of places, which exists alongside a sensitivity to cultural contexts. The fruits of this philosophy include projects such as Villa Mandala (2012), a yoga retreat set in the countryside near Lovissa; this traditional design combines Asian and Nordic influences, and is built using local Finnish timber. Renell’ aspires to create site-specific works that are sustainable, and that contribute to ecological balance. One example of her ecologically conscious work is the foodscape project Mat med Vyer; Renell’s multipart collaborative project Waste Fish Day specifically addresses the issue of sustainability in the Finnish fishing industry.
Helsinki-based architect and designer Joanna Laajisto began her career in the United States, where she studied for a BA in Interior Architecture, and worked for an international architecture firm in Los Angeles designing large-scale commercial projects. Laajisto’s own practice, Joanna Laajisto Creative Studio, now works across architectural and interior design, conceptual design, service design, graphics and photography. Her expertise lies in environmentally friendly and energy-efficient design, with a particular focus on fusing functionality and aesthetics. The philosophy behind her work reads like a mantra: “not to clutter this world with unnecessary things, but to find the hidden beauty of each space and to enhance it by creative solutions.” Laajisto’s designs are 360° experiences that come with a wholesome feel stemming from her use of materials (mainly wood leather and metal) and contemporary furnishings.
Textile artist Outi Martikainen works in the space between art and design, producing structural works that are inspired by the creative process, current media issues, personal sensory experiences and memories. Just as her work addresses an array of existential issues, it also explores the use of different materials and scales through textile techniques. Her design Siiri is made of crocheted polypropylene thread and forms a two-dimensional surface that, when seen from close up, appears as a structural abstraction, but transforms into a face as the viewer gets further away. This piece brings together 500 individual elements and was inspired by Martikainen’s grandmother, who used to crochet bed covers with her friends when the artist was a child. Martikainen also takes part in collaborative design projects including several architectural projects based in Helsinki, Finland, and Hannover, Germany. Regardless of the scale of the project, or its application, Martikainen engages with the same techniques and approaches shown in her textile works.
Ceramicist Nathalie Lahdenmäki graduated in 1999 with a Masters in Ceramics and Glass Design from the University of Art and Design, Helsinki. She now works as a freelance designer and lecturer at the university. Lahdenmäki has won several awards including the Mino Ceramics Competition (1998 and 2005), an esteemed event in Japan, and the Design+ Award at the Frankfurt Fair. She creates ceramics both independently and for Finnish company littala, and is collected by museums in Finland, Sweden and Japan. Lahdenmäki’s work is distinguished by her use of thin-walled porcelain and red clay vessels with soft lines; the designs are sophisticated and her use of translucent porcelain with colorful glazes speaks of her skill as a ceramicist. A profound interest in the properties of materials shows immediately in the soft texture of her ceramics, their subtle colors and intermingling matte and glossy surfaces.
Internationally renowned glass designer and artist Markku Salo began working with glass in 1983 and is now based in the Nuutajarvi Glass Village, Finland – a community of artists, designers and craftsmen. Salo’s designs express his artistic vision, experimental tendencies and understanding of glass as a material – he works with a variety of glass techniques including combining mesh and glass to create his iconic and highly collected Dogs collection. Behind each design is a carefully crafted and thought-through concept; as the artist explains, “movement, experimentation, size, different materials – I am interested in finding new ways to express the artistic quality of glass as a material. But a technique is just a tool, it should never outrank the content.” Salo’s work is collected by a number of prestigious galleries and museums including the V&A, London, and The Corning Museum of Glass, New York.