If you’ve never heard of Finnish design, just open your desk drawer. Chances are you have one of the most iconic objects created by the Finnish mid-20sand modernist design movement of the century — namely a pair of scissors with orange. ergonomically shaped handles. Fiskars scissors, introduced by the Finnish company in 1967, have become the world’s leading brand of plastic-handled scissors with over a billion sold worldwide so far.
With brands such as Artek, Aalto, Marimekko, Iittala, Arabia and Aarikka, Finnish design has influenced items – many of which are unique and colorful – spanning everyday life, from furniture and tableware to clothing and jewelry, while emphasizing art and fashion. Core concepts include simplicity, practicality and durability, enough to make them timeless through the decades – concepts consistent with Finland’s national culture of everyday sustainability and social equality, and where approximately two million saunas help alleviate the cold of long winters in a country. white nights and aurora borealis.
For a bit of historical perspective, the Helsinki Design Museum is a good place to start. More than half of the museum’s collection of 75,000 objects are crockery and crockery, including, for example, a white teapot from 1978 and an ornate coffee creamer from 1933, both Arabia marks; an Iittala glass tumbler from 1985; and a 1957 collection of brightly colored basic coffee makers designed by husband-wife team Antti and Vuokko Nurmesniemi. Design companies still make many of these same – and therefore timeless – items today. “You can still buy them and they match the old ones,” says museum guide Silja Koskimies. “As the family gets bigger, you just buy more items.”
Simple chairs, tables, and stools with bentwood frames showcase the museum’s collection of Finland’s most famous furniture designers, the husband-wife team of Alvar and Aino Aalto. In fact, it was Alvar Aalto who experimented with bending native birch to create his space-saving furniture. The process, patented in 1933, involves dipping and cutting slits in the wood. Wood veneers are then inserted and glued into the slots to reinforce the bends.
“The most important thing he developed was this wood bending process that was heat bent, and you can bend birch,” says Ulla Rutanen, sales manager at Artek’s central Helsinki store, a brand founded by the Aaltos and two others in 1935. The name Artek, in fact, combines the words art and technology. The store’s showrooms showcase Artek’s simple wooden dining tables as well as space-saving stools and chairs in mostly understated colors that can be easily stacked in a corner. “These are still functional pieces,” says Rutanen.
The Design Museum also presents the unusual Ball Chair created by Eero Aarnio. Rounded and completely closed on one side, it remains a comfortable design classic while maintaining a look as futuristic as when it debuted in 1966. Aarnio came up with the idea while looking for a chair that would suit his whole family – although a little drunk together. Shaped like a half-sphere and made of sturdy plastic or fiberglass, some Ball Chair models hang from the ceiling and are available at furniture stores.
Another success story concerns Aarikka. When designer Kaija Aarikka couldn’t find buttons to match her dress, the textile arts student made them from scratch, leading to the company’s founding in 1954. She was one Finnish design pioneers who helped add color to movement. “All the colors were diluted during the war years to a very greyish scale because you couldn’t use bright colors,” says Helsinki tour guide Heidi Johansson. “Aarikka said very expressly that she wanted to brighten up the world after the war years with an explosion of colors and using wood because nature and design have often been linked in Finland.”
His goal was to produce “beautiful, timeless objects that brighten up everyday life,” says Johansson. Today, Aarikka’s range of fashion products includes wooden and silver jewelry – bracelets, earrings, necklaces and even eyeglass chains. The company also sells handbags, wallets and accessories with designs ranging from muted solid colors to a playful floral pattern.
When it comes to fashion, Marimekko takes the lead in designing dresses. “Marimekko is not trendy fashion. We make timeless and durable products that, by chance, are often very fashionable,” said founder Armi Ratia in 1978. The company name means “Little Dress for Mary” – Ratia’s middle name added to mekko which means “simple dress” in Finnish.
Marimekko celebrated his 70th birthdayand anniversary in 2021, marking its history from the early days when designer Vuokko Nurmesniemi created comfortable, flowing dresses and distinctive red and white striped shirts, followed by Maija Isola’s Unikko poppy patterns in 1964.