Design in Manufacturing

photo © Visit Finland

The following is an incomplete of list of Finnish manufacturers who have an international reputation for cutting edge design. Many of them, like Marimekko, will be instantly recognisable, while others like Tonfisk are relative newcomers to the global stage.

Adelta: There is hardly a person in the developed world who hasn’t encountered a chair designed by the iconic designer Eero Aarnio, especially his famous Ball Chair which was designed in 1963. Aarnio’s designs have appeared in several movies, fashion spreads and   music videos, and even can be seen in the permanent collections of New York MoMA and in  London’s Victoria and Albert museums. Science fiction fans will be probably be aware that the chairs and tables in the original Star Trek were variations on his Tulip Chairs.  Adelta is the only authorized manufacturer of Eero Aarnio’s selected designs, such as the Ball chair, Bubble chair, Pony and Pastilli chair.

Arabia: For over 130 years Arabia has been a pioneer in Finnish design, and their extensive and highly collectible range of popular tableware and design gifts are internationally renowned.Franck, designer for the Arabia company, was the leading advocate of functionalism in glass and pottery. He is known for, among other things, his phenomenally successful »Kilta» dinner service of 1949, a group of 10 minimal shapes in oven-proof faience, made in a modular format that allowed the pieces to be mixed and matched.

Artek: Founded in 1935 by Alvar and Aino Aalto, Nils-Gustav Hahl, and Maire Gullichsen, this Finnish furniture company was set up to cope with the consumer demand following an exhibition in London where Aalto’s furniture received great critical acclaim. The name was chosen to emphasise the synthesis of art and technology.

Aarikka: Founded in 1954 by Kaija Aarikka and her husband, Erkki Ruokonen, today Aarikka is a globally recognized brand, carrying an array of handcrafted items, including wooden jewelry, mobiles and home goods. Their products have a distinctive, handcrafted look that is appreciated by people the world over.

Freedom Of Creation: If any modern company illustrates how Finnish designers continue to embrace and enhance innovative technologies, it must be Freedom Of Creation. The FOC concept is based on Janne Kyttänen’s graduation project at the Gerrit Rietveld Academy in Amsterdam. Kyttänen’s project investigated the possibilities of using and combining 3D printing technology and Augmented Reality as viable technologies when changing production and distribution logistics on a global scale. Upon graduating, he founded Freedom Of Creation in Helsinki, where cutting edge technology continues to meld with the Finnish design ethic. This has resulted in innovative and successful commercial products, as well as seeing FOC collaborate with a range of industrial partners in R&D projects. Freedom Of Creation products have been exhibited across the globe and have picked up numerous design awards, as well as featuring in Time Magazine’s ‘Style & Design’ list of the 100 most influential people and ideas in design, even appearing on the magazine’s cover. It has also featured in the Financial Times ‘Superior Design’ supplement, and the D50 light has been selected for the permanent collection of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York.

Iittala: Famous throughout the world for their beautiful glassware, Iittala has a long tradition of introducing bold, new design solutions. Many of the iconic figures in Finnish design have been associated with Iittala, including Alvar Aalto, Aino Aalto, Kaj Franck, Gunnel Nyman, Timo Sarpaneva (who designed the company’s famous i-logo), and Tapio Wirkkala, and today this Finnish ceramics and glassware brand continues to be a major force in Scandanavian design. In 1946, Wirkkala produced a clear mold-blown vase engraved with vertical striations called ‘Chanterell’ after its flaring mushroom shape, which came to symbolise the nature-inspired beauty of Finnish glass art, which even today retains its global popularity. The same year, Alvar Aalto produced his ‘Savoy’ bowl, an undulating form in clear blue, which became an icon of Finnish design. Likewise the vase of shaded greens by Gunnel Nyman, named ‘Calla’ as its shape is suggestive of the calla lily.

Kalevala Koru Jewelry: In 1935 the writer Elsa Heporauta had an idea to commission and sell jewelry, the proceeds of which would be used to erect a statue to Finnish women. Although the jewelry sold well, the statue had to be postponed due to the outbreak of The Winter War. Instead, the Kalevala Women’s Association, set up by Heporauta, used the money to help those in need, but continued to produce jewelry, and set up Kalevala Koru which to this day is owned by the the Kalevala Women’s Association. Kalevala Koru has always sought inspiration from the Finnish and Scandanavian jewelry traditions, using motifs originating in the Christian Era, the Viking Age, and even the Middle Ages. The classic collection is a made of replicas of ancient Iron Age jewelry. Today, a new group of talented designers continue this tradition, fashioning jewelry from historical models to suit the present time. Eventually even the statue, sculpted by the renowned Eemil Halonen, was completed, albeit to a small scale than originally planned, and today it occupies pride of place in the midst of the jewelry on display in the Kalevala Koru store in Helsinki.

Marimekko: A leading Finnish textile and clothing company, the seminal large flower pattern of Marimekko is as instantly recognisable as any brand in the world, and comes in many colours. Its most famous fan was probably Jackie Kennedy. Today it continues to design, manufacture, and market high-quality clothing, interior decoration textiles, bags and accessories, in bold patterns and vibrant colours. The company continues to employ exciting new designers that follow in the footsteps of such talents as Maija Isola and Voukko Eskolin-Nurmesniemi.

Saima Design: Perhaps the only design classic in hardwood floors, Saima’s unique designs have been inspired by the works of Aino and Alvar Aalto, and by Tapio Wirkkala — indeed, Wirkkala personally chose the special grey Saima colour. In 2009, the company’s Raita and Wirkkala designs were awarded the much sought after International Red Dot Design Award; designer Pekka Toivanen having created the Saima Raita hardwood floor.

Showroom Finland: Creating fresh, new Scandanavian design products, Showroom Finland works with some of the most innovative young designers around, like Petri Vainio, Tapio Anttila, and Jouko Kärkkäinen. Their Tuohi bowl won the Design Plus Award in 2008, and their PLY wall elements, made of new ultra thin birch plywood has been garnering praise at design exhibitions since it was first introduced.

Skanno: Since 1946 Skanno has been producing furniture where design has been an integral part. Among the classics they’ve become famous for are the Bomba armchair which was designed by Hillevi Sepponen in 1954, and the Lago table of the 1960s. Today the company is going from strength to strength, and continues to rely on innovative designers, such as Tsutomu Mutoh with his hi-tech lamps. Perhaps Skanno’s most famous design  is the Kameleleonitti sofa, which can be stripped of its cover and given a new one.

Tonfisk Design: Founded in 1999 in Helsinki, and launched internationally the following spring at Ambiente, this small Finnish ceramic design company has been causing a stir ever since. Tonfisk gained international recognition, in particular, for their WARM tea-set which combines ceramics and wood, and which has became something of a trend object the year of it’s launch. Today Tonfisk’s functional, yet innovative and eye-catching, tableware can be found in many of the most prominent interior design shops worldwide, available in almost 40 countries.

Verso Design: Established in 1997, Finnish Verso Design Oy specialises in high quality interior design products, and is renowned especially for its carpets. Verso also produces textiles, table top products, accessories, and the innovative ITU wall elements series which combines beauty with the practicality of being sound absorbent! Products are made from wool, linen and wood. Personal design and material choices make the products exciting and suitable for both home decoration and office interiors. Many of the products are ecological and non-allergenic.

Design in Sound! Finland has a fine reputation amongst afficionados of hi-fidelity sound, especially when it comes to loudspeakers, and dynamic loudspeaker technology in particular. Although most music lovers will be aware of Genelec, most of the other loudspeaker manufacturers will probably be unknown, except to those who build their hi-fi systems from individual components. Some of the key performers in Finnish hi-fidelity are Amphion, Aurelia, Avalanche (whose dynamic speakers are finished in a special, waxed, natural stone), ForVoice, Gradient, Harrin Kaiutin, OR, Penaudio, Profel, and WaveDynamics. A special mention should also be made of SandMarc Audio, leaders in tube amplifier technology.