Posted:Jan 17, 2022

Finnish Design: Aesthetics Rooted in a Connection With Nature

A Journey into Finland’s Sublime Creations

"Finnish Design for Everyday Life – Patterns and Forms Inspired by Nature" exhibition hall, Bunkamura (Photo: Yuya Furukawa)

Japanese people have a fascination with Finnish design. That is not surprising, as there are striking similarities in the two cultures’ design aesthetics. The quiet simplicity of forms and lines and an instinctive attention to natural materials and textures are among them.

Visitors will be able to experience Finland’s influence on the design, furniture, arts, and crafts in Finnish Design for Everyday Life – Patterns and Forms Inspired by Nature at The Bukamura Museum of Art through January 30th. Supervised by the Helsinki Art Museum, this exhibition is a joyful journey through Finland’s history and natural environment. It surveys the impact of Finnish creativity as exemplified by 250 works from the country’s foremost architects, designers, artists, and craftspeople. Architect Alvar Aalto, industrial designer Kaj Franck of Arabia (iittala), cartoonist Tove Jansson, ceramic artist Rut Bryk, and textile designers Aini Vaari of Finlayson and Maija Isola of Marimekko are among its stars.

Glass vases by Alvar Aalto echo the shapes of Finland's many islets. A log-like mold for the vases is also shown. (Photo: ©Jennifer Pastore)

The first part of the exhibition presents Finland as a country of natural abundance. After gaining independence from Russia in 1917, Finland began to nourish its natural resources and reflected them in the patterns, forms, and materials of its products. The country has since promoted its image as a “land of forests and lakes,” not only in its aesthetic philosophy, but in items created for its people’s daily lives as well.

Finnish architects, designers, and craftspeople established their reputations on the world stage from the 1930s through the 1970s. The 1950s were particularly regarded as Finnish design’s “golden age.” Rational functionalism evolved into delicate lines and abstract and organic forms, which were featured to international acclaim at the 1936 Milan Triennale. Alvar Aalto, who introduced Nordic Classicism and International Style Modernism, emerged as one of the most prominent symbols of Finnish architecture. Among his classic pieces displayed in the exhibition are the Stool 60, 41 Armchair Paimio, and Cantilever Chair Model 31. These celebrated works are marked by their sculptural presence, comfort, and innovative use of bentwood manufacturing. 

Furniture by Alvar Aalto (Photo: Yuya Furukawa)

Among the tableware products, Kaj Franck’s BA Kilta (BA the Guild) ceramics are timeless masterpieces of Finnish functionality and practicality. Franck stressed utmost austerity, employing the basic forms of a circle, cone, rectangle, and cylinder as the bases of his design. His works have been labeled as the “conscience of Finnish design.” Sophisticated glasswares by Aino Aalto (Bolgeblick), Alvar Aalto (Savoy), and Tapio Wirkkala (Kantarelli) are also feasts for the eyes.

“BA Kilta“ (BA the Guild), Arabia ceramics by Kaj Franck, 1952-1975 (Photo: Yuya Furukawa)

After World War II, the demand for household textiles increased dramatically, and many stores in Finland competed to manufacture and export modern fabrics. Finlayson, founded in 1820, is a respected name in the textile industry. Its fabrics boast dynamic floral and geometric motifs in vibrant colors that illustrate the seasons. “Finnish Design” also features the work of Maija Isola, whose abundantly colorful, large-print textiles for Marimekko have become popular around the world, especially in Japan. Isola’s trademark "Unikko" poppy motifs embody the chic contemporary touch of Finnish patterns. Bright and charming dresses by Annika Rimala add more glamorous flair to the show.

Finnish textiles and apparel (Photo: Yuya Furukawa)

The amusing illustrations of Moomin by Tove Jansson are also not to be missed. As an artist and writer, Jansson delivered happiness and inspiration with the Moomin themes of friendship, forgiveness, and freedom.

Despite Finland’s long and harsh winters, the power of its design has long offered comfort, tranquility, and cheerfulness sustaining the health and happiness of its people. Perhaps it is because of the climate’s scarce sunlight that Finnish design could skillfully capture the intricate shades of light seen in its products and architecture. The reflection of light on the country's lakes and glaciers has a special brilliance also captured in the textures and patterns of its textiles. These designs continue to embrace the warmth of Finnish aesthetics and sensitivity to nature.

Alma Reyes

Alma Reyes

Editor, writer, graphic/layout designer, and music artist promotion/event coordinator based in Tokyo, Japan. Holds a Bachelor's degree in Interior Design, studied Computer Graphic Design at University of California Berkeley, Japanese language studies at Osaka University of Foreign Studies, and received her Master's degree in Product Design & Design Management at Kyoto Institute of Technology. Has published over 30 titles as an editor and writer. Interests include design, architecture, art, photography, brush calligraphy, music, piano, concerts, film, theatre, books, poetry, travel, retro, boats, horses, wine, Italian food, and all "uninhibited" elements of life…