100 Years of Finnish Design 

In 2017, Finland celebrates 100 years of independence and last Thursday evening we were lucky to explore 100 years of Finnish Design at home in Toronto. The University of Toronto Finnish Studies program along with the Embassy of Finland in Canada hosted leading Finnish Design expert Professor Pekka Korvenmaa from Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland. The evening was an enlightening and entertaining insight into Finnish Design that I was privileged to attend.

Finnish design dates back to the 1870’s Industrial Revolution and Paris World Fair of 1900 when design was simply known as crafts including simple birch wood, plywood, textiles, rugs and ceramics. As Finland became an independent nation in 1917, their design was impacted by economic factors as well as the decisions of the middle class housewives and available talent. To this day, Finland has a great number of women at the forefront of their design. 

Marimekko has featured many female designers including Armi Ratia and Maija Isola since its inception in 1951 and remains a staple in Finnish design until this day. Their colourful prints are well known throughout the world. Their stripped Jokapoika shirts are still made today and the Unikko Poppy print is now seen in a multitude of colours. Even First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy wore a Marimekko dress for its simplicity as her fashion choices had been seen as excessive to the American people. This fashion statement made the brand an immediate hit in the United States. 


Stockmann‘s department store – also known as Harrods of the north – became a paradise of consumption and Finnish design. On my first holiday to Helsinki in the late the 1980’s, I remember visiting it with my Mummi and returning home to Canada with a skirt and sweater purchased from there. It has continued to be a stop on my two subsequent trips to Helsinki. A beautiful store filled with many beautiful things as well as a beautiful building too. 



To this day Alvar Aalto is Finland’s most famous Architect and Designer. One of his most famous furniture pieces was turning a piece of plywood into a stunning and aesthetically pleasing chair to sit as well as admire.

Aalto used textiles, glass and ceramics and made them into functional pieces at an affordable price. They were intimately tied to social democracy in Finland and made design accessible to all. One such piece of Aalto’s was his well known Savoy vase by iittala. Symbolic of the Finnish middle class, it brought beauty to enhance everyday life. Most households owned one. I am lucky to own two yet still hope to own a big Savoy vase one day. Definitely one of my favourite pieces as it reminds me of the nature and lakes of Finland. 

Finnish design is all about practicality and functionality and how modern design can serve the family. From stackable dishes by Arabia Finland to maximize space to the dish drying rack to simplify household duties. All my Finnish family have one in their homes. Truly smart Finnish design.

Arabia Finland was a leader in dishware and China and people flocked to Helsinki for it. Designer Kaj Franck tried to introduce melamine dishware but the interest was not there. People had strong emotions about how they wanted to eat and drink and they simply desired to use china, ceramics and glassware. I now am lucky to have my parent’s Arabia Finland wedding china – a discontinued pattern called Valencia – which I cherish dearly. In 2015, I travelled to Finland and stayed in an area called Arabianranta – just steps from the original Arabia factory. A fun fact I learned from Professor Korvenmaa was that Arabia Finland gained its name from the name of the lot it sits on – Villa Arabia. While I have visited the retail store, the Iittala and Arabia Design Centre is definitely top of my list on my next holiday to Helsinki. 


 
In the 1960’s, plastics became a material of choice. Many people know the company Fiskars but very few likely know it was a Finnish company. They took the heavy and expensive tailor scissors and used a less expensive material to make them an incredible piece of technology and design. The Fiskars scissors are used in many households throughout the world and are the iconic household scissors that sold by the billion according to CNN Style. 

Finnish design always focused on the need for domestic items. A place to eat, somewhere to sleep and something to wear. Finnish nature has also played a backdrop for much of its design. Comparisons are often made between Japanese and Finnish Design. Japanese design was all about minimalism and asthethics. Finnish design was about being functional. Incredible how that goal of being functional has led to incredible aesthetically pleasing and beautiful design.

When Professor Korvenmaa was asked about comparing design to other Nordic countries and beyond, he used this insightful quote – “When you are a fish in the water, you don’t contemplate the water.” While Sweden and Denmark focused on beauty and Great Britain and France focused on design for the elite, Finnish design was for everyone. 

Intrigued to learn about Finnish Design, you may wish to read his book: Finnish Design: A Concise History. Kiitos Professor Korvenmaa for all the incredible new insights into Finnish Design. I am excited to return to Finland again soon to explore more about the design I have grown up with and still absolutely love today. 

A Evening with Finnish Studies – 100 Years of Finnish Design

I absolutely love my University of Toronto Finnish Studies class on Finnish Architecture and Design. This week we get to explore more about one of my favourite things – Finnish Design. If you live in Toronto and love Finnish design or would just like to learn more, join us this Thursday evening to listen to special guest Pekka Korvenmaa – author of Finnish Design: A Concise History – from Aalto University in Helsinki, Finland. Coffee and pulla will be served after the lecture. Everyone welcome. Tervetuloa! 

Back to School – FIN 270 Modern and Contemporary Finnish Architecture and Design at the University of Toronto 


I love to learn. While I may have left formal post-secondary education more than two decades ago, I have continued to be a lifelong learner both formally and informally. The University of Toronto’s Finnish Studies elective courses have always been on my learning wish list since both my parents emigrated from Finland to Canada as well as most of my family were born and continue to live in Finland. When I read about the Finnish Studies and the Embassy of Finland to Canada’s brand new course in Modern and Contemporary Finnish Architecture and Design, I knew I had to enroll. I grew up surrounded by Finnish design and on a construction site too. I believe both inspired my love of architecture, design and photography. I work professionally full time, I decided to audit the course by creatively using three vacation days to attend this class to learn more. My first class completed and I am very excited about the lectures and guest speakers including a few who will travel from Finland for this course that celebrates Finland’s 100th anniversary of Independence. Finland is a young nation but it has made an amazing impact through its architecture and design in both Finland and around the world. Look forward to all my learnings and sharing my insights in the weeks ahead. Join me on the journey. Tervetuloa.

FIN 270 Modern and Contemporary Finnish Architecture and Design at the University of Toronto 

I love everything Finnish and I love to always be learning. This autumn I am creatively using three vacation days and heading back to school. The University of Toronto Finnish Studies Program in partnership with the Embassy of Finland to Canada are introducing a brand new course – FIN 270 Modern and Contemporary Finnish Architecture and Design to celebrate Finland’s 100th year of Independence. Finnish Architecture and Design is well known throughout the world and is forefront in Finland’s identity. The course will welcome guest lecturers from Finland which is very exciting. Since I don’t need an undergraduate credit, I decided to audit the course which means all the joys of learning without the stresses of studying, assignments and exams. If you love design and architecture or everything Finnish, definitely consider joining this course or one of the other courses offered by the Finnish Studies program. I am very excited to learn more about Finnish Architecture and Design and hope to share some of my findings and insights along the way. 

New Beginnings

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September and back to school has always felt like a time of new beginnings to me. While I am no longer in school, I enjoy the rituals, excitement and the sense of new this time of year brings. September is also a time of reflection.

In September 1996, my great grandmother who was like a second mother to me passed away. While expected, the loss of a loved one is never easy but I decided to move forward with a previously planned holiday to Vancouver to visit a dear university friend. Always one to make friends on my travels, I enjoyed a lovely conversation with my seatmate who was a successful businessman in the latter stages of his career. During our journey, he shared this insight about life with me.

“Many view life as three parts – school, work and retirement – where we finally get to pursue and enjoy pleasurable pursuits. Many go through life like this but to truly enjoy life fully we should incorporate all elements throughout our lives.”

I truly believe people come into our lives for a reason and I was so thankful to receive this message just two years into my professional life and after the loss of my great grandmother. To this day, this is one of the best pieces of advice I have ever received and has helped me weather the ups and downs and challenges that life has brought.

I definitely took this message to heart and continue to put it into practice by always learning, by volunteering and giving back to my community and ensuring that I do things I enjoy. Good health and retirement are not a given. We must not wait to do the things we want to do until later in life. We all need to live fully now.

As we embark on a change of season, are there aspects in your life that feel out of balance? Is there something you always wanted to learn even just for fun? Are you waiting until retirement to travel? Are you dreading going to work every day? Do you want to make an impact in your community? Are you having challenges with your health? Are you consistently missing out on spending time making memories with your family and friends? If you answered yes to any of these questions, I encourage you to reflect on what is important to you and consider implementing this simple yet valuable advice by including something that may be missing into your life now. Many wait until January 1st to make resolutions or changes in their lives or keep putting them off all together. Why wait when you can embark on change today. Remember it is never too late for a new beginning.

Happy September!