Design Helsinki: Exploring Scandinavian Interior Design, Sustainability and Finnish Culture
The founder of IGOLO, Sophia Major, visited Design Helsinki last week to explore the Finnish capital and indulge in the best of Scandinavian Interior Design. From showrooms and exhibitions, to natural saunas and contemporary restaurants, read on to explore the city and design festival through the eyes of IGOLO’s founder.
As I stepped off the train to embark on my latest adventure, I was hit with the smell of fresh bread and the sight of beautiful cobbled streets. I was exhausted and relieved to have finally reached my destination. Next, I had to find my Airbnb. I booked a studio flat in the centre of Helsinki for my 3 night stay. Simple and convenient. I met the Airbnb host in person. A friendly PHD student from Brazil who shared a plethora of recommendations. Too many for the brief visit I had come for.
In the interest of disclosure, here is the list of recommendations I received, both as a catalogue for my next visit or for yours!
- Löyly, Restaurant & Bar. Has both saunas and outdoor swimming. Beautiful terrace on the waterfront.
- Bier Bier. The best beers in town.
- Pyynikin Taproom. For an excellent beer tasting experience.
- Yes Yes Yes, Cocktail bar and vegetarian restaurant.
- Strindberg, Croissants. For lovers of coffee & people watching.
- Flat no. 14. Hyggeligt, laptop friendly cafe.
- Market Square. For the best traditional Finnish salmon soup.
- Design District. Full to the brim with fashion, design, and many secondhand and sustainable shops.
- Green Cap Tours. For a free guided tour of the city.
The happiest country in the world - does it all start with a happy home?
The UN’s World Happiness report 2021 yet again declared that Finland was the happiest country worldwide. Who better to garner interior design inspiration from than from those that are happiest?
The CEO of idaDesign, Ida Pihlajaniemi, sums up Finnish interior design principles:
'Finnish homes glorify the Scandinavian light and timeless style. We cherish durable father-to-son style choices and genuine natural materials… The traditional skill of making by hand is passed on to us as a blood legacy, and most homes have centuries-old furniture made by family and passed down from generation to generation. Recycled treasures are also very pleasing to Finns who are accurate about their finances – that is why we have a lot of old goods stores, flea markets, and online stores.'
Finnish interior design and architecture is surrounded by an acute minimalism with a heavy emphasis on tradition and skills of old. Perhaps if we all adopted these principles we could live happier.
The culture of Finland: Hygge
Hygge is a concept of Danish and Norwegian descent which is practised and loved throughout Scandinavia and the rest of the world! The word has no direct English translation, but it means something akin to cosiness; a feeling of “comfortable conviviality”; a mood of wellness and contentment.
Visiting Helsinki during the beginning of autumn is a fantastic way to get to know hygge. And since it has become so popular at the moment worldwide, what better place to experience some hyggelig moments in real life? Whether it be a cosy cafe, dinner with old friends, or reading by the candle light, the whole point of hygge is to find cosiness within the everyday.
Coffee, croissants and people watching at Strindberg Cafe in Helsinki
Eye-catching installation. A mountain of secondhand furniture pours down the roof of the Amos Rex art museum & gallery in Helsinki.
In August, ‘Design Helsinki’ launched its first ever festival to celebrate Scandinavian design. The festival was spread across the entire city centre, which was completely unlike any other design festivals I have visited. Showrooms and workshops opened their doors to the public, inviting them into a glorious world of contemporary, luxury, and artisanal products. Each showroom was individually eclectic and unique and was far removed from the realm of mass production. This was the place to discover the heart of Scandinavian design.
‘In Finland, design is as much about the nature that surrounds it as it is about the everyday lives it needs to support. Finns take inspiration from nature and turn it into objects, architecture, and a blueprint for a way to live.’ (Sorcha McCrory, Scandinavia Standard)
Pattern making with Lauritzon
After five hours of walking and exploring the design festival, I reached my final destination for the day: Lauritzon, just south of the city centre. I was impressed by the number of secondhand and vintage furniture stores which I found along the way. On busy streets, they took up large retail spaces, with streams of people fading in and out holding golden crested mirrors, crystal wine glasses, and other vintage goods. They had such a permanent identity within the city: a reminder for us all to stand up against our throwaway culture. Upcycling is the latest trend!
There was a pattern making workshop in Lauritzon, and I was just on time. Lauritzon was established in the early 20th century in Stockholm, specialising in upholstery and curtain fabrics for the home. In collaboration with renowned world producers they create Scandinavian-style interior fabrics, to the highest quality.
I immediately felt at home as I stepped foot inside the workshop. I was welcomed with a glass of bubbly and a plate of summer macarons. We learnt how to create repeated patterns by hand. I was given a pencil, a paintbrush, and some acrylic paints. Inspired by the array of flowers in front of me, I began to paint strokes of leaves and brightly-coloured petals.
The International Design Pavilion
The International Design Pavilion opened its doors to the public on Wednesday evening; a party to socialise and network with some industry professionals. The pavilion was completely packed, full of energy and bustling conversations. I wandered around the exhibition and kept my eyes peeled for sustainable products. To my surprise, there were many. Here are a few of my favourites:
- PILKE, Sustainable Plywood Lampshades
- Secto Design, Finnish designer lamps made from wood
- Martela, Sustainable, user-driven workplace furniture
Business and pleasure
I also squeezed in some down-time in between the meetings, networking, and exploring. Cozy cafe corners, modern cuisines, and beer tasting were just a few of the highlights.
Yes Yes Yes, Vegetarian restaurant and cocktail bar in Helsinki
After a brief conversation with a bartender, I was told that I simply could not leave Finland without visiting a sauna. Apprehensive at first, I committed to visiting a community-run sauna just on the east coast of the city.
After a 20 minute bus ride, I found myself roaming through a construction site on Friday evening until I finally found the sauna spot I had been searching for. Three quaint wooden sauna huts were nestled under the trees on a beach.
The sauna was rammed full of locals. As I wiggled my way through to a seat, I sat in the sauna and closed my eyes. I eavesdropped on some loud Finnish conversations while trying to survive probably the hottest sauna I had ever stepped foot in. As cold water poured over sizzling hot stones above the stove, I breathed in the heat and tried to relax.
Eventually I surrendered to the heat and made a run for the ice cold sea nearby. After an hour of running back and forth, between sauna and sea, I found myself feeling very refreshed. Satisfied, I hitched a ride back to the city centre.
Tips for adopting some Finnish design principles into your own space
- Invest in sustainable, timeless pieces and recycled treasures. One of Finland’s long-lasting legacies is their expertise in making timeless furniture.
- Stick to a harmonious colour palette. Finns often use naturally bright colours to bring colour and light into their homes. There is even a widespread belief that they see colourful prints and bright patterns as the perfect way to welcome colder weather!
- Choose furniture made from natural and eco-friendly materials. This is not only a great way to bring the outside in, but you will also be decorating with the planet in mind.
- Less is more: practise minimalism within the home. Scandinavia is known for its love of minimalism- you won’t see too many maximalist Finnish interiors out there!
- Take advantage of natural light. Natural light brightens our mood and our spaces. Emphasising large, south-facing windows brings the light in and keeps the darkness out!
My visit to Design Helsinki was not only inspiring interior design and architecture wise, but it was also a wonderful opportunity to explore a vibrant city, full of culture. My main objective during the visit was to explore the Design Festival, but I believe I gained much more than I set out to. Even though 3 days was not enough to explore the city fully, it was enough to pique my curiosity in enthused anticipation of my next visit to Helsinki.