Design Finland – Behind the scenes at Helsinki’s ARABIA Factory

Finland’s Artistic Hub, right in the heart of the nation’s Capital.

arabia fiskars iittala designer imagesWhen one thinks of Finnish Interior Art & Design, most likely a few images or references spring to mind? Well, if you’ve had any contact at all with Finland, Interior Design, Art, or a department store with a great collection of glass, plates and mugs – most likely you have caught sight of a number of these artist’s Finnish works.

With along history of artistic design, Finland has only more recently been recognized for its quiet, overachieving talents.  2012 saw Helsinki named as ‘World Design Capital’, not only for its recent achievements, but the recognition of the international art communities and a rejuvenated demand for export across the globe. Good design can be seen in most Finnish homes, hotels and restaurants.

Most Finns own a few pieces of good designware in their homes, from the original Finnish producers themselves, not similar-looking mass reproductions, despite their obvious price difference. (We’ll get back to that some other time…). There is one place in Helsinki, that endears the visitor to the traditions of Finnish design, while allows visitors to feel part of the understated, overwhelmingly adored Art & Design of the Finland’s Capital.

plates and candle holdersThe Factory Block in the Arabia District of Helsinki is home to many exciting places to visit…from the Factory still fire kilning Arabia brand plates, cups & vases, including some of the famous Moomin products, to the gallery housing sculpture made from plates, axes, scissors and glassware. It is no coincidence that Fiskars (nowadays the brand owners of Iittala & Arabia, Hackman and more) share this location with Aalto University of Art & Design. The day to day functionality of Fiskars made tools, the beautiful simplicity of Arabia’s ceramic kitchen wares, and the vibrant colored glass of the Iittala collection – along with designer & trademark character collaborations, these brands now stand together at on HQ in Helsinki. Behind the scenes, the journey continues. With a guided tour of the factory, I was lucky enough to take a visit to the Artist’s studios tucked away unobtrusively on the upper floors. With views over Helsinki from this industrial building, each small inspiring studio is the workplace of some of the artists working alongside Fiskars brand products.

The collaboration looks to be working just fine. The halls are lined with sample pieces, whether discarded out of the studio or space making or placed for view, I can’t be sure. It doesn’t matter much either, I take in every piece of work, some with an eery familiarity (being unfinished models of larger works – notably pieces from Helsinki Airport formonoploy head arabia design studios example). I even spot what looks much like a large replica of the MONOPOLY board game mustached man in top hat…could it be that iconic English brand has reached Finland’s artistic circles? This place is oozing with cool.

artwork figures 2I have the very lucky chance to view Kim Simonsson’s studio at Arabia. It seems that he has two in Finland, one in France and one in Japan – he’s pretty sought after for his dark, childish yet haunting sculptures – I’m immediately in love with the melancholy mood they raise in me. Themelancholic girl juxtaposition between his near rotten metal animal carcasses right to his innocent looking girls jumping in bubble gum colored puddles, each huge sculpture offers something a little dark, a little light and a little penetrating. I can’t put my finger on it, but I suppose that what makes us want to look at something again and again…? After browsing the hallways, there is much I see that I cannot account to a particular one of these great artists, but the balance between sculpture, plate design, drawing and sketch, field art worklarge pieces field art workand smaller scale pottery reminds me that although this factory might be home to one of the most famous homewards producers, ARABIA, the shape and form of all their beloved pieces have come directly from an artist’s studio such as this. Nothing is left to chance or bad design in this company.

In a small room off to the left of the corridor, I tentatively knock on a half opened door, behind which there is a small lady with chalky hands busying herself with various small jobs, mainly tidying the tiny room from its bits and pieces – knives and forks clearly used for scoring and cutting materials, tissues to dabbing, water for drinking and cleaning, cloths and offcuts of materials, chalk, clay, mesh, and paper.

Kristina Riska artistWithout know the intricacies of how they are relevant, my gaze is fixed on them as she introduces herself as Kristina Riska. Kristina (1960) worked in Arabia for the first time in 1984. She has concentrated on creating unique ceramics works but has also designed some objects for serial production as the Koko series together with Kati Tuominen-Niittylä. Kristina Riska has received among others the Suomi (Finland )-Prize in 1995, the Medaglia D’oro, Faenza, Italia and in 2002 the Silver Medal in Mino, Japan.

Her fascinating style is varied, with my favorite pieces, her huge vase-like sculptures.  There are gorgeously paper cut outs of blurry figures pasted around the walls of the room, too. These have been used as silhouettes for huge cast sculptures, with similarlyKristina art work shaped cut-outs, and the practice casts are all over the room. Their unclear shapes and unidentified genders of these cut-out figures makes them even more alluring, like a lonely stranger on a misty, rainy day. Whatever your interpretation, you’d be struck by the creativity that is happening in these compact studios.

kristina artist inspired wallHeading down into the basement is where you get the chance to see the brick kilns that burn at immense heat to product the plates, bowls and other objects made here. Vases and jugs are still cast by hand. I was struck by the great, modern and clean machinery in place here, but also how many people still worked at this great Finnish factory. Care and attention was going into every part of the process, that was evident. You could see this also by taking a look in the ‘thirds bins’ where cast-offs were sent. I picked up a few for inspection and could barely see a dot that I would have happily paid a ‘seconds’ price for in the seconds outlet stores around. This isn’t wasteful, it is good quality control, and materials here get used again, recycled or otherwise utilized anyhow. You aren’t allowed to take images in the factory space, as you may get a glimpse of future designs in their test runs, so keep you eyes peeled!

miniture vantaa prayerArabia brand has been around since 1873, but the place isn’t stuffy or old fashioned – sharing the buildings around it now, with a campus for Alvar Aalto School of Arts, Design and Architecture, a huge outdoor sculpture gallery and a technical museum, the whole ARABIA area is a one-stop shop for Arts and Design enthusiasts.

Contact info@kontikifinland.com for more information on visiting ARABIA.

Please contact us before using any of the enclosed images, as we’ve had artists permission to publish them…. Many thanks.

About Kontiki Finland

Sarah - Mainly-English-Speaking-Canadian-British-Finn, UAE born. Travel, animals, children, nature, city & food enthusiast. & Tomas - Finnish born world traveller, with a love of fishing, food and fire :) LinkedIn - Sarah Coombes Google+ - Sarah KontikiFinland
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2 Responses to Design Finland – Behind the scenes at Helsinki’s ARABIA Factory

  1. David Wilson says:

    Just did a 5 hour tour of the Finland Archipelago with Tomas.
    Swimming in the Baltic , some local food cooked over open fire and fish soup at an iconic seaside cafe and to experience the Archipelago the way the locals do was exceptional. Tomas , with his knowledge, passion and friendliness, made the trip one of the highlights of our 5 week Scandivanian and Finland holiday.
    Highly recommend.
    D & M. Tasmania

  2. sarah says:

    Well thank you ever so much David, for your wonderful comments on today’s Archipelago Experience. Tomas & the Kontiki Finland Team.

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