If you’re a longtime reader of this site, you know that we are, above all, sunshine-seeking people who happen to be inextricably linked to New York and its fickle seasons. Normally we leap at the chance to hightail it off the East Coast anytime between November and April, in search of beaches, pools, palm trees, and vitamin D. But somehow, while Monica and the rest of the design world headed to Miami at the beginning of December, I found myself saying yes to a week in Finland, home of 30-degree temperatures and 3PM sunsets. When I arrived, no fewer than three people delighted in telling me that the previous month in Finland had seen only 15 hours of sunshine.
There was a lot of that in Finland — hearing the same story from multiple people, like the one about Elton John buying a rare piece of contemporary Finnish glass — and in the end that’s one of the things I ended up loving most: the cozy familiarity that comes from being a country with a population that’s almost half that of New York City. Everyone tells you the same stories, everyone eats split-pea soup and pancakes on Thursdays, and everyone in the design and craft world seems to know each other.
I spent five days in Helsinki and the Finnish countryside (along with our wonderful host, Katarina Siltavuori, a Finnish curator working on behalf of Ornamo, and two other curators), meeting a huge number of those designers, seeing more than a few design factories and exhibitions, and achieving a personal holy grail: visiting the Alvar Aalto home and studio, which didn’t disappoint. I also visited the studio of an up-and-coming fashion designer who so epically impressed us she’ll be getting her own story in the coming weeks. Til then, here’s a look at the sights we saw and the work we loved.
Sighted today on Nowness, a post celebrating the opening of Helsinki Design Week — and the year of design events taking place in the Nordic capital in 2012 — with a photo essay featuring contemporary furniture and lighting by eight established and up-and-coming Finnish designers, shot inside Alvar Aalto's house. Located in the Munkkiniemi neighborhood of Helsinki, the meticulously preserved home provides the perfect backdrop for work created by a generation of designers who, living in such a tiny country, must all inevitably feel the influence of Aalto's outsized legacy — visually speaking, the project also reminded us of our favorite installation at the 2010 Milan Furniture Fair, when contemporary furniture was inserted into the hallowed rooms of Piero Portaluppi's Villa Necchi Campiglio. The Nowness story was beautifully shot by the young French photographer Estelle Hanania, and we've excerpted half of those images here.
We may have spent most of our New York Design Week(end) tending to the most successful Noho Design District ever — wrap-up post coming soon! — but this year we were determined to see as much of everyone else's presentations as possible, including spending more time walking the International Contemporary Furniture Fair at the Javits, checking in with old friends while discovering new talents. And since Roll & Hill opted not to reprise the bar they plopped in the middle of the fair last year, plying us with beers and chips as we charged our phones and completely lost track of time, we were able to do a relatively thorough sweep before racing back out into the sunshine again. We started out just snapping products we loved, but then couldn't resist adding a Sight Unseen twist, so we asked some of the more adventurous designers and brand ambassadors to strike a pose with one of their new pieces — which turned out to be a welcome break from the tedium of spending one's days doing business inside a windowless convention center. See our highlights here, then stay tuned for our roundup of this year's offsite shows.
As design-store owner Dave Alhadeff sees it, there’s a distinction between the kinds of craftspeople he is and isn’t interested in: The latter make objects primarily to show off their manual skills, while the former are motivated by a larger concept, a wish to make tangible some abstract artistic meaning. Carving toothpicks into forest animals? Skills. Carving porcelain into vases so mind-bogglingly intricate they appear to be made by machine? Concept. A subtle difference, but one that helps it seem slightly less absurd to picture Alhadeff — who runs The Future Perfect, one of New York’s most well-respected purveyors of contemporary design — roaming the aisles of a Westchester craft fair, chatting up potters and glassblowers. Concept, he explains, is what builds a bridge between pure craft and design.