Aalto Vase : Pure Scandinavian design The best known design object from Finland is probably the Aalto vase. It is an easily recognizable glass vase with curvy shapes representing forms of Finnish lakes. This vase is a perfect example of Scandinavian design at its purest: a simple design and functionality done with massproduction methods.
The Aalto vase was created by the wellknown Finnish designer Alvar Aalto (18981976) in 1936 for a design competition of a Finnish glass factory. During the next year it was presented in the World Fair exhibition in Paris. At the exhibition the Aalto vase was displayed in different shapes and colors, from one reaching a metre high to small, shallow ones. Designer Alvar Aalto did not want to define how and for what his vase should be used. Maybe that is the reason why the Aalto vase has so many different interpretations for its use. In addition to the traditional use as a flower vase, the vase has been, for example, a fruit basket, a kitchen equipment holder, a salt and pepper holder, a service plate, an ice bucket, an aquarium, a cake mold and a cocktail bowl. Naturally the vase has been used as a decorative object as well. In Finland, the Aalto vase is probably one of the most commonly given presents, suitable for the graduations and retirement parties alike. Nowadays the Aalto vase is produced by Iittala, a Finnish design company that specializes mainly in houseware objects made from glass. The mass production of the vase started in 1953, and nowadays nobody knows how many vases are out there. There are Aalto vases in museum collections also: for example, New York’s modern Art museum MOMA has Aalto vases in their collection, and also sells copies of the vase in museum shop.
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Birds by Toikka Professor and designer Oiva Toikka is the man behind the extensive series of glass birds. Professor Toikka has worked with the glass specialized Finnish design company Iittala for over 50 years and is well known for his glass art and ceramics. Glass birds have been Oiva Toikka’s passion for now over 35 years; during that time he has designed over 300 different birds. The first bird, Sieppo (Flycatcher), was blown in 1972. Sieppo was a collection of small, colourful glass birds with rounded bodies, strong beaks and uplifted tails. Some of the Sieppos had wings also and some had a stand to prop them up. Sieppo was maybe more naïve than some of the latter birds, but the distinctive style of Oiva Toikka was already there: the ability to catch the spirit of the bird in the form of glass. Every bird is handmade, so each of them has unique features, yet they all follow Scandinavian design characteristics.
Oiva Toikka’s birds usually have an ellipse or rounded glassblown body. The beak and the tail stretch from the body seamlessly. Most of the colourful class birds follow the characters of their natural paragons and are named after them, but not all. The colour of the birds varies from very natural ones like Peltopyy (Partridge in English) to imaginary ones like the pink Ystävänpäivälintu (Valentine Day’s Bird). Nowadays Oiva Toikka’s Birds are well known collector’s items around the world. Due their ability to reflect light, Oiva Toikka’s birds are often placed near a window. According to the some instructions to take care of them, sunlight might harm these design pieces, but that has not stopped people placing them in by windows. For further information, please visit: www.finnishdesignshop.com
The History of Iittala – Scandinavian design One of the best known trademarks of Scandinavian design is Iittala, the Finnish design company specialized in houseware objects made from glass, steel and ceramics. The history of Iittala dates back to 1881, in a small Finnish village called Iittala, which is now part of the city of Hämeenlinna. The reason a factory was built there was typical of the time: all the materials – sand, water and wood – were found nearby the Iittala village. However, there was something that could not be found nearby: the craftsmanship of glassblowing came from Sweden. At that time, there were no skilled glassblowers in Finland. From the hands of the original owner Petrus Magnus Abrahamsson, the company transferred to the hands of A. Ahlstöm, the owner of the Karhula glass factory. After the change of ownership, the Iittala factory became specialized in everyday household items, such as bottles for chemicals and containers for lamp oil. Functionalism and designers like Aino and Alvar Aalto changed Iittala’s product catalog completely. These designers wanted to make design objects using mass production methods, and the Iittala factory was more than suitable for this. Due to this, the Iittala factory became the producer of artistic glass objects also. Later designers such as Tapio Wirkkala, Timo Sarpaneva and Oiva Toikka started designing for the company, all helping to create the fame of Scandinavian design in glassware originating from Iittala. Iittala’s two best known products are the Aalto vase designed by Alvar Aalto, and Aino Aalto’s drinking glasses. Today, the Iittala brand and the factory are owned by Fiskars, the multibrand company also behind other famous Finnish design brands. The glassblowing tradition still continues in the Iittala factory, and all Aalto vases are still made in there. For further information, please visit : www.finnishdesignshop.com
Marimekko Unikko H
uge bright flowers in red, green, blue, or even grey and black: that is what Marimekko’s Unikko print looks like. These cheerful flower prints are part of the Finnish textile and clothing design company Marimekko’s collection. Unikko means poppy in Finnish, and the pattern the printed flowers follows loosely their natural namesake. However, printed Unikko is like a 2D version of it, plus a far more playful, joyful or even childish design than the natural counterpart.
The story behind the pattern is more rebellious than this joyful print would ever indicate. In 1964, Armi Ratia, the strong and outspoken founder of Marimekko, said in public that floral patterns will never be printed by Marimekko. Maija Isola, one of the designers at Marimekko, couldn’t care less about these kinds of restrictions and protested by designing a whole collection of floral patterns. This is how Unikko was born.
The jolly look might be one of the reasons for the ultimate success of the Unikko fabric. The different ways to use this prints are numerous: this pattern can be found in curtains, bed sheets, towels and table cloths; from bags to clothes made by Marimekko or avid home artisans; the print can be found in mugs, umbrellas, shoes, wallpapers, mobile phone covers and pens; and this is just to name a few of the existing uses. Today, Maija Isola’s daughter Kristiina Isola, a designer herself also, keeps on developing new patterns and colours for the Unikko series. This way her mother’s most popular design stays alive and contemporary. For further information, please visit : www.finnishdesignshop.com