Too often, we paint design styles with broad brush strokes, muddying the details and losing meaning along the way. It would be easy to slot Finnish design under the loosely used ‘Scandinavian Design’ idiom. But doing this would mean losing sight of the finer nuances of the Finnish design legacy – not to mention its formidable rise in its own right.
As a country that places high value on quality, aesthetics, and functionality, Finland’s prime position as a design influencer is self-evident. But in fact it’s the design house Iittala that paved the way for Finnish design to permeate the modern design consciousness, and remains one of the most enduringly popular brands on the market.
Produced in partnership with Iittala
Dating back to 1881, when a glass factory was established in a village of the same name in southern Finland, Iittala’s beginnings were firmly in artisanal glassware that catered to the continental trends of the time. While we may take the streamlined modernism of dinnerware design for granted these days, early 20th century dinnerware was often overwrought with ornate detailing. It was thanks to the disruptive rise of modernism that Finnish and broader Scandinavian design were recognised on a global stage, giving Iittala the chance to flex its progressive muscle.
The brand’s recognition came in the late 1930s and 1940s when Alvar Aalto and Kaj Franck led the development of Iittala’s avant-garde minimalism. Their belief that objects should be designed with thought and available to all is indicative of Scandinavian design as we now know it. Alvar Aalto and Kaj Franck spurred a democratisation of design that opened global doors for Scandinavian design, and has allowed other Finnish designers Artek, Harri Koskinen, and Ilmari Tapiovaara to flourish.
Renowned for the way it merges heritage craft with timeless aesthetics, Iittala is as much about longevity as it is about looks. “We don’t just create beautiful objects. We believe in timeless design that will never be thrown away”, the Iittala team explains.
This commitment to heritage design reflects Iitala’s continued dedication to skill and craftsmanship, particularly with their use of glass, and in our opinion is what truly sets the brand apart. Their most iconic piece, the 1936 designed Alvar Aalto vase – all undulating curves and seamless refinement – is still mouth blown today at the Iittala factory.
Each Iittala piece is a study in craft technique as well as function. From the Sarpaneva pot – an immediate design classic inspired by Sarpaneva’s blacksmith grandfather – to the refined balance of the Ruutu vases, owning an Iittala piece is an exercise in self-expression. But these items are not simply designed to be collected: first and foremost, they are to be enjoyed. “We believe objects should be distinctive, combinable and multi-functional, with lasting design that inspires individual use and expression” says the Iittala team.
With all the philosophy informing Iittala’s designs, it might be easy for personality and playfulness to be forgotten in the process. But the opposite is true. The vivid colour used across each Iittala range highlights form and creates distinct moods. By complementing our often hurried pace of life with cross-functioning pieces that are both beautiful and useful, Iittala has brought the true spirit of Finnish design to our homes.