Finnish flair focus of Habitare
Cindy W. Hodnett -- Furniture Today, October 7, 2013
HELSINKI, Finland - Against the backdrop of Tuomiokirkko's gleaming white exterior and the sprawling vista of Suomenlinna, often described as one of the world's largest sea fortresses, more than 55,000 people arrived in Helsinki the week of Sept. 16 for Habitare, Finland's annual furniture and design market. Like many industry trade shows, Helsinki's Habitare included a variety of upholstery and case goods, as well as accent and lighting introductions. But there was also Salonki, an antiques section where local vendors offered the Scandinavian version of an indoor estate sale, and ArtHelsinki, a contemporary art fair. The eclectic mix attracted a variety of visitors from the industry and the public.
More than 460 exhibitors attended the 23rd Habitare, including many of Finland's signature companies like Isku, Hakola, Vep salainen and Indecoria. Although many Finnish companies have struggled during the recent European financial crisis, the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development is predicting that things will continue to improve.
In a recent article (online at http://yle.fi/uutiset/furniture_business_ faces_tough_times/6843583), OECD states that Finland's economic growth will be zero this year, a stronger figure than the -0.6% forecast for the Eurozone. Additionally, the Organisation of Industrialised States predicts Finnish GDP growth of 1.7%. These forecasts, combined with Finland's strong financial history, prompted Moody's, the New York based bond credit rating business, to confirm the country's best-possible rating of AAA, noting that Finland is the only government in the EU that has never breached any of the Maastricht Treaty's fiscal criteria.
According to the article, furniture imports into Finland are increasing and exports of domestic product have slowed. Sweden and Estonia are the top importers, followed by China, leaving Finnish suppliers with the challenge of finding new dom estic and international buyers.
"Exports are not going very well right now," said Eero Rytkonen of Indecoria. "Many factories are bankrupt, and the state economy is not very good."
The Indecoria product line attracted a steady flow of visitors during Habitare, many drawn by the line's distinctive fabric combinations. Rytkonen said the company currently sells primarily in Finland.
"We produce our line at factories in Poland," said Rytkonen. "We show our models, as well as some from other collections, including a little from Italy.
"Scandinavian design is more simple than central European," he continued. "And we can normally ship within four weeks."
Arto Tiitinen, CEO of Isku, said in the OECD article that the small size of furniture companies in Finland can lower export figures, and he recommends that Finnish companies focus on design and produce high-quality items instead of concentrating on bulk shipping. Isku is also exploring the possibility of setting up a sub sidiary company in Dubai. Habitare activities support a design-centric approach to growth. During the market, the Association of Finnish Interior Design Journalists chose four favorite exhibitors in various catego- ries. Roomage was recognized for creating a fun and inventive use of space that "spreads a good feeling." Studio Helsinki was chosen for its "airy, interesting space created by Finnish designers using simple elements." Lundia presented familiar products in a fresh light, according to the journalists, and Balmuir offered "laid-back luxury in an inviting overall design that matches the brand."
The Habitare Design competition was organized by Messukeskus and the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture. Architect and academician Juha Leiviska oversaw th e competition, and the winners, announced on the opening day of the fair, included Elina Ulivo for "Heijastin" (Reflector) in first place, Top Makinen and Kirsi Ihalainen for "Ladon Uni" (Barn Dream) in second, and Tiia Viikila, Suvi Viitamaki, Anni Raasmaja and Anders Jonsson for "Kajo" (Dawn) and Mira Koymari for "Unes sanoma" in third.
The Trash Design exhibition and seminar drew a standing-room-only crowd during Habitare. The exhibition explored creative reuse of materials and possible alternatives to current consumption patter ns.
International journalists were also given a behind-the-scenes look at Aalto University and the furniture design program at the school inspired by Alvar Aalto, arguably the top Finnish architect and designer of the 20th century.
Martin Relander, interior architect and lecturer at the Aalto University School of Arts, Design and Architecture, spoke about the designers enrolled in the program and about the school's evolution.
"The Finnish system of higher education is going through big changes," Relander told the journalist group. "Aalto University is one of the most ambitious things that has been done in Finland and it is the biggest design university in Scandinavia.
"Finnish design has a particular position in furniture design," Relander continued. "Our students are working with real objects. It's impossible to talk about the quality of design in a mental way; you have to have the materials in your hands. Finnish designers like to understand materials.
"Cultural definition is very important for a new country like Finland, and its own material language is important," concluded Relander. "The tools of a Finnish peasant beat the tools of any other peasant in any place I have ever been and I think something of this ethos is still found with Finnish designers."