When the streets outside wear inky black and swathes of snow, it stands to reason that people focus more on what’s inside.
Of the many intriguing aspects of Helsinki, one facet was the capital’s obvious love of design. For over 130 years, a national organisation has been promoting design in Finland and there’s one part of the city in particular where the shops sparkle like artisanal jewellers of decidedly cool ideas.
Although lumbered with a rather utilitarian name, the Design District, Helsinki pops with bright white and opal-fruit orange, zest-fuelled lemon and lime and a million more colours as it hosts exhibitions and events throughout the year and provides a place for Finnish design shops to snuggle into and call home.
I caught up with Katja, who runs and curates the Finnish design shop Lokal. Overflowing with Finnishness, Lokal combines the best of three worlds, not two, when it comes to design.
First, there’s the design element, obviously. Second, there’s the art exhibition. And third of all, there’s a coffee shop tucked in chicly at the back. And when you’re walking around a city that can live at minus 27 degrees, you very quickly learn to appreciate only having to strip down to your thermals and layer up again once rather than thrice.
Plus, of course, it’s a Finnish design shop worth visiting in its own right.
Here’s the live broadcast I filmed there for Lonely Planet – with the edited transcript below. Enjoy!
Abi: I’m in the Helsinki Design District in a place called Lokal.
A: Katja, tell me a little bit about how the shop works.
K: It works in such a way that in the front room we have changing exhibitions, there’s always a team, the exhibition groups work with artists and designers from Helsinki and Finland. In the back we have more like a shop selection, also with finished products, crafts.
A: So interesting. So back there you can have a cup of coffee if you like. There’s the sign for the shop, and in Finland coffee culture is huge, and we’re just going to go and see how that relates to design over here as well.
So one of the things that we’re just going to show …
K: Here’s a measure for the coffee, for filter coffee. It goes like this, and then you can also close the bag like that and it has like a double function.
A: So I was at a presentation the other day and apparently Finns drinks more coffee than Italians, if not more than anyone in the world.
K: 20 million cups a day.
A: 20 million cups of coffee a day.
K: So that’s like 8 per person.
A: So everyone’s very awake and alert I suppose. Someone’s saying they want to buy stuff. Do you happen to have a website site and can they buy online?
K: We have an online shop too, yes.
A: What’s the web address?
K: It’s www.lokalhelsinki.com (like local, but with a k)
A: Now this guy is my favourite, I spotted him earlier. What’s the story behind him?
K: The panda. He’s a Japanese artist who lives and works here in Helsinki, and he studied art here in Finland, and then he’s really into all this sort of Japanese style, but I guess they could be from anywhere. But he makes animals both in small scale and…
A: They’re very popular.
K: They’re ceramics, also he makes some big ones in wood.
A: And I can’t help but notice most of the stuff here is very clean and light and quite minimalistic. Is that typical for design here?
K: It’s quite the Scandinavian or Finnish kind of touch that is kind of clean, simple, sort of natural. It doesn’t have too many like extras?
A: So it’s very functional.
K: Yeah, I would say so.
A: And then these… I just had a cup of coffee with some of the ceramics from in here and they’re just gorgeous. Can you tell me a bit more about them?
K: Yes, so this is Nathalie Lahdenmäki, she has specialised in making very thin, everything is very thin, and she uses often just a coloured ceramic or porcelain, and then with the glaze with pastel colours. They can all be used even if they look like very delicate. But they’re all usable, so we use here daily.
A: Okay, that’s really interesting. Just in case the mic didn’t catch that, these are hardwearing things for espresso. You can actually use these, they’re not just decorative even though they do look so pretty. And then we have some prints and things over here as well. I’m going to fall in love with design in Helsinki and never go. Plus, also, it’s warm in here and it’s freezing outside.
K: Yes, that’s true. And we have a lot of wooden products. I think in Finland it’s not for the, not for designing and producing a lot of things, like of course furniture, but also for the smaller objects. These are the traditional old style, these boxes, these jenga boxes and trays.
A: That’s amazing actually because it looks quite new to me. It just goes to show. But apparently this is quite traditional, and I can see why they’d be wood because the amount of nature in this country is stunning.
I’ve been in different parts, this is my first full day in Helsinki, and I’ll be in Lapland Monday and Tuesday, so if you want to follow along and see some more of that, please do on #LPScope Lonely Planet or I’m Abi on Inside Travel Lab. In the meantime, I’m just going to show you the last look around this wonderful design shop, your taste of design in Helsinki. I will be back either later today or tomorrow with more from this fun city. But now it’s time for me to say goodbye, and see you later. Bye!
Disclosure: I travelled to Finland to give a keynote address at the Nordic Bloggers Experience held at MATKA, Helsinki. After that, I roamed around for a while.