I’m a big fan of Scandinavian design, so my one museum on this trip was always going to be Designmuseo Helsinki. Wednesday was Carolina’s birthday, so while she prepped her party, I went to wander around the Museum and the Design District in town.
The Designmuseo is perfectly sized for my lack of attention span for museums. The main floor is a permanent installation of the history of Finnish design. Super informative and really well-curated. All the descriptions are in Finnish, Swedish and English, and they manage to do all that without making anything look busy or flooded with text. It’s a really good overview with lots of eye-candy.
There were some design classics I knew were Finnish, but I had no idea Fiskars was! I have few brand loyalties but my Fiskars scissors are THE BEST. I’ve got a pair for paper and a pair for fabric, and they have both stayed with me for ages. When I was buying a multi-tool 10 years ago, I settled on a Gerber because the scissors in it were Fiskars, and to me, that meant the thing would be excellent forever. And thus far, it has been. Anyway, this was pretty exciting to me. I LOVE good design. And the thing is, they’re so good that despite really loving the Fiskars with Moomins on the handles in some of the shops, I totally couldn’t justify buying another pair because the ones I have are still going strong.
But I digress. Back to the museum. The top floor was an exhibition on Ilmari Tapiovaara whose name I didn’t recognise but I DID easily recognise some of the chairs he’d designed. And this man designed a LOT of chairs. He did loads of other things too. I was a big fan of the designs he did for Finnair, which included both the interior and exterior of the planes as well as things like departure lounges. He also did a set of dorm room furniture which was incredibly clever and probably way better than anything I ever had to deal with in college. Most of what was on display included background on how the designs came about and how they were developed, including sketches and photographs. This was endlessly fascinating to me.
The last stop was the basement, where there was an installation called DUNE by Daan Roosegaarde. It’s an interactive piece made up of a bunch of lights and sound that react to your movements. It was in a room almost completely in the dark, and there wasn’t anyone else down there when I arrived, so it took me a while to understand how it worked. But once I realised the lights were coming on and going off depending on how fast I walked by, I started swooping my hands around over them and playing with how the sensors worked. I basically played with a room full of lights for 15 minutes. It was brilliant. And the sounds that it used reminded me a lot of the weird clinky noises the frogs in the delta in Botswana made, which I loved.
After the museum, I went to the Market Square to get a plate of Muikku for lunch. I’d been told that it was the thing I needed to try. Muikku are just little white fish, but they fry them in butter and give you a huge pile of them. I got mine with potatoes and veg and they give you garlic sauce to dip them in and you just eat them bones and all. They were REALLY good, but I couldn’t nearly finish the whole plate even though I was starving my head off by the time I sat down.
Sufficiently fueled up, I spent the rest of the afternoon browsing the shops in the Design District. I went into the big name shops like Marimekko and Artek and had many small internal crises about why I wanted some of these gorgeous things so badly. The furniture in Artek is stunning, simple, and EXPENSIVE. And regardless of the fact that I know it will last forever, I found myself arguing WITH MYSELF about whether or not spending upwards of €3000 on a chair is a justifiable thing. And I think it is, in some cases. But there were so many other things I saw in shops that day, big and small, that if money and space were no object I would snap up in an instant. Part of that is being a sucker for that kind of design, but I feel like the other part of it is something slightly uglier and unnecessary that has more to do with consumer culture and the need to BUY STUFF. Which I’m really trying to get away from. But in the meantime, I can just admire all this stuff and wonder if I’ll ever have a room that contains an Artek chair.
In stark contrast to my day of coveting design, we spent the next day at Johanna’s family’s summer cottage on a lake in southern Finland. When I booked this trip, going to the cottage was the first thing that was discussed, by way of this brilliant song by Ylvis:
We didn’t have spaghetti, but there’s no running water so we filled a bunch of bottles to bring up ourselves. I washed the potatoes for lunch in the lake (which was actually much better than washing them in a sink). And there was indeed a ramshackle collection of cutlery and dishes. But there was also a gorgeous lake, a hammock, a sauna, sunshine, good company, and hours to chill out and do a lot of nothing.
I went for a swim. I read about the horrendousness of the industrial food chain (I make strange holiday reading choices) just before being served a spread of food so far from industrial production it nearly made me weep with joy. I had a proper Finnish sauna experience, sitting in the heat for a while, going to dive into the lake, lather, rinse, repeat a few times. With a sauna beer on one go-round even. It was such a good day. I could have spent a full week there easily. Unfortunately we couldn’t stay the night because Johanna had to work the next day, but because there were so few distractions, the 8 or so hours we were there felt like ages and ages, in the best possible way.
Back in Helsinki on Friday, I was introduced to the Moomins via YouTube, and then Carolina and I took a bike ride to Arabia, which is the area where a lot of Finish design comes from. I avoided buying more stuff. Narrowly. And then we went to the amusement park Linnanmäki to ride the 64-year-old wooden rollercoaster, which was, of course, fantastic. The rest of the day was pretty low-key, because Saturday and Sunday were going to be full of food and music at Flow Festival, so we were storing up energy for the weekend.