Finnish design gets redefined by new disruptor Vaarnii
Newly launched design brand Vaarnii enlisted a group of international designers to create a collection of minimalist furniture in pine wood, available from Finnish Design Shop and Artek
What is Finnish design? According to Antti Hirvonen, co-founder of Finnish furniture brand Vaarnii, ‘Finnish design is usually seen through the lens of modernism: there was Alvar Aalto and a very talented group of people that followed after him, and they very much defined what Finnish design looks like. But our inspiration predates that. So we wanted to think about what the Finnish design vernacular would look like today.’
A Finnish furniture brand with an international approach
Vaarni was founded by Hirvonen (a design manager with experience at Artek and Tom Dixon) and Miklu Silvanto (an industrial designer who has worked at Apple alongside Jony Ive and is currently chief design officer at Bang & Olufsen): after spending over a decade away from their home country, the pair wanted to return to start a new Finnish design project.
Vaarnii makes its debuts with a collection of wooden furniture and accessories by international designers including Philippe Malouin, Mac Collins, Industrial Facility, Kwangho Lee, and Max Lamb. The founders define its style as ‘brutal and sophisticated’, reflecting, Hirvonen explains, ‘the unique qualities and complex characteristics of Finnish culture: there is an off-balance between the two; for example we have grim, dark winters and glorious summers.’
Among highlights from Vaarnii’s debut collection are an angular lounge chair by Max Lamb, asymmetrical mirrors by Industrial Facility, sturdy bowls by Mac Collins, and a chunky coffee table by designer duo Soft Baroque. The mix of furniture and objects also includes a long bench by Kwangho Lee, essential tables and chairs by Fredrik Paulsen, and door stoppers designed in-house and inspired by a splitting wedge.
Finnish design in pine wood
At the heart of the brand are materials and manufacturing, two elements that, Hirvonen notes, are widely available in Finland with a plethora of good furniture workshops and plentiful supplies of wood. Wood is central to the Vaantii story: ‘In Finland, you have two choices of wood. You have birch, and you have pine,’ continues Hirvonen. ‘Birch has been done in so many cool different ways over the years, and pine has been the perennial underdog.’ In fact, pine was a popular wood until the 1990s, and Hirvonen and Silvanto thought the time was right for its return to furniture design. While its yellow tone and abundance of knots had gone against it in the past, Vaantii has embraced these and made them part of the brand’s aesthetic identity. ‘Pine has a really psychedelic grain,’ notes Hirvonen, for whom this is a plus. ‘It’s a really tricky material to control, you never know what you’re going to find and it just makes it interesting.’
Vaarnii’s collections made their debut at two quintessentially Finnish design institutions: Artek’s Helsinki store, which hosts the full range of products; and Finnish Design Shop, the brand’s main online retailer until it makes a wider international debut in autumn 2021.
The company’s operations follow some carefully outlined values: its designs, but also its manufacturing, skills and material sourcing, are honest, local, enduring and unconventional. ‘It takes approximately 100 years for a pine to grow to be ready for carpentry use,’ says Hirvonen. ‘We promise that our products are going to last at least that long, but probably even longer.’ §