I am not a crafty or design oriented person. I’ve never been very good at putting together a beautiful room. I love art, and I love color and style but pulling it together is where I stumble. What I do like is simple, clean, and functional style. When we went to Finland last week I was prepared to eat a lot of food, but I wasn’t ready to be so inspired by the style and design I encountered.

Simplicity, Durability, and Functionality = Definition of Finnish Design

That’s me! 

The program we were presented with for the Nordic Blogger’s Experience was packed full and I was not really that excited about the portions of the program that included art tours. I like art as much as anyone but, meh – give me the food! Truth be told, I really enjoyed learning about the history and inspiration behind Finnish art and design and the Finnish appreciation and respect for the arts.

Meeting with Fiskars and Iittala and designing our own Iittala mugs.
Meeting with Fiskars and Iittala and designing our own Iittala mugs.

On our first day in Helsinki we went to the Arabia Factory. Arabia was established in the 1870’s by a Swedish company to manufacture pottery. Within just a few years the company was created half of the pottery sold in the country. In the 20th century many changes took place in the ownership and direction of the company. Fiskars, the famous company known for their orange handled scissors (did you know the color was a total mistake?) is the parent company of Arabia and Iittala, another famous Finnish company. There’s so much history in these strong international brands and we were really impressed and surprised to find out so much inside information.

Arabia Pottery

A tour through the production floor of Arabia offered a glimpse into the work that goes behind each piece of pottery. We were also told that Arabia offers space to local freelance artists, and access to the kilns and facilities so that they can try new things. There is no expectation or requirement that they create anything for production, but it is an option if they choose.  There is a very symbiotic relationship between creative companies and artists. They are given space and freedom to create, and even artists employed by the company are given the ability to do their own creative work. They believe that giving space artists will develop new ideas that can be applied to their work and vice-versa, leading to a win-win situation. We heard time and time again that the Finnish work ethic is to allow people the space and freedom to do their work and that there is not a culture of micromanagement. I loved this!

Artists workshop in Porvoo, Finland.
Artists workshop in Porvoo, Finland.

On our trip to Porvoo we also visited an art factory. Seeing spaces and support for the arts is just wonderful. One really fun thing about the Porvoo art factory is that there is artwork on display that you can essentially “rent”. You pay a fee to keep it for a month and then decide if you’d like to purchase it or if you want to bring it back. Artwork can be a major purchase so this is a great way to get art into people’s homes and allow them the freedom to try it out.

Along with the general attitude and style towards art and design there was an overwhelming use of candles in homes. The sun didn’t really rise until close to 10am and by 3:30pm it was starting to set. To offset this darkness Finns use a lot of candles – in Iittala candle holders of course! Tables were decorated with dozens of small candles, in the windows there were always real candles burning, etc. I’ve never been big on candles because I don’t like scented candles but it didn’t seem like any of these were. Perfect! We were gifted an Iittala small candle holder that I adore. I want an entire collection. Immediately on returning home, we set out to buy more candles and candle holders. I’m determined to add more candle light into my life. Last night I lit a few, shut off the lights and went through a yoga routine. It was so incredibly calming and relaxing. Why didn’t I embrace this before? 

For me, this is what travel is about. I’ve learned something new, experienced a completely different culture, and found a piece to bring home and incorporate into my life. That’s why we travel!

Interesting Art and Design Sites to Visit in Helsinki and Porvoo (please note to double check openings if visiting in summer months)

Arabia Center

Iittala outlet and several other stores. Guided tours available by reservation. 
Arabia Centre, Hämeentie 135 a, 00560 Helsinki


Finnish designed clothing and home goods.
Puusepankatu 4, Helsinki, Finland

Iittala Glass Center

1 1/2 hours outside of Helsinki. Glass factory and museum. 
Can access by bus and train. Guided tours available by reservation
Könnölänmäentie 2 c 14500 Iittala

Culture and Congress Center – Porvoo

art exhibitions, music, and conference space – 30 minutes from Helsinki
Läntinen Aleksanterinkatu 1 Porvoo

 Disclaimer: We were selected to attend Nordic Blogger’s Experience and were sponsored to attend. All opinions are my own.