From Alvar Aalto to Eero Saarinen, any mention of Finnish design arrives with a few well-trodden associations. But its about much more than modernism, say Antti Hirvonen and Miklu Silvanto, whose debut collection under the Vaarnii name draws on a roster of top design talent including Philippe Malouin and Mac Collins. We quizzed the pair on vernacular Finnish design, the art of making furniture with longevity and why pine deserves a second chance...
What sparked the idea to start Vaarnii?
It was always a dream to do something unapologetically Finnish and genuinely remarkable. We think that the business model of 100 years ago, when items were made locally, built to last and bought to satisfy a real need, was perfect – we want to help bring back healthier consumption habits.
How would you describe the look and feel of your products?
They are brutal and sophisticated. One of our key values is honesty. This means full transparency not only of our manufacturing, but also of our designs. For example, if there is a seam on the product, instead of trying to hide it we want to make it part of the design.
They’re not what people might expect from a Finnish or Scandinavian brand… was this intentional?
It wasn’t at first, but two things led us in this direction. Firstly, if you want to use solely Finnish timber you only have two choices: birch and pine. Birch has been used in so many brilliant ways that the perennial underdog, pine, felt like the perfect option for us.
Secondly, Finnish design is often understood through the lens of modernism defined by Alvar Aalto and the talented generation that came right after him. But our inspiration comes from Finnish vernacular design, when items looked a certain way because they fulfilled a purpose – they were comfortable, could be made from local materials and withstood the weather.
At some point these two things came together resulting in a distinct look. With Vaarnii, we are building on old wisdom, using new technologies to make sustainable furniture that lasts generations.
Some people have misconceptions about pine. Why should we be rethinking the material?
Pine was very popular in Finland up until the early 90s. At some point people just had enough of it and developed a strong dislike of the wood: it was knotty, it was yellow and it was shiny. Our solution to the knots; design around them. The shininess and yellowness were mainly caused by the awful cellulose-based lacquer that was applied, whereas the matt oil wax we use creates a gorgeous finish where you can still feel the texture of the grain.
Instead of trying to make the material do something that is not natural, we should celebrate what it is.
You’ve got an amazing line-up of designers already involved…
When we started to draft what the initial range should look like we created a list of dream designers, which included Mac Collins, Philippe Malouin and Max Lamb. We’re incredibly humbled to say that everyone we approached ended up working with us.
What’s next for Vaarnii?
We’re working on a range of outdoor furniture made from fully non-toxic, heat-treated Finnish pine. A genuinely sustainable alternative to teak is long overdue. vaarnii.com