While Alvar Alto and his Artek brand is synonymous with modern design and Finland in general, many smaller furniture brands exist in this country of lakes and forests. Earlier in the year I discovered Nikari Oy, and rapidly became a big fan. I have to point out that Nikari has been around since 1967, so while I admit that I have been a little slow off the mark in learning of their existence, I am attempting to correct this oversight by mentioning their beautiful products whenever an appropriate situation avails itself. In my defense, 2013 was the first time the brand showed outside of Finland, so despite the fact that some of its designers are Finnish national treasures such as Yrjo Kukkapuro, I don't feel totally out of touch.
Founded by master cabinet maker and designer Kari Virtanen, who has worked with the greatest Finnish architects and designers such as Alvar Aalto and Kaj Franck, Nikari is situated in Fiskars Village, 90km west of Helsinki. With decades of experience in working with Finnish woods the company combines handcrafting with state-of-the-art technology to create pieces that are extremely minimal, modern and timeless.
The wood comes from sustainably grown forests and is selected, sawn, dried and stored under the supervision of Nikari’s cabinetmakers. Birch, oak, ash, elm, black alder, spruce and pine are the timbers used with most of the products finished in natural oils, waxes or soap. The quality of the timber and craftsmanship are as important to Nikari as the design. It’s the beauty of natural solid timber that Nikari's products reveal so poetically.
‘Project 2012: Designs for Nature’ was a twelve month project involving 12 international and Finnish designers / design groups with a design per month being showcased over a one year period starting with the 'January' table by Finnish designer, Harry Koskinen and finishing with the December chair by Jasper Morrison and Japanese designer, Wataru Kumano.
In between these months were products by some big international names: Spanish designer, Marti Guixé, the Swiss Argentinian Alfredo Häberli and Dane, Louise Campbell. Some lesser known names are also there, such as Finnish designer Mikko Paakkanen and Japanese designers, Wataru Kumano and Nao Tamura. The results are all unique and sophisticated expressions in timber that reveal a wide variety of styles. My own personal favourite is the August stool by with its forked leg construction and three piece seat. I was told that each of these stools is made to commission as each leg has to be found in the forest. The design calls for a natural tree branch that forks in just the right way and which is the perfect size. The 'Y' shaped gap in the centre of the seat allows for the expansion and contraction of the timber.
In sharp contrast to the organic qualities of the 'August' stool are the highly controlled design skills of Alfredo Häberli's 'April' side tables. This range of three totemic tables use a common form that offers three distinct functions - a tall, post-like side table, a low coffee table and a fat in-betweener side table.
Louise Campbell is one of Denmark's most accomplished designers and her 'November' desk is a wonderful example another side of her design sensibility. Having little in common with her usual interest in lace-like patterns, 'November's asymmetric form has a strangely human appearance. Highly functional but simple and unassuming, the desk/table is made entirely from solid maple.
Jasper Morrison and Wataru Kumano's 'December' chair was the last product released as part of 'Project 2012: Designs for Nature'. It's practical sling form is beautifully designed to allow for self assembly with no glue or screws. This and the fact that the chair reveals its entire structure, links it to Scandinavian classics such as Kaare Klint's 'Safari' chair while maintaining a strongly Japanese aesthetic.
Marti Guixé is famous for the use of graphic devices in his work but with his 'March' bench for Nikari an entirely different side of his design personality is evident. Strong and devoid of any decoration, the bench leans against a wall becoming an extension of the architecture rather than an independent furniture piece.
2014 has seen a new Nikari project take shape. Called Five studies for Nature, this project involves students from five design colleges around the world, starting with Aalto University in Helsinki, followed by Guangdong School of Art & Design in China, then Sheridan College in Toronto Canada. The selected students from the last two design establishments, the Politecnico Milano and Konstfack in Stockholm are yet to present their designs but it's clear that the combination of Nikari's master cabinet makers and the best young designers has resulted in some exceptional work - all of which bring out the special qualities of wood.
To find out more have a look at Nikari's website or watch the video below by Spanish design journalist, Iranzu Guijarro as part of her 'Design in Society' series.
Nikari donates a percentage of its profits to the WWF (World Wildlife Fund) Finland to protect forest biodiversity globally.