Posted on April 06 2015
When it comes to modern urban design, architecture and furniture design, diminutive Finland punches way above its weight. As the 20th century dawned, this Nordic country lacked the ostentatious cultural trappings of continental aristocracies. But its culture had an affinity for the elegantly simple, homegrown but functional tools and furnishings characteristic of a relatively egalitarian peasant society. This ensured a unique openness to the stripped down aesthetics of an emerging Modernism. At the same time, the short lived but creative National Romantic Movement demonstrated a deep commitment to design rooted in a strong sense of place.
A tension between Modernism’s belief in universal functionalism and a Finnish appreciation of local authenticity was met head on by the legendary architect Alvar Aalto. After designing the critically acclaimed, Bauhaus School-influenced Paimio Sanatorium in Turku, he eschewed generic modernism for an approach that both reflected the Finnish landscape and incorporated indigenous natural materials. Two of his best examples are the Villa Mairea and the Säynätsalo Town Hall. In his much loved glass vases (carried by MadeModern), their organic-shaped openings come from the shoreline profiles of the country’s ubiquitous lakes while his stools, bent plywood chairs, tables, trolleys etc. use woods from the country’s vast forests.
Out of this tradition, Finland continues to produce top-level furniture designers while a culture of design ensures a strong domestic demand for both residential and commercial furniture. But this demand also extends around the world. One of Finland’s newest rising design/manufacturing firms - with products in MadeModern’s collection - is BEdesign, owned and operated by sisters Bette and Cilla Eklund. We asked Bette and Cilla to respond to a few questions on their approach and how they fit into the Finnish design tradition. Their responses appear below.
What are your design training/education/experience backgrounds; and, how did the firm come about in 2012?
We are sisters, born one and a half years apart, who have always been very close. Our family background includes architects and entrepreneurs so we always had a dream of creating a design business together. Bette studied design at Novia University of Applied Sciences in our hometown of Turku, while Cilla studied Strategic Marketing and International Business at Copenhagen Business School in Denmark and at HEC Paris in France.
Before starting the business, I (Bette) was selling my designs at local Christmas markets in our hometown and had attended international exhibitions in Stockholm and Paris where I am pleased to say I received a lot of positive attention for my designs. This encouraged us to develop the idea further of starting our own business around manufacturing and selling my designs. In late 2012 we decided to take the first steps toward realizing our dream.
What is the focus, the specific design principles that guide BEdesign’s collection and how are these present in the products MadeModern are carrying?
We grew up on a farm surrounded by animals and outdoor life; and this is where I (Bette) draw most of my inspiration combined with a love for geometric shapes and for architecture. So my design language is a mix of both nature and abstract form. Our wish is to create design products that are both functional and aesthetic but with a ‘twist.’ This means combining elements of timeless design with a playful, fresh approach. The result is products meant to bring joy in their everyday use.
Where do you see BEdesign within the long tradition of Finnish modernism?
We respect the timeless design of Finnish modernism that feels relevant even today. We wish our products to be respected and remembered in the future. Equally important is to remember that quality also makes a product timeless as it ensures a product will last years and years. Quality and design go hand in hand and it’s from the combination of these elements that timeless products are born. Pure, straightforward Scandinavian design that lasts for years is what we strive for.
Where is furniture design in Finland at and headed towards at this point in time?
Finnish design is well known for the successful design classics of Alvar Aalto, Eero Aarnio and Tapio Wirkkala, products that are still in use in many people's everyday lives. Of course, Finland also has a lot of new exciting upcoming designers. The brand image of Finnish design suffered due to the recession in the 1970s, but rose again in the 1980s. From that time on Finland, has produced a number of well-known designers. And in recent years there has been an additional boost, e.g. Helsinki was the design capital of the world in 2012. Our goal is to create future design classics and to become a member of Finland’s top designer community.
How does one preserve quality craftship in the age of outsourcing to low wage economies?
Our products are manufactured in Finland to exacting standards. We place significant importance on high quality materials and a respect for the tradition of craftsmanship. In our minds this adds to sustainability thinking and to our hope that the products bring joy for years to come. We try to focus on the whole process that lies behind the often-long process of design and the manufacturing. From the time the first sketches are made to the moment the product is ready for sale can take years. We hope to be able to bring this process closer to the people including developing a brand that communicates our philosophy and values. We hope that increased understanding and respect for all the work that is being put into the design and manufacturing will be appreciated when making a decision to purchase.
What's next for the firm?
BEdesign is the result of a life-long dream of bringing our passion for design to life. We are at the start of this process and intend to constantly develop and grow the collection and brand. Our objective is to grow our visibility through a network of retailers around the globe like MadeModern in order that we can to continue to create unique, loveable design pieces.