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When our friends at Vitra offered us an opportunity to head out to Finland to take a look at all things Artek, we were hardly going to say no! So when we received the exciting itinerary for the trip, which included a tour of the new Artek workspace in the centre of Helsinki, we ran and packed our bags.
Sevil Peach Office
Artek & Vitra
Artek, Vitra, Dexion
Kvadrat, Contract Deco
Artek was founded in Helsinki in 1935 by four young idealists: Alvar and Aino Aalto, Maire Gullichsen, and Nils-Gustav Hahl. Their goal was ‘to sell furniture and to promote a modern culture of living by exhibitions and other educational means’.
In keeping with the radical spirit of its founders, today Artek remains an innovative player in the world of modern design, developing new products at the intersection of design, architecture and art.
The Artek collection consists of furniture, lighting, and accessories designed by Finnish masters and leading international designers.
The name Artek is a synthesis of ‘art’ and ‘technology’ – concepts central to the international modernist movement that came to prominence in the 1920s. Technology was understood to include science and industrial production methods, while the conception of art extended beyond the fine arts to encompass architecture and design.
Alvar Aalto’s pioneering work, in the spirit of the great architects of the 20th century, was a significant factor in the worldwide proliferation of Nordic design, inspiration to generations of designers, and a core element of Artek’s success.
Today, Alvar Aalto is still central to Artek, both in the timeless designs that form a major part of the collection and in the enduring influence of his design legacy.
And, just in case you were wondering why it was Vitra who invited us to visit the fantastic city of Helsinki, the Swiss leader acquired Artek back in 2013, having seen the perfect synergy between the two brands.
Artek has now moved its headquarters to new premises in central Helsinki. Situated in an elegant 19th century building at Mannerheimintie 12 B, the new space is just a few minutes’ walk from the flagship Artek Store. It was conceived as a working showroom where architects and dealers can bring clients to experience Artek and Vitra products. Inside, interior architect Sevil Peach has designed an open environment that inspires a new way of working.
Spread across 470 sq m, the new space puts people first. The bright and brilliant new headquarters empowers users to work in various ways depending on their individual tasks and needs. We’re fortunate enough to be given the guided tour of the space by Artek Managing Director, Marianne Goebl, who clearly loves not just the interior, but also how it has changed the way her team is able to work. ‘This is still all quite new for us – but it has made a real difference,’ Marianne tells us. ‘We were previously just around the corner. The offices were super-charming but they were made up of small, individual spaces and we realised that we really needed to work in open space. We worked with Sevil Peach because we felt that she is the best when it comes to creating that domestic, home feel that we really wanted. We always work closely with the local team here and we knew that Sevil was the designer we’d like to bring in. She really knows and understands Artek – and also understands the world of the office.
‘This is a very patrician house from the 19th century and Sevil has created almost an industrial, direct ‘sandwich’ here. She has used clever, cost-effective finishes such as the flooring and acoustic panels – and then left the ceiling exposed to maximise the height.
‘The space is organised by teams, who are connected by breakout and meeting spaces. This is also a live showroom – so we have the ‘playground’ here for our clients to come in and work with our team on their projects. This is incredibly flexible, with both low stools and high stools for either sitting or standing height presentations.
‘The heart of the space is the marketplace, where people can meet in the custom-designed kitchen. We’ve made this space much warmer, to allow people to come and relax – to get away from work for a few moments. We’re also planning to hold client dinners here, which I think will be fantastic.’
Marianne leads us through to the back of the space and tells us that we’re about to enter one of the most important areas of the environment. ‘This is the ‘negotiation room’,’ she smiles. ‘You can completely cocoon yourself in this room by pulling the curtains all around.’
The beautiful room features beautiful joinery, oversized table and dramatic lighting. It’s a facility fit for major deals and negotiations.
We worked with Sevil Peach because we felt that she is the best when it comes to creating that domestic, home feel that we really wanted.
Overall, the space is incredibly flexible and human-centred, offering a balance of collaborative spaces and private zones where Artek’s people, their clients and their dealer network (the biggest part of the business here in Finland) can retreat and concentrate. ‘We’ve found that more and more clients are now coming to see us – for breakfasts and for evening events – which is just great!’ Marianne enthuses. ‘They are really, really using this space.’
The use of historical and contemporary Artek furniture – together with complementary Vitra designs – helps create a friendly, softer yet functional environment, with beautiful fabrics and a stunning art collection providing pops of colour throughout.
Although the sun is shining brightly throughout our visit, Marianne tells us that the nights will soon be drawing in and, therefore, the days will be getting considerably shorter. It’s therefore important that the large windows allow as much of the limited natural light into the space, which is supported by a sensitive interior lighting scheme and bright finishes. ‘The light is a major issue in Helsinki, therefore the interior is as light as possible to help work against those long, dark days,’ Marianne explains.
Our memorable (and largely sunny) trip continued with a visit to the astonishing Paimio Sanatorium (an incredible former tuberculosis sanatorium designed by Aalto back in 1929) and the Artek factory near the city of Turku. If you get the chance, all are well worth a visit.
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