The enduring influence of Finnish design
Finland declared its independence in 1917, began industrialization relatively late – in the early ‘50s, and currently has a population of only around 5.5 million people. Seen in this context, the impact of Finnish design on architecture, industrial design, glassware, textile design, and handicrafts is even more remarkable. Icons like Alvar Aalto, Kaj Franck, and Tapio Wirkkala have left their mark on the world. At the same time, brands like Artek, Iittala, Nikari, and Marimekko have transformed the way contemporary interiors look and feel thanks to collections of Finnish modern furniture, home accessories, and decorative items that capture the spirit of Finland.
Understated, minimalist, sustainable, and focused on function, Finnish design also uses nature as a major source of inspiration. Yet even among other brands that follow the same principles, Nikari stands out. The brand’s furniture collection uses solid wood along with the traditional craft of woodworking to translate the primordial beauty of nature into contemporary designs.
Founded in 1967 by master cabinetmaker and designer Kari Virtanen, Nikari is more than just a leading wood furniture brand. Nikari is also a passionate advocate of Finnish modern furniture design. The brand uses traditional techniques as well as the talent of award-winning designers to make timeless products for homes and public spaces. “Nikari” refers to the Finnish word for “cabinet maker”, which reinforces the brand’s dedication to the tradition of Finnish craftsmanship. Using only sustainably sourced wood and eco-friendly textiles, finishes, and surface treatments, Nikari produces beautiful furniture that highlights the best features of natural wood and Finnish design.
Writing the history of Finnish modern furniture design
From the very beginning, Nikari has only worked with the best. This applies to both the designers and the artisans who have collaborated with the company over the years. Indeed, the brand’s first collections were created in collaboration with legends like Alvar Aalto and Kaj Franck. Aalto’s famous Arte Alvar Tray, designed back in the ‘60s, it is still a part of the Nikari collection. More than 50 years after its creation, it looks as fresh as ever.
In 1977, company founder Kari Virtanen exhibited his work alongside Kaj Franck’s in Helsinki. A new era of Finnish modern furniture had begun. Ten years later, Virtanen received the Scandinavian Bruno Mathsson Award, followed by the SIO Furniture Designer of the Year award. His Fruit Bowl entered MoMA’s permanent collection in 1993. From the ‘90s, Nikari started to collaborate with a range of Finnish and international designers. These include Rudi Merz, Simo Heikkilä, Cecilie Manz, Jasper Morrison, Louise Campbell, Alfredo Häberli, and Harri Koskinen, among many others.
Following the brand’s 40th anniversary, Kari Virtanen received the prestigious Pro Finlandia medal from The President of Finland. In 2010, Nikari launched a new chapter in the company’s history, led by a generation who introduced the brand to the Japanese market. Two years later, the “12 Designs for Nature” collection put Nikari in the international spotlight. The “5 Studies for Nature” project created in a collaboration with universities in Helsinki, Milan, Guangdong, Toronto, and Stockholm followed. In 2017, Nikari celebrated its 50th anniversary with a book on Nordic cabinetmaking.
Nikari collections showcase the best of Finnish modern furniture
Starting with the first products launched in the ‘60s, Nikari has maintained a perfect balance between high-end design and Finnish craftsmanship. This remains true 50 years later. Timeless and versatile, all Nikari products blend into any interior with ease and they also make the everyday easier. The collections feature chairs, lounge chairs, stools, benches, and sofas as well as dining tables, side tables, and desks. Other products include cabinets, coat hangers, lighting, and room dividers along with other home accessories.
In the Chairs collection, design lovers can find a range of timeless designs that pay homage to Finnish woodworking techniques. Chairs like Skandinavia or Seminar have a pure aesthetic that highlights both the artisans’ skill and the beauty of wood. Others, like the Linea Akademia chair reference Japanese minimalism and Shaker simplicity. At the same time, all of these products honor the Finnish heritage of chair manufacturing.
The Lounge Chairs and Sofas along with the Stools and Benches maximize comfort while putting an emphasis on function. In these collections, products often serve more than one purpose. Stools become compact side tables, while a lounge chair without armrests transforms into a sofa thanks to a modular design. Upholstery enhances these designs but always lets the wooden surfaces to shine through, even in the bold Arte Bloom sofa that boasts an intricate fabric created by Klaus Haapaniemi on a simple frame designed by Jenni Roininen. By contrast, the ARTE Biennale Stool puts the focus only on the features of natural wood. Designed by Kari Virtanen as a simple block of wood, this stool doubles as a sculptural artwork.
Blending elegance and function, the Tables line features products that adapt to different uses and different spaces. The Seminar tables work well as family dining tables, but they also suit reception areas or meeting rooms perfectly. Made with convenience in mind, the Arkipelago tables suit both indoor and outdoor use. Other creative designs include Thomas Sandell’s February table that boasts a wooden handle and a granite base, as well as the Alfredo Häberli-designed April set of three side tables, each made in different sizes and from a different type of wood: ash, oak, and birch.
In 2012, Nikari launched the 12 Designs for Nature line that celebrates the best of Finnish modern furniture. While the range features furniture, lighting, and home accessories created by different designers, all of the products followed the same theme, of honoring Nikari’s design philosophy and heritage. Named after the months of the year, the products range from Harri Koskinen’s ultra-minimalist January Bench to Alfredo Häberli’s modular April Tables, Mikko Paakkanen’s sculptural June Chandelier and the December XL Lounge chair, created in a collaboration between Jasper Morrison and Wataru Kumano. The line also includes Simo Heikkilä’s May Chair that draws inspiration from outdoor furniture, the August Stool designed by Aamu Song and Johan Olin with legs that reference the trees of the local forests in Fiskars, and Louise Campbell’s November Light desk that is as elegantly simple as it is practical.
Solid wood furniture crafted to last
Nikari makes products that last for a lifetime and become heirlooms naturally. Crafted with precision from solid wood, finished with attention to detail and care for the environment, these Finnish modern furniture designs stand the test of time thanks to both their aesthetic quality and build.
The brand’s collections include products meant for both residential and public use. For example, one of the most popular designs in the Nikari line-up is the Seminar Chair. While originally designed by Kari Virtanen as a teaching tool and wooden chair archetype, the design inspired an entire collection which suits both residential and public spaces. Likewise, the Café series suits busy areas in coffee shops and restaurants just as much as it fits family kitchens.
Now you can find the entire Nikari collection of Finnish modern furniture in the Gessato Design Store.