GUIDE TO: Inside the Nikari Workshop, Finland

 

Nikari is a design studio and and manufacturer of wood furniture that inspires us greatly . The company is based in the quaint factory village of Fiskars in the south west of Finland. We wanted to get a peek inside their inspiring hydro powered studio-workshop. But, more than this, what we really wanted, was to better understand the instinctive draw we felt to the work produced there. Just what is it about what they are doing here that we find so compelling? So, we went for a visit.

Once we arrived in the village of Fiskars - one thing was immediately apparent - this is a pretty special place…

It was late August when we pulled into the village of Fiskars, in south west Finland. Rowan trees, heaving with red berries, framed the lake at the centre of the village. Our mission for the day was to visit the Nikari workshops and, with a hot cranky toddler in tow, we knew we had a short ‘window’ to make this happen.

Nikari is a wood design studio and furniture manufacturer, located in Fiskars, a place with a rich industrial heritage. And this background is important to understanding the essence of this magical place and inspiring company. We packed a bag of child friendly snacks and our camera, picked up a pamphlet and village map at the small tourist office, and off we went.

Reading the pamphlet as we walked we learned that the village of Fiskars grew up around an ironworks and evolved into a thriving industrial community of small factories and workshops. By the 1800s, the village was making utility tools ranging from scissors and knives, to ploughs and power transmission devices. Industry in Fiskars continued to thrive throughout the 20th century, until the 1980s. When the ironwork plant was moved from the village workers moved out and many buildings were left empty.

It was at point that a very interesting proposal was made. If the village could work to attract artists and craftspeople, this would breathe new life into the former industrial buildings, without forgetting the village’s historic roots. Workshop and living spaces were offered for rent at reasonable prices, and in turn designers, makers and artists were drawn to the peaceful, natural setting that Fiskars village offered. By the mid-nineties, over 100 artists and craftspeople had moved to Fiskars.

It was getting hot, we walked along the lake and began winding our way, uphill, along the forested path. We passed the former workers housing, the knife factory, the plough workshop, the model farm, the bakery, the dining hall. At last we arrived at the Nikari workshop. We stepped inside, grateful for the cool shade of the old brick building.

The Nikari workshop is not really open to the public. But, we expressed our enthusiasm and asked for a tour. We are so happy they obliged.

This building was previously a turnery and a forge, and on the upper floor was a filing shop, the model carpenters’ workshop and drawing office. Today the building is powered solely by next generation renewable energy from the hydro power plant located next to the building. The wood Nikari uses is mainly supplied by a sawmill next door.

The former life of this building shows on the workshop floor. At one point toy soldiers were manufactured in the building and years of fine metal scrap and shavings have become embedded into the timber block floor.

Though the design workshop of Nikari is now knitted into the re-generation efforts of the old factory community the company was founded in 1967 on the banks of the Nikkarinkoski river in Seinäjoki (north of Helsinki). Nikari moved to Fiskars in 1993 as the regeneration of the village was underway.

The name Nikari is a play on 3 elements - with the Finnish word “nikkari” (meaning a cabinet maker), the name of the area in which it was originally founded Nikkarinkoski (which quite magically means “the river stream of the cabinet maker”) and the founder’s own name, Kari Virtanen.

Virtanen was just 19 when he founded Nikari in 1967 and caught the attention of the most important figures in Finnish design at that time. His first collaboration partners were Alvar Aalto and Kaj Franck.

And collaborating with designers continues to be central to the evolution of Nikari. They have worked with some of the most interesting international designers including Louise Campbell (Denmark), Claesson Koivisto Rune (Sweden), Martí Guixé (Spain), Antrei Hartikainen (Finland), Alfredo Häberli (Switzerland), Wataru Kumano (Japan), Cecilie Manz (Denmark), Jasper Morrison (United Kingdom) and Tomoshi Nagano (Japan).

In 2012 when Nikari asked twelve design studios to respond to Nikari’s design philosophy in the form of a product. The project was called Project 2012 Designs for Nature and each month a new product was launched. 

The April table collection (top right) was designed by Alfredo Häberlii. Crafted from solid ash, the design of the April table is all about opposites: the massive leg and the thin tabletop create together a surprising contrast and the tables combine really nicely as a group.

The December chair (top left and botton) was designed by Jasper Morrison with Wataru Kumano. Morrison writes ‘Our initial intention was to design a do-it-yourself chair that could be sold in a small box and put together at home with a little glue, using the weight of the constructor to secure the joints. Unfortunately the precision of the joints and the variations of humidity around the world combined to defeat our plan and the chair is now sold preassembled. The chair’s slightly rustic character is something of an antistyle statement, but also perhaps our notion of the atmosphere of Finnish country life’.

After our visit to Nikari workshop we took shelter from the late summer heat (hot sweaty toddler was getting hotter and more sweaty). We sat and gulped down water in the darkened rooms of the ‘bakery’ which is part of the Fiskars Museum across the track from the workshop.

What we could learn from Nikari? Why are we so drawn to what they are doing? What could we bring home with us?

We wrote a quick list... here it is

  • Nikari are not defined by or locked into single production technique or an aesthetic, but defined by their approach to working with the essence of natural materials.

  • No trickery but a dedication to craftsmanship - working with raw solid oak, vegetable tan leather, understanding essence of natural materials and best properties 

  • Something old fashioned or out of time about what they do, but yet modern, restrained, serene

  • Sustainability of materials and production energy.

  • Influenced by their location in Fiskars the village, making use of what it has to offer 

  • Working with leading international designers and Finnish designers together on an international stage, while bringing the essence of Finnish nature, and this magical place, with them.

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The sun was now lowering in the sky, reflecting on the water and casting long gentle shadows. We trundled back down the hill and ate ice-creams from the kiosk by the lake.

Our mission was complete.

Notes:

Enticed to go live in Fiskars? We certainly were. The village is home to less than 1,000 inhabitants and is open to attracting artisans, designers and craftspeople. Buy a plot of land or check out premises to rents 

https://www.kotifiskarsista.fi/fi/kartta

 
Gearoid Muldowney