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Nikari shapes Finnish wood design for five decades

High-quality craftsmanship, contemporary design and sustainability come together with Nikari.Studio Chikako Harada

Fuelled by collaborations with Finnish design maestros, Nikari is celebrating its 50th year of creating premium, sustainable solid wood furniture. Under new ownership since 2010, the company wants to honour its heritage while looking to expand its international horizons.

Durability, functionality and serenity. These three words summarise the design philosophy of Finnish wood furniture manufacturer Nikari. The company’s understanding of wood as a raw material has seen it grow from a one-man workshop into an international business.

“We value timeless design and combine proven, traditional wooden joints with contemporary forms,” says company CEO Johanna Vuorio. “Sustainability is very important to us. We mostly work with public premises, but our furniture is increasingly bought for private homes around the world.”

Whether in a home or an office, these products are made to last for generations. Nikari’s furniture is manufactured at its own studio-workshop in Fiskars, Southwest Finland, and at selected collaborator workshops around the country. The village is known as a centre for arts, crafts and design, but it is also home to some of Finland’s most biodiverse forests. Nikari works closely with local suppliers to select the right timber for each of its products and favours wood from certified forests.

In the hands of its cabinet makers (and with some help from new technology) the timber is then transformed into design furniture and furnishings. The finishing touch is treatment with natural oils and waxes to ensure the products age with grace.

Popular neck of the woods

Nikari’s passionate approach to wood materials comes from its founder Kari Virtanen. Today Virtanen is an award-winning master cabinet maker, but in 1967 he had just started his own workshop, nicknamed ‘Nikari’.

This craftsmanship was recognised by renowned Finnish architect Alvar Aalto’s office and the young talent was hired to work on a church project. It was a defining moment for Virtanen.

“The master architect shared his thoughts on architecture and design with the young cabinet maker, and he wanted to continue on the same modern design path,” Vuorio says. “Their collaboration continued for years.”

Some 50 years later the story of Nikari reads like a ‘who’s who’ of Finnish design. In addition to Aalto, Virtanen has collaborated with many household designer names, including Kaj Franck, Yrjö Kukkapuro and Harri Koskinen. Virtanen himself also boasts a design in the permanent collection of MoMA, New York’s prestigious Museum of Modern Art.

This collaborative approach is now continued under Nikari’s new ownership. Vuorio was appointed the company’s CEO in 2009 and a year later became the majority share owner together with design director Jenni Roininen. All under the fatherly supervision of Virtanen.

Having global designs

The generational change has marked a new phase of growth and internationalisation for Nikari. In 2010, the company began licensing the manufacturing of its products for domestic sales in Japan and two years later launched a major international collaboration with WWF Finland.

“We celebrated the Helsinki World Design Capital year by launching new furniture every month,” Vuorio explains. “Each product in this ‘12 Designs for Nature’ series had a different designer. About half of them came from Finland and the rest from around the globe.”

Today Nikari’s products are exported to 23 countries and new items are added regularly. The company employs a total of nine cabinet makers, who also participate in various furnishing projects and advise on product development and wood architecture projects, both in Finland and overseas.

Throughout the expansion what remains is an appreciation for Nikari’s core values: high-quality craftsmanship, contemporary design and sustainability.

“It has been so impressive to see how Nikari has maintained pride for craftsmanship and traditional woodworking skills for all these years,” Vuorio says. “We want to cherish these strong values and slowly grow into an ever more international design brand.”

Johanna Vuorio (seated, centre) wants to ensure traditional woodworking skills stay alive in Finland and provides apprenticeships for young cabinet makers at Nikari. Image: Studio Chikako Harada


By: Eeva Haaramo