An interview with Finnish designer Yrjö Kukkapuro

Dense rows of fir bushes punctured by frozen lakes and oxblood crimson cabins; kids in snow boots navigating icy pavements; crystal tipped grass that crunches underfoot. The journey to the studio of Yrjö Kukkapuro on the outskirts of Helsinki is fittingly Finnish.

However as soon as inside, all Nordic clichés finish. Rows of chairs with vibrant legs and graffiti-splattered backs are stacked in seemingly random teams; books, paintbrushes, sketches and fashions occupy each floor; sunlit partitions are crowded with photographs and cuttings, and in the midst of all of it sits Kukkapuro in his canary-yellow cap.

Yrjö Kukkapuro in his studio

Yrjö Kukkapuro in his Kauniaine studio, photographed in February 2020. The distinctive couch was painted by his pal Pino Milas within the Nineteen Seventies

If anybody has a design again catalogue that sums up the inventive actions and world financial shifts of the previous century, it’s Kukkapuro. He certified as an industrial designer within the Nineteen Fifties, a golden age in Finnish design due to Alvar Aalto, Kaj Franck and the like; he witnessed the plastic revolution of the Nineteen Sixties, the postmodern insurrection of the Eighties, and the ascent of CNC-cutting know-how within the Nineteen Nineties – and embraced all of them. Within the Nineteen Nineties, he noticed his manufacturing shift to China, and located fame there from the 2000s onwards, reaping the advantages of the digital revolution and the onset of globalisation. Each new decade serves to additional his fame and cement his legacy as one of many grand masters of contemporary design.

‘To create a bestseller, it’s the dream’ — Yrjö Kukkapuro

Nearly each faculty, physician’s surgical procedure, museum and airport in Finland, at one time or one other, has featured Kukkapuro’s chairs. Some nonetheless do. Helsinki’s Central Library Oodi, accomplished by ALA architects in 2018, has his ‘CNC’ chairs and ‘A500’ rocking chairs in its second-floor studying lounge; his ‘Karuselli’ and ‘Moderno’ chairs fill the town’s Kaisa Library. That these reside on, a long time after they had been first designed, is a supply of nice pleasure to Kukkapuro. ‘To create a bestseller, it’s the dream,’ he says.

His daughter Isa sits subsequent to him and guides us by way of the interview. His solely youngster, she is tasked with documenting all her father’s work and assembling his archive – at the moment a pile of papers overflowing from field recordsdata behind his desk. His spouse Irmeli, a graphic artist, plucks at her temper board on the opposite aspect of the studio, too sick to color anymore. Her decline has been devastating. After an hour of dialog, the color has drained from his face, and Kukkapuro apologises. He wants a relaxation. He indicators Irmeli and so they shuffle off, holding palms, to the home subsequent door the place they now reside. ‘It’s a very troublesome second,’ says Isa.

Left, ‘A500’ lLounge chair prototype, 1985. Proper, ‘Shade Experiment’ chair prototype, 2016

Yrjö and Irmeli met once they had been each college students at Helsinki’s Ateneum artwork faculty and married in 1956. Kukkapuro was finding out furnishings design and was the one one on the course who knew methods to make prototypes. This was due to a childhood in jap Finland, constructing boats and bicycles along with his father (a builder and a painter), and stitching along with his mom (a tailor). On commencement, he arrange a workshop, known as it Moderno, and created vary after vary of settees, beds and sofas with a sometimes Nordic look. A fee from an architect to create a chair and footstool for a brand new shoe store in Helsinki led to the Moderno collection. Over time, this stretched to 6 items and have become Kukkapuro’s breakthrough assortment. It’s nonetheless produced immediately by Lepo Product in Finland and Avarte in China.

‘Sitting in a Kukkapuro chair is like remedy,’ says Juhani Lemmetti, Kukkapuro collector and founding father of gallery Lemmetti in Helsinki. ‘He designs with the decrease again in thoughts.’ Kukkapuro remembers that it was a lecture on ergonomics that influenced his method. ‘It made me see that making furnishings had a physiological and scientific dimension and that has been a part of the whole lot I’ve finished ever since.’ This obsession with posture, consolation and the physique signifies that a chair can take years to fine-tune.

Whereas researching his ‘Karuselli’ chair, Kukkapuro wrapped himself in rooster wire, made a plaster forged of his physique in a lounging posture, sculpted round it till he was happy with its kind, after which constructed a prototype in glass fibre. The results of 4 years of experimentation, the ‘Karuselli’ chair went into manufacturing in 1964 and was an immediate success. Terence Conran hailed it essentially the most snug chair he had ever sat in, and it’s nonetheless in manufacturing with the Finnish producer Artek.

That includes a curved concrete roof, Yrjö Kukkapuro’s studio on the outskirts of Helsinki was constructed by the designer and his spouse Irmeli in 1968

Irmeli, too, has all the time been ‘a superb testing mannequin. She is smaller than me so we are able to evaluate how a chair feels’, says Kukkapuro.

‘Nevertheless it has all the time been essential for me to be near her, to see color the way in which she does.’ The pair constructed the studio, with its concrete wave-like roof, in 1968, on a plot of land given to them by Irmeli’s father, and have labored collectively, aspect by aspect, for 52 years.

Nowhere was Irmeli’s enter extra worthwhile than with the Eighties Experiment assortment, a collection of birch plywood and metal chairs, tables and sofas with armrests and legs in daring colors. Kukkapuro noticed it as an exploration into ‘ornamental functionalism’ and welcomed postmodernism as a joyous break from the useful, workspace tendencies of the Nineteen Seventies.

Kukkapuro sitting on the ‘Karuselli’ lounge chair

Since 2015, Kukkapuro has collaborated with Lemmetti to create restricted editions of two chairs and a desk for the brand new ‘Shade Experiment’ collection. Lemmetti has been accumulating Kukkapuro chairs for 30 years and has amassed greater than 40 prototypes, experimental and manufacturing items. ‘Yrjö thinks about the whole lot – kind, operate, ergonomics, color. He’s imaginative, however sensible, too. For me, he is without doubt one of the most essential designers on the earth,’ he says. A fourth ‘Shade Experiment’ chair launches this spring on the gallery, and with such a wealth of prototypes in inventory, it’s not onerous to think about future collaborations.

In the midst of the studio is a novel three-seater couch painted with a mountain scene. It’s the results of a chaotic go to in 1972 from Pino Milas, a graphic design pal, in want of some R&R, who was tasked by Kukkapuro to embellish it. Life within the atelier was unconventional. Pals, assistants and collaborators got here and went with frequency. Isa’s bed room was a small annex off the tiny kitchen; Kukkapuro and Irmeli slept in a mattress partitioned off behind a bookcase and the bogs had been two fibreglass pods with showerheads. Kukkapuro received many prizes, and journeys overseas for lectures and exhibitions had been additionally widespread; the three of them as soon as piled into their Mini Clubman, packed a tent within the boot, and hit the highway for 4 months.

‘Sculpture Lamp Blue Shade’, 2019 (distinctive piece made by Kukkapuro for an exhibition in Estonia, and Nelonen Profile chair, Nineteen Nineties

A prototype known as the ‘Easy’ chair is wheeled in (we’re its first viewers). It has been shipped from China and is the primary model of what Kukkapuro hopes can be ‘the only chair on the earth’. It has a black leather-based seat, a black plywood again and a metal body and appears suitably simple. Kukkapuro walks round it, shaking his head. It’s a bit too excessive, and, he thinks, the metal arms may be nicer in ash. It’s going to return to Avarte, which has produced his items for 20 years, to be tweaked.

Kukkapuro first went to China in 1997, on the invitation of architect and scholar Fang Hai, to present lectures on up to date design in universities. It was the beginning of a brand new chapter. There, he labored with grasp carpenter Yin Hongqian to create the ‘East West Assortment’, a collection of chairs that mix clear strains with lacquered bamboo and Chinese language joinery. These, together with historic items manufactured by Avarte, flooded the Chinese language market and Kukkapuro’s fortunes had been remodeled.

An authentic mannequin of Kukkapuro’s ‘Fysio’ workplace chair, 1976, in pressed birch plywood and cloth

Element of ‘Shade Composition’ chair, 1993

On the similar time, Finland was recovering from the recession of the late Eighties and the main target at house had shifted to eco-design. Kukkapuro created a strong wooden assortment in unpopular, missed elder. It bombed. When he took it to a good in Berlin, a customer congratulated him on having such a powerful Finnish type. ‘I used to be crushed. There I used to be, pondering I used to be a world designer!’

Thus, when Helsinki’s design museum invited him to create a collection of ‘visually thrilling’ chairs in 1993, Kukkapuro known as on a pal, the late Finnish graphic designer Tapani Aartomaa, and collectively they created ‘Tattooed’, a set of plywood chairs embellished with daring slogans and eye-popping motifs of bushes, dragons and tigers.

Color additionally made it onto his ‘CNC’ chairs, designed in 2008 for his retrospective on the museum, to rejoice the potential of computer-controlled equipment. ‘The concept was to point out how effectively know-how can be utilized on supplies.’ What number of chairs has Kukkapuro made in his lifetime? ‘I don’t know,’ he says. ‘Round 100? In the future I shall should rely them.’ §

‘Shade Composition’ chair, 1993


Leave a Comment