Arabia’s Esteri, Myrna and Paratiisi are treasures of the dish cabinet that bring back memories

Fashion changes and the decorative motifs of Arabia’s old tableware are sometimes forgotten and sometimes return to production. Some get excited about them for the first time, and some rediscover them in their hunger for nostalgia. The latest arrival is the Mainio Sarastus collection.

Arabia Mainio Sarastus tableware

AS CHILDREN, WE USED TO SCOOP UP blueberry milk from a bowl with blue flowers and other plants on it. At my big brother’s confirmation, an even finer set with the same ornaments was taken out, and at grandpa’s 60th birthday, a sandwich cake was served from a similar platter. Decorative motifs that have re-entered production at Arabia bring back memories.

“Nostalgia is a wonderful haven you can momentarily escape to if constant change makes you anxious,” says Irina Viippola, Arabia’s head of design.

Her design team has a strong feel for what was done before, what people have liked and what they might like now. In the autumn of 2017, the team created a series of Finland 100 mugs, one for each decade. The motifs were picked from materials that have accumulated into Arabia’s archives over 100 years.

“It was fun to see how the patterns reflect their time, from the art nouveau of the 1910s to the sophisticated natural harmony of the 1950s and from the rich colours of the 1960s to the postmodernism of the 1980s,” says Viippola. She believes that utilizing nostalgic motifs is most of all about appreciation for our rich cultural heritage.

“I have greatly enjoyed going through the archives. Arabia’s tableware and their decorations involve lots of memories passed down from fathers unto daughters and mothers unto sons.”

Arabia Finland 100 mug with the Myrna pattern
In the Finland 100 mug collection, the 1930s were represented by the Myrna floral pattern, named after an American movie star.

NOSTALGIA CHANGES ITS FORM. At one point, it’s time for Ultima Thule, at another point for something else. “We must carefully consider what should be produced as new and when,” Irina Viippola says.

Fashion in dishware follows the same patterns as other trends from vintage clothing to houseplants. If you’ve lived through a particular period vividly, you’re unlikely to get excited about it for a second time. But then comes a generation for whom everything is new again, even if it’s vaguely familiar to them from their distant childhood, and so the popular mother-in-law’s tongue from the 1940s or the bell-bottom trousers of the 1970s find new friends, even though some would prefer never to see them again.

One of the patterns in the Finland 100 mugs was Myrna from the 1930s. Artist Olga Osol designed a coffee set in 1937 and named her richly-gilded flower pattern after the glamorous American movie star Myrna Loy.

“When we asked people to vote on decorative motifs, Myrna was particularly popular among two groups: those between the ages of 18 and 25 and those over 50,” Viippola explains.

Arabia Paratiisi tableware
Birger Kaipiainen’s Paratiisi tableware features bright-colored fruit, flowers and berries.

Some things remain timeless, such as the Savoy or Aalto vase, the Aino tumblers and the Kilta/Teema series, but these do not have patterns. Birger Kaipiainen’s Paratiisi collection is an exception to the rule.

“Paratiisi is so rich and decorative that you’d think people would get tired of it, but it keeps selling year after year.”

Viippola mentions that the same applies to Marimekko’s classic Unikko. Some have even talked about over-exploitation of the pattern, but people want products whose surfaces it covers.

Arabia Esteri tableware
The Esteri tableware is decorated with the blue-and-white flower ornament designed by Esteri Tomula.

ARABIA MUGS WITH THE FINLAND 100 YEARS STAMP were only available last year. Now they are turning into collector’s items that you should look for at auctions, antique shops and flea markets.

One of the mugs is still part of the collection, however, and it is part of the five-piece Esteri series whose design is based on the legacy of Esteri Tomula, who worked at Arabia in 1947-1984. It includes a mug, plate, bowl, pitcher and serving tray.

Esteri Tomula was heavily involved in Arabia’s design work for more beautiful everyday life in the 1960s and 1970s. She designed the flower ornament pattern that was later named Esteri originally for Arabia’s 100th anniversary in 1973. In the Finland 100 vote, the Esteri pattern won votes from both men and women irrespective of age.

The lush flower ornament simultaneously displays both the spirit of the present day as well as history. The blue-and-white pattern stems from thousands of years of history of porcelain; the use of cobalt blue was already well-known in ancient China. It could effectively stand both burning and everyday use.

In this regard, there is at least one strong bond between the innovative Chinese and modern Finns. “We are practical people,” Irina Viippola says. Dishes today need to be machine-washable, stackable, easy to store and durable. Small size has come to stay, as few have huge storage spaces, large families or need for large kitchenware sets in general.

Arabia designers, just like designers everywhere in the world, listen to time and its faint whispers that have descriptively been called “weak signals”. Weak or strong, people’s need to return to the roots of their emotions is going to stay.

Arabia Mainio Sarastus tableware
The new Mainio Sarastus series is based on the Ivalo decorative pattern, designed by Raija Uosikkinen.

THE LATEST LINK IN ARABIA’S retro chain is called Mainio Sarastus. This nine-piece set became available in the spring of 2018, and its decorative motif is based on the Ivalo pattern created by Raija Uosikkinen in the mid-1960s. Uosikkinen worked as Arabia’s tableware and pattern designer from 1947 until her retirement in 1986.

These years were in many ways Arabia’s golden era. People needed lots and lots of goods for everyday life in the post-war economic upturn, and in addition to being practical, dishes also had to offer a feast for the eyes.

Early in her career, Uosikkinen worked closely in kitchenware design with Kaj Franck. There are no records of what this collaboration was like, but knowing Franck’s staunch opposition to ornamentation, it was probably not very smooth.

The almost fragile motif of the Ivalo pattern, which consists of light lines and spheres speaks a language of its own. Now it looks fresh again. Irina Viippola found this decorative motif during her excursion into the Arabia archives. She copied the original by drawing it by hand and made variations of it into dozens of different versions, with respect for the original and carefully avoiding violating its spirit.

“The line and sphere were Uosikkinen’s key graphic elements. We’ve brought them from oblivion to present-day forms of tableware, hoping that time is ripe for them again.”

See also:

Arabia products >
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Text: Pirkko Vekkeli Images: Arabia

This story was originally published in Avotakka.

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