Laura Seppänen is highly regarded as a designer of stylish spaces and beautiful interior images, and a product designer whose social media feeds not only offer inspiring interior design ideas but also hard-hitting criticism of the construction industry. What was Laura’s path to becoming an interior design entrepreneur?
LAURA SEPPÄNEN IS SITTING IN HER OFFICE in the Punavuori district in Helsinki, looking at the lounge chair in the corner with a smile. It’s actually part of the Lollipop sofa bed set, her first furniture collection to be manufactured in series. The Lollipop modular series also includes a sofa that can be converted into a spare bed, an armchair, a daybed, and a level surface that slips between them that can be used as a table.
“When Interface asked me to design a furniture range and gave me a free hand, I knew immediately what I wanted to do. In looking at home furnishing designs over the years, time and time again I’ve noticed that high quality, easy-to-use sofa beds were extremely hard to find,” says Laura.
With this in mind, she set out to design a sofa bed that is simple yet straightforward, with a mechanism that is child’s play to open, for example for a weary guest arriving in the early hours of the morning. The geometric backrest provides a stylish finishing touch.
Always up for a challenge
In addition to furniture design, Laura Seppänen is an accomplished interior stylist, as can be seen from the stacks of her designs piled on the large desk in her office. They include beautiful cotton candy colors and surprising choices like pink Norwegian marble and rainbow-tinted surfaces. This is a far cry from the understated, neutral designs that Laura has become known for. Why such a departure?
“The design of a space starts with the personality and needs of the client. The designs you see here are for an advertising agency that wanted an interior with the colors of its client’s own brand, and they wanted us to go a little wild as well. I don’t have an agenda that all my design work should look alike – spatial design must be informed first and foremost by the space in question, and by the client.”
But Laura’s more restrained and sober design approach is far from being dead and buried. To prove this, she digs out some materials for another of her latest designs: a log house to be shown at next year’s housing fair in Loviisa, southwest Finland, masterfully decorated with natural materials in soft earthy tones.
“We are currently investigating whether the kitchen cupboard doors, wall covering cover plates, and the intermediate doors in the building could be made from spruce veneer, and we’re also looking for the most suitable type of wood for the washroom. There would be easier ways to do things, but I always like a challenge. I don’t want to get stuck in a rut.”
Projects vary, but what are some of the cornerstones of your design work?
“One is elegance. I always take pains to ensure that every door and window opening, the dimensions of the fixtures, and so on, form unified, unbroken lines. Another thing that’s really important to me is the use of natural materials. I use them because they have been proven to have a calming effect on people. And I never compromise on creativity. Practicality is a key criterion for good interior design, but it is not the only one. Whenever I embark on a new design project, I always set out with creativity foremost in mind.”
“Practicality is a key criterion for good interior design, but it is not the only one.”
In addition to product and interior design, Laura applies her creative flair to photographing interiors, providing consultancy services for other interior design companies, and creating content for Instagram. Though still only in her early thirties, she has managed to turn her hand to many things. But despite being regarded as an interior design guru and a social media celebrity, ‘success’ is not a label that sits easily with her.
“Life hasn’t been a great success story for me, but perseverance can get you ahead. My love of home design ultimately stems from not having a home as a child that was a safe space emotionally. Maybe that’s why I like to design spaces where people feel good. I’m basically creating in my work what was missing from my own life.”
No creativity without sensitivity
Laura says she was a creative and sensitive child who spent her free time with visual arts and music. But due to difficult home circumstances, by the age of 17, she was no longer able to study and dropped out of high school.
“I was a high school dropout, and I had to make a living, so I went to work in a bar.”
But even in school, it had crossed her mind that interior design could be the thing for her, and the idea stuck in mind. Laura moved from Jyväskylä to Helsinki at the age of 19 and applied to a number of colleges to study interior design, but her freehand drawing skills were not up to the required standard. However, she had already been developing her skills in 3D design for several years with different software programs and felt sure that this was the shape of things to come.
“It felt stupid to put time and effort into developing an outmoded skill at that stage.”
Being a tenacious character, Laura decided to pursue her dream by a different route. She applied for a job as a design assistant and an apprenticeship through school at a carpenter’s workshop, an interior magazine, an interior stylist, a set designer, and completed her studies as an interior designer at a vocational school. Each job brought further growth in knowledge and experience.
As Laura’s mastery of interior design developed, she began to get interior design and styling commissions of her own, many of them through contacts in the restaurant industry or former internships. Little by little, her own career was taking shape.
At 25, Laura set up her own design agency. In its early years, she routinely worked ten or even 15 hours a day to make it a success.
“My relentless drive kept me going for some time, but in the longer term pushing myself so hard led to a massive burnout – both my physical and mental health deteriorated dramatically about three years ago. I had to rethink my values and what I was doing, as I had lost myself over the years. I needed to get back to the sensitive and creative child I began as. Although I come from an entrepreneurial family, my biggest motivation was not to grow a business or make money. It was those wonderful inspiring moments when I got to take on new design challenges.”
“I had to rethink my values and what I was doing, as I had lost myself over the years.”
Laura says she still needs to work at maintaining a balance between the demands of entrepreneurship and creativity, but has learned to set stricter boundaries. She makes sure she also has free time in her life, and thinks carefully about which projects to get involved in. She now turns down around 90 percent of the offers she receives.
“As a designer, being comfortable in my own skin also benefits my clients. I’m better able to listen and take their wishes into account.”
Looking back at her career so far, Laura says the career path she has taken is very much her own. Her diagnosis of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), which she received a couple of years ago, finally shed some light on this. People who are neurodiverse – who have neurodevelopmental differences such as ADHD – often tend to have their own way of learning, which can put them at odds with the school environment, even if they have the capability and enthusiasm to learn. Laura, therefore, encourages neurodiverse young people, in particular, to look for alternative career paths if the traditional paths towards their dream job do not open up to them.
“Because I came into this industry by a different route, I sometimes feel like an outsider. But that has given me an edge too, since my views are inevitably different, even quirky. I do things differently and I like to challenge rigid ways of thinking.”
Laura Seppänen has every intention, she says, of continuing on the same cross-cutting path she has taken so far, all the while satisfying her curiosity and desire to keep learning.
Text: Anna-Kaisa Huusko Images: Niclas Mäkelä