Furniture designer Tapio Anttila: “I always have my antennae up”

Finnish designer Tapio Anttila's very own furniture line, Tapio Anttila Collection, creates timeless, functional, and responsible designs. In an interview with Design Stories, the long-time designer and interior architect talks about his design philosophy and how important it is to consider sustainability at all stages of the design process.

Designer Tapio Anttila standing in a forest dressed in black with his hand placed on the Limi chair.
Interior architect and furniture designer Tapio Anttila draws influences for his work from the Finnish design tradition. One of his favorite materials is Finnish wood.

Hi Tapio! How are you?
“I've got a lot going on – although I could pretty much say that at any given time. I always have to have several projects underway, it’s just my way of living. I’m always creating new products that I then also need to supervise and drive forward. It keeps me moving.

A particularly heartwarming recent event is the Green Good Design Award that I recently received for my Renki collection. We’ve been focusing a lot on sustainability and that’s why this award feels especially nice.

I’ve also brought sustainability to a more personal level: I recently turned 60 and was gifted 660 tree seedlings by my team. They compensate for the carbon footprint of my entire life so far. We playfully talk about ‘Finland’s most carbon-neutral designer’!”

A dining space with Tapio Anttila's Jat-ko table and Limi chairs. In the background, a window with a forest view.
Anttila’s creations are typically unassuming, timeless, and functional. The ideas for them often come from real everyday problems.
On top of Tapio Anttila's Jat-ko workstation are a onions cutting board and a knife as well as oil bottles and a herb pot.
Many of Tapio Anttila Collection’s pieces are designed to be multifunctional and modifiable. The Jat-ko desk is a great example: the modern secretaire can also be used as storage furniture or a side table in the kitchen.

You certainly have done a lot to be more sustainable at Tapio Anttila Collection. How do you take these matters into consideration during the design process?
“Already the first drafts are important. Durability is one of the most crucial factors and I strive for it in several ways when designing. I often use wood as a material, because wooden furniture functions as carbon storage – the longer they are used, the longer they store carbon.

In addition to a timeless design language and material choices, I pay attention to visual and structural durability, maintainability, and repairability. A big part of it also revolves around producibility, optimal packaging, and transportation. I aim to consider the entire lifecycle of a product.”

“Durability is one of the most crucial factors in a sustainable product, and I strive for it in several ways.”

Tapio Anttila's Jat-ko desk opened with a laptop and various office supplies inside. In front of the desk is a wooden Viiva chair.
The Jat-ko desk can be used sitting or standing. The Viiva chair is also from Tapio Anttila Collection.
Two of Tapio Anttila's Renki shelves hanging on top of each other with small glass vases and books placed on them.
The Renki shelves are made using partly surplus materials from other products. In June 2022, the Renki series was awarded the prestigious Green Good Design Award, which is given annually to eco-friendly and sustainable design innovations.

You also calculate the carbon footprints of your products and compensate them. Could you tell us a bit more about that?
“We have our own carbon footprint calculator that we use to monitor each step of the manufacturing process from material choices to production and from transportation to disposal. It gives us important information for planning our work. We can monitor our emissions and react quickly if we see that something is not up to par.

We also compensate the carbon footprints of our products which means that all Tapio Anttila products are carbon neutral. We do this by planting trees in our local forests so we know exactly where and how it is done.”

A dining space with Tapio Anttila's Front Country Oak table and Limi chairs. In the background, a window with a forest view.
Sustainability is an important value for both Tapio Anttila and the collection that bears his name. It is part of the design process from the beginning to the very end.
A living room with Tapio Anttila's Day&Night sofa bed and coffee table. In the background, a large shelf unit and a window with blinds on.
The Day&Night sofa bed hides more than you might expect from the outside. The daybed’s oak frame and mattress can be transformed into two full-size beds by simply lifting the upper part of the frame on the floor. The coffee table belongs to the same collection.

Could you tell us a bit more about your design process in general? Do you sit down to brainstorm or do the ideas just spring up?
“My process is not straightforward, and it doesn’t follow a pattern. Each product is different and is designed differently. A lot of it happens in my mind so it is not tied to a place or time. I might wake up at five in the morning with an idea or a solution to a problem.

Sometimes the ideas come naturally, sometimes in a conversation, and sometimes you have to dig deep for them. I always have my “antennae” up, really. When I face an everyday problem, I instantly start thinking about a solution for it. I sketch by hand a lot, and when I have a preliminary theme, idea, and shape in mind, I move to the computer and begin the often long and painstaking process of productization. I usually juggle several projects which are at different stages, and that often makes my days quite challenging!”

Designer Tapio Anttila in an ice hole wiping water off his face. In the background is his Viiva chair with a pile of clothes on it.
"The Tapio Anttila Collection was founded almost as if by itself," says Anttila. "I had previously designed furniture for several small manufacturers and together we thought that it would be beneficial for them to be under one brand."
Tapio Anttila's Renki mirror with a brown glass bottle and a small ceramic bowl on the mirror's shelf and sunglasses hanging from the mirror's leather strap.
Tapio Anttila Collection combines Finnish design traditions and modern aesthetics. The mirror with a wooden shelf and recycled leather support strap belongs to the Renki series.

Do you have a specific space, home, or type of person in mind when designing?
“I create furniture for anyone who shares my values and appreciates sensible Finnish design. My products are lightweight and often multifunctional, so they fit well into homes and spaces with limited square footage – which is a pretty common problem.

“When I face an everyday problem, I instantly start thinking about a solution for it.”

I’m a trained furniture designer and interior architect and I always try to think about how my furniture works in a real space. I try to make furniture that is actually usable. In addition, upholstered furniture can be modified with different fabrics and wooden ones with different stains to match the overall décor. I don’t design furniture to be put in museums but to be used in real homes.”

A dining space with Tapio Anttila's Jat-ko table and Viiva chairs. In the background, a window with a forest view anf on the table, a Marimekko glass vase with Monstera branches.
The top of the Jat-ko table consists of three separate pieces that can be positioned any way you like. One of the pieces is black on one side and white on the other, so you can change the look of the table in many different ways.
A cushion and a blanket on a Day&Night chair bed and books and coffee cups on a wooden Day&Night coffee table. In the background, a fireplace and a pile of firewood.
Anttila aims to consider the entire lifecycle of a product – for example, there are replaceable covers and mattresses available for the Day&Night sofa beds and chair beds.

We always like to hear how designers themselves live. What does your own home look like?
“I’ve been in the industry for such a long time that our home is full of prototypes and fair and photoshoot pieces as well as a variety of experiments. There’s enough to go around. My family’s used to furniture coming and going. Often at a pretty fast pace, as well, and I don’t always remember to warn them beforehand. I haven't really bought furniture for our home.”

Do you have a favorite piece of furniture? If you had to choose just one.
“As I said, our home is full of my own designs. A rare exception is Harry Bertoia’s Diamond chairs, of which I have two. I originally found them in a dumpster and they’ve been with me for decades through different apartments and different decórs.

The chairs are a great example of timelessness and sustainability: they were designed in the 50s, but look great even in modern homes. They are super comfortable to sit on although the chair is almost intangibly light.”

Designer Tapio Anttila standing in a forest dressed in black with the Limi chair in the background.
Anttila is an acclaimed designer and has won several awards from the Kaj Franck Award 2018 to the internationally renowned Good Design Award – the latter several times.

3 x Tapio Anttila’s favorites:

1. Movie: “All Hercule Poirot movies. In addition to brilliant plot twists, I like the 1930s atmosphere and art deco designs.”
2. Smell: “I’m into classic cars and their interiors have a really nostalgic smell – it takes you to a time that will never come back.”
3. City: “Any small lakeside town in Northern Italy. I like the food, the way of life, the scenery, the timelessness.”

See also:

All products from Tapio Anttila Collection >

Text: Emmi Ratilainen Images: Tapio Anttila Collection

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