Vaarnii is a new design brand that manufactures furniture from Finnish wood. We met with the founders, Antti Hirvonen and Miklu Silvanto, whose long journey to founding their own company has granted them a lot of perspective along the way. Vaarnii is staunchly Finnish, but what does being Finnish actually mean?
Hi Antti and Miklu! You founded Vaarnii. What kind of backgrounds do you come from?
Antti Hirvonen: “I’ve always dreamed of my own company that stands by my values and feels right in every way. I have an MBA and have worked with for example Artek and Tom Dixon in London and Hong Kong. After we became parents a few years ago, me and my spouse decided it was time to move back to Helsinki. I remember thinking that if I want to start my own company, it’s now or never.”
Miklu Silvanto: “I got into design after I graduated from high school. I studied at the Lahti Institute of Design, and after that the Royal College of Art in London. After my graduation I co-founded the design agency Aivan and worked on Apple’s industrial design team for years. Currently I'm working as Chief Design Officer at Bang & Olufsen.
Me and Antti have known each other since 2005. We have always talked about how nice it would be to collaborate on something. I think we both have always had a healthy amount of ambition, the kind that makes you focus on doing great stuff instead of getting too self-important. Oftentimes, challenging the system is a valuable thing in itself. If you’re simultaneously creating a new alternative based on your own values for people who find it valuable, I find that it constitutes a meaningful existence for me. In a way, this is also what Vaarnii represents.”
Vaarnii is a completely new brand. What is its starting point?
Antti: “Vaarnii is a Finnish furniture company that leans on Finnish identity and everything that goes with it. Internationally, the history of Finnish design is often perceived through the lens of modernism, not style, which was largely determined by Alvar Aalto and the generation of talents that followed him.
“Vaarnii's goal is to produce extremely durable furniture.”
Vaarnii draws inspiration from what came before all this: folkish and functional design in Finland during a time when we would first build a house out of pinewood and then bring in pine furniture. Products were designed to look a certain way so that they would function as they were supposed to. They were comfortable, weather resistant and made out of the materials that were most readily available. We have given a lot of thought to how that kind of philosophy would look today, if we were to take a similar perspective: our goal is to produce extremely durable furniture.”
What compelled you to choose pine as the material for your furniture?
Antti: “It was slightly surprising to learn that if we wanted to use Finnish wood, we had exactly two alternatives: pine or birch. Even though pine makes up half of our forests, the overwhelming majority of it is used for pulp, so finding appropriately prepared material for our products was much harder than one might imagine.
With pine, we can achieve exactly the aesthetics that we aspire to. A sturdy piece of pine furniture is very durable. It gets patinated, scratched and dented. Traces of use are a natural part of the process. We use oil wax, which gives our products a beautiful matte surface and helps them to age gracefully.”
“With pine, we can achieve exactly the aesthetics that Vaarnii aspires to. A sturdy piece of pine furniture is very durable.”
What is Vaarnii’s world like?
Antti: “Vaarnii combines locality, honesty, durability and unconventionality. Our products are manufactured in Finland, and we promise that they will last as long as it takes for a pine to grow until it’s ready to be harvested. If one of our products has a seam on it, we won’t try to hide it. Instead, it becomes a part of the unique character of the product. Vaarnii is simultaneously brutal and sophisticated: our products make a good fit for both a gallery-like loft apartment on Manhattan or a traditional Finnish detached house that hasn’t been renovated for decades.”
Miklu: “Our common background in the design industry has sparked years of dialogue on how refreshing it would be to see something genuinely new. Vaarnii’s world really centers on this conflict between brutality and sophistication. With this message, we have been able to guide, inspire and focus very different designers internationally to build this fresh and different new brand with us.”
Vaarnii’s product collection covers items from chairs to tables, benches and other interior design products. Who designs Vaarnii’s products?
Antti: ”For our first collection, we chose designers whose expression we found to be directly compatible with Vaarnii. We have been able to attract interesting international professionals, such as the British-Canadian Philippe Malouin, British Max Lamb, Swiss Dimitri Bähler and South Korean Kwangho Lee.
Miklu: “You can learn a great deal about things by observing them from the outside. Our designers have really fresh perspectives, new insights and ways to perceive the Finnish identity. It’s important to us how Vaarnii’s brand has come together: in a fresh but still very Finnish way. We are both unforgivably proud of Finland: this is a wonderful country.”
“Vaarnii's designers have really fresh perspectives, new insights and ways to perceive the Finnish identity.”
You have both lived abroad for a long time and looked at Finland from a distance. Now, the Finnish identity is a big part of Vaarnii’s story. How do you see the Finnish identity and Finland?
Miklu: “The Finnish identity is a combination of sophistication and brutality. We have enormous amounts of general knowledge and understanding of current topics, we are generally very educated and follow the news. At the same time, we’re so clumsy and brutal, and don’t always know how we really should behave in certain social situations. It’s a rare and enchanting combination.”
Text: Hanna-Katariina Mononen Images: Jussi Puikkonen Styling: Connie Hüsser