Kari Virtanen, cabinetmaker and founder of Nikari, wins the Kaj Franck Design Prize 2022

Cabinetmaker Kari Virtanen is the winner of the Kaj Franck Design Prize 2022, one of the best-known design prizes in Finland. Over the years, Virtanen has designed a wide range of wooden furniture for Nikari, a company he founded in 1967, and collaborated with Alvar Aalto and even Kaj Franck himself.

Kari Virtanen
Cabinetmaker Kari Virtanen, the winner of the Kaj Franck Design Prize 2022, founded the furniture company Nikari when he was just 19.

THE KAJ FRANCK DESIGN PRIZE 2022, granted by Design Forum Finland, honors a legend of Finnish carpentry and design: Kari Virtanen (b. 1948), who founded the furniture company Nikari at the age of 19. Virtanen has since developed the brand from a one-man workshop into an international designer furniture brand.

One of the first customers at Virtanen's workshop happened to be Alvar Aalto. From 1967 to 1974, Virtanen worked for Aalto’s architectural firm on several projects in Seinäjoki, close to his own workshop. The oldest product in Nikari’s collection, the Alvar tray, was also designed by Aalto. In the 70s and 80s, Virtanen collaborated closely with Kaj Franck himself.

Since the early days of Nikari, Virtanen has aimed to combine traditional carpentry and design: his designs – such as the Biennale stool and the Arkipelago collection – are examples of classic Finnish wood design with a contemporary approach. In 2010, after a shift to a new entrepreneur generation, Nikari has started operating internationally and collaborating also with well-known foreign designers.

Nikari Storia stool
When designing the Storia stool for Nikari, Virtanen looked back on a seat he crafted in the 1960s.
Nikari Arkipelago bench, 230 x 45 cm, oak
The wooden outdoor furniture of the Arkipelago collection draws inspiration from Nordic coasts.
 Nikari Periferia stool, black
The Periferia stool was designed by Kari Virtanen and crafted from black-stained alder.

The Kaj Franck Design Prize jury wanted to highlight Virtanen’s long-term work as well as the strong values behind his work. According to the jury, Virtanen and Nikari have been ahead of their time in sustainable design and business.

According to the jury, Virtanen and Nikari have been ahead of their time in sustainable design and business.

”Nikari has managed to maintain its originality and core values, and its object world is as topical today as before,” stated the jury.

Kari Virtanen
Throughout his career, Kari Virtanen has aimed to combine traditional carpentry and design.
Nikari Seminar chair, oak
Virtanen originally designed the Seminar chair as an example piece for a lecture on traditional manufacturing methods of wooden chairs. The table is constructed on Arkitecture trestle legs.
Nikari Biennale stool
One of Virtanen’s best-known designs, the Biennale stool, celebrates the natural beauty of wood.
Nikari Arkitecture cabinet, 155 x 80 x 40 cm, oak
The solid oak Seminar bench and Arkitecture cabinet are manufactured in Finland, like all Nikari products. In 1993, Nikari’s workshop moved from the Ostrobothnia region to Fiskars Ironworks in Southern Finland, where it still operates.

Established in 1992, the Kaj Franck Design Prize brings forth the central spirit and principles of designer Kaj Franck’s (1911–1989) oeuvre: high-quality, democratic and functional design that solves practical challenges and opens up new opportunities for companies excelling in design. A particular merit is if the rewarded designer brings beauty and joy to everyday life and enhances the quality of life. The prize sum is €10,000, and it is funded by the Finnish Fair Foundation.

The members of the Kaj Franck Design Prize jury of 2022 were Design Forum Finland’s board member Annika Jyllilä- Vertigans / Vieser Oy (Chairperson of the Jury), Project Director Kaarina Gould / ADmuseo, Head of Brands and Spaces Aleksi Kuokka / Aivan, Professor Yrjö Sotamaa, and interior architect Vertti Kivi / dSign Vertti Kivi.

The Kaj Franck Design Prize exhibition is a part of the Design Forum Finland Awards exhibition and open at Glasshouse Helsinki from 5–28 May 2022.

See also:

Products by Kari Virtanen >
All products by Nikari >

Edit: Design Stories Images: Elina Simonen and Nikari

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