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.
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.
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.
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.
Edit: Design Stories Images: Elina Simonen and Nikari