Interview on February 22, 2013

Hello Sami! How are you?

Hi Finnish Design Shop! Very well, thank you. I’m enjoying the snow and waiting for sunnier winter days before the spring comes.

Your popular Oiva tableware series is now decorated with two new gorgeous patterns: Kompotti by Aino-Maija Metsola and Päärynä by Maija Isola, that dates back to 1969. Tell us more about the designing of this tableware collection!

Also Oiva series’ small plates are now available in new colours and I’m very excited about this! When I started designing Oiva collection I received a very short brief: I was asked to design something timeless and durable for eating and drinking. I received a list of words that described the essence of Marimekko. I started to think about what kind of shape Marimekko would be. It was great to begin the designing project almost from scratch and be able to create the shapes that I wanted for Marimekko.

I wanted to create a tableware collection where pattern and shape would support each other: the shape has to emphasize the pattern and the pattern has to highlight the shape. Marimekko is well-known for its strong patterns and it was obvious that the series would be decorated by different patterns. On the other hand, and partly because of this, I wanted to create shapes that would work strongly also alone, without patterns.

Oiva series does not respect standard sizes, they just have Marimekko’s look and sizes. Each piece of the collection has its own personality and the size is just as it should be. Each member of the family will find his/her favourite piece from the series. The collection includes certain classic parts and more particular parts, such as tea pot, tea cup and coffee cup.

Plates from the Oiva series with the new Kompotti pattern.

Among the other novelties you designed for the spring there are the pillows and kitchen textiles decorated by Maija Louekari's Tilkkutäkki pattern. Tilkkutäkki seems perfect for instance on the pillows. Do you cooperate with the print designers?

In the spring collection Tilkkutäkki pattern has been combined with the shapes of the Soppa kitchen textiles I designed previously. It's a pleasure to work with the print designers because I like interaction. The shapes from Soppa series have been modified to work with this new combination. At Marimekko we don't just put a new print on top of the product, but the whole is adjusted to be perfect.

Tilkkutäkki pattern by Maija Louekari fits perfectly on cushions.

What are the most important things when you design a new product?

Based on way how the object feels when you touch it the first time, you will decide whether you want to use it again. To me, the idea of a product that does not function well is not familiar. In my designing work particularly important are proportions, the products’ feel and how people use the objects. I watch all the time people around me, their everyday life.

You work in Marimekko’s design team. What’s your regular working day?

My working days may vary a lot – there aren’t two similar days. My working tasks at Marimekko are various. Beside designing I also take part in photo shoots, and in creating the look for events and designing in a team the collections’ content. My working day can consist for example of meetings where we work on the future collections and on my new designs, working on the prototypes together with the product team and artwork studio and planning of photo shoots together with the art director and design team.

Oiva tableware with the Siirtolapuutarha pattern by Maija Louekari.

How did you start working for Marimekko?

I started at first as a trainee. At that time I studied ceramics and glass art at the University of Art and Design in Helsinki. I wanted to have a more complete know-how on how to combine textile arts and ceramics. After my apprenticeship I worked in Japan and in other places as well, but I find Marimekko an inspiring place and I’ve enjoyed being here for years also after coming back.

What’s the best in your job?

Its variability, versatility and mobility. I can realize my vision in many fields and my work is visual in a versatile way. Also working with different people is enriching because in big teams you always learn from each other.

Spring season's novelties bright up the table setting. ©Marimekko Corporation

Are there some patterns in Marimekko’s archive that you would absolutely like to use sometimes?

Yes, and lots of them! Marimekko’s archive consists of more than 3 500 patterns and I’ve spent innumerable hours in the archive. Many patterns are very important to me, so it’s difficult to name just one.

Sounds like a real treasure chest! How does the archive look like?

Thanks to a huge archiving project all materials are now in perfect order and easy to use. In general the material consists of old original fabrics, colour charts, brochures and clippings. There are very few original sketches. The old colour charts are great information sources. They tell us about the spirit of the times when the print was designed and how the different versions of each pattern have evolved. It’s easy to see how popular a certain pattern has been from the amount of different colour versions. The oldest colour charts include great written descriptions.

You have designed also Marimekko's stationery collection, that includes postcards and notebooks.

I collect notebooks and other stationery items during my travels, so it was a pleasure for me to design With Thought collection. Also in this case the brief was quite broad. The starting point was to think at how Marimekko's stationery collection would look like. I wanted the whole to be beautiful and timeless, but at the same time durable, functional and combinable with other Marimekko products, especially with the bags. Also in this case the starting point for my design was the union of pattern and shape – they had to support each as well as possible. Anyway, in my opinion also the plain colour items are strong and beautiful.

With Thought stationery collection is formed by two themes: the classic plain colour products, on which the whole collection is based, and the items with patterns, to which we can add new pattern every season. The products' details – seam and pockets, colours and patterns – have been considered very carefully, and they open up only with the use.

The Rimala gift tags designed by Sami Ruotsalainen.

How does your home look like?

I live in a small two-room apartment in the center of Helsinki. The décor is simple, but I collect vintage ceramics and glass. The general appearance of my home is clear and bright. I use restrainedly colours and patterns because I work with them every day. I’ve noticed that I often choose classics, but I use as a spice something else too. I don’t change décor often, and the same stuff follows me from house to house. I don’t like when the décor is totally renovated from beginning to end. In a home there should be layers and from there you can see the resident’s personality and the lived life.

Who is your favourite designer and why?

Kaj Franck is an icon and in his designs everything is at the right place. As a designer he was surprisingly versatile and liked to experiment. I also admire Maija Isola for her enormous imagination, she did design for Marimekko more than 500 patterns. I admire also the Swedish Ingegerd Råman for her sense of the shape and her ability to spice up her extreme minimalist works with delicate details.

What are your hobbies?

Outdoor activities and searching for vintage finds. Enjoying life.

What are you working on at the moment?

I’m working on the 2014 design works and on the future photo shoots.

Marimekko joined forces with Finnair. The dishware was designed by Sami Ruotsalainen.

Finnair has chosen to use Marimekko’s classic patterns and the tableware you have designed on its aircrafts. Where would you fly to now?

During springtime I often miss Japan, where I worked for a while in 2001-2002. It would be indeed great to go to Kioto during the cherry flowers’ time.

Text: Mikko Vaija

Translation: Daniela Chiucchiù