Finland is well known for its modern and iconic design. Finnish designs are simple, minimalistic and contain clean lines. “Finnish design isn’t just something that you see — it’s something you experience,” according to a Visit Finland website article. For those who can’t travel to Finland, Finnish design products can be purchased right here in Clatsop County at Astoria’s own Nordic import shop, Finn Ware.
Established in 1987, Finn Ware was purchased by Saara Matthews in 2010 and offers a range of Finnish design products, including glassware, jewelry, linens and clothing. Finn Ware carries Marimekko, Iittala, Aarikka and Kalevala brands, among other famous Finnish brands.
“Finnish designers always push themselves to try new things and are inspired by nature,” Matthews explains. In selecting items for the Finn Ware store, she chooses high quality products of form, function and beauty that she herself uses at home. Although many people of Nordic descent tend to gravitate toward Finn Ware’s products, they also have universal appeal. Matthews says, “It’s amazing how many people without any exposure to Finnish design love it right away because of its versatility and how well it fits with the midcentury modern design look that is popular right now.”
Marimekko was founded in 1951 and makes bags, clothing, towels, napkins, pillows and fabrics, including linens. The famous and easily recognized Unikko floral pattern is from the 1960s, but remains hugely popular with buyers. The Kaiku birch tree pattern is also well liked by Finn Ware shoppers. Marimekko’s high quality design patterns can contain up to 30 impressions or screens for printing, yet are checked by hand rather than machine. “Behind every pattern there is a story, often a Finnish folk tale,” says Matthews. Marimekko offers classic clothing styles and handbags in bright colors and bold patterns.
Iittala is another prominent Finnish brand that manufactures glassware. In fact, the glassware is made at a factory in Iittala, Finland, which was started in 1881 and still can be visited today to view the glass making process. Iittala’s Taika pattern dishes in red, blue and white animal patterns are distinctive and can be seen in many Finnish homes, as well as its Mariskooli pedestal bowls, Kivi votive candleholders, Toikka birds and Alvar Aalto vases. Alvar Aalto is one of the most well-known designers who has created glassware products for the company. Tapio Wirkkala is another designer famous for the Iittala Ultima Thule glassware, which has an Arctic feel. “Iittala design never goes out of style. I’ve had my Iittala dishes for 20 years and they still look great,” Matthews explains.
Aarikka is a design company that is known for jewelry and home décor items containing wood that are en vogue throughout Finland. Aarikka products are handmade and easily recognized for the round shapes and wood they contain, according to Matthews. Their wooden Christmas elves are simple and unique. The company started with buttons, which developed into jewelry and other products.
Kalevala jewelry was inspired by the ancient jewelry of the Viking age, but also mixes in modern jewelry designs to create ageless pieces. Kalevala jewelry favors materials from Finland and is made of gold, silver and bronze. Some of the jewelry contains Spectrolite, a Finnish stone from an area on the Finnish-Russian border that is exclusive to Finland, says Matthews.
Matthews is a Finnish-American who grew up in Astoria and attended the University of Oregon and the University of Tampere in Finland. Her mother is from Turku, Finland, and her father is of Finnish-American descent. As a child, Matthews says she visited Finland every three years, so she feels that she has been influenced by Finnish design and fashion from an early age. “I came back to start eighth grade in Astoria with school clothes from Finland that were different than what other Astoria kids wore, but I didn’t mind being different.”
Even today Matthews likes to wear the Finnish clothing brands she features in her store (such as Marimekko) while working so that prospective buyers can see what the clothes look like. “Marimekko clothes are flattering on many women and are made of organic cotton,” she says.
Finn Ware also sells other Nordic items, such as Swedish linens, holiday décor and candelabra, in addition to other Nordic products. “I am always looking for more Nordic brands that appeal to customers of all ages,” says Matthews. The store also has a pop-up shop in Portland at Nordia House during the Christmas season.