With his simple yet curvilinear furniture, the 20th-century Finnish architect and designer Alvar Aalto famously changed the course of design history, giving modernism a gentler, more human face. Less well known, however, is the fact that via Artek, the homeware company he co-founded in 1935, Aalto was also a pioneer of sustainability. “He championed this ethos before anyone was talking about it,” says Juhani Lemmetti, the company’s current development director and founder of Artek 2nd Cycle, a Helsinki store devoted to vintage design that showcases the company’s own reclaimed pieces alongside equally durable examples of 20th-century furniture, lamps, ceramics and tableware, as well as clothing by both local and international labels.
Sustainability is built into Artek’s philosophy – its products have always been designed to be passed from generation to generation. By the same token, their simple, relatively timeless aesthetic gives them an enduring appeal. As Lemmetti points out, Finns often repaint several times over that most popular of Artek items – the 60 stool (of 1932 to 1933) – in the latest trendy hues, thereby extending its life cycle. And it’s these stools – in plain wood or attractively distressed faded rust, yellow or green paint – that you first see on entering this cavernous, subterranean but well-lit shop. Familiar to many and accessibly priced, the stools provide the perfect entry point – literally and metaphorically – for visitors. One from the 1980s, say, is €120, while a 1930s example can go for €600.
Lemmetti began dealing in vintage furniture in the 1980s. “It was only when I visited museums in Germany and New York that I discovered how important Finnish design was,” he says. “In 1994 I opened a vintage-furniture shop called Aero in Helsinki, whose old stockroom is now occupied by 2nd Cycle. I sold big names, such as Aalto, but people kept asking me where they could buy items by lesser-known designer Tapio Wirkkala.”
Lemmetti soon spotted the potential in selling more esoteric Finnish design. In 2010 he sold Aero and cannily bought the rights to the work of another cult Finnish designer, Ilmari Tapiovaara, which Artek now manufactures. Today 2nd Cycle, which opened in 2011, stocks Wirkkala’s 1960s hand-hammered silver bowls (from €1,500) and Tapiovaara’s iconic Mademoiselle rocking chair from the 1950s (€650). Other retro highlights include 1960s Marimekko shift dresses (€400), like those sported by Jackie Kennedy, and a monumental, 1930s, elm-veneered Aalto dining table (€20,000). Yet while indigenous design is undoubtedly a major draw, you will also spot Danish designer Verner Panton’s spectacularly pop Living Tower seating (€10,000) and a 1966 sofa by Italy’s Mario Bellini (€4,800).
The store attracts both seasoned design aficionados and younger connoisseurs. “One great thing about 2nd Cycle,” says Lemmetti, “is that our young customers often want to buy pieces their grandparents once had.”