Embracing the culture of everyday design
Salla And Wesley On Embracing The Culture Of Everyday Design
Salla Luhtasela is softly spoken and smiles often, gathering her thoughts to find the right words. With the mild lilt of someone who left the US long ago, Wesley Walters lets his thoughts meander — often taking you somewhere else entirely but ultimately leaving you with a deeper understanding than you imagined possible.
Together they make up Studio Kaksikko (kaksi meaning ‘duo’ in Finnish). The Helsinki-based designers specialise in wooden furniture and ceramic tableware, sharing an appetite for understated, functional design that highlights the virtues of a material.
They met while studying at Aalto University, recalls Wesley. “We took a ceramics course together and immediately liked each other’s aesthetic — like right away.” To which Salla adds: “As well as each other.” In a tale as old as time, the two dated for a year and a half before beginning work together. While this put an end to the romance, a firm friendship took its place.
‘Although I’m not consciously thinking about Japanese aesthetics when I design, it undoubtedly had a big effect on me — and it’s probably where my interest in materials and simplicity comes from’
Wesley Walters, 2020
Studio Kaksikko pieces reference Nordic and Japanese influences, thanks to the eclectic backgrounds of the creators. Salla grew up 40 minutes from Helsinki: “It was very much in the countryside — a small town with a tiny school, lots of forest and next to a lake. Very Finnish.”
Wesley was born in California’s Mountainous North. “I studied East Asian Languages and worked as a translator and in the Japanese art department on a big American film. Overall I spent five years in Japan, in Okinawa, Kyoto and Osaka and did a masters degree in Tokyo, before coming to Finland for my second masters in Furniture design.”
They both draw heavily from their previous experiences; for Salla, her speciality in Aalto was an obvious choice. “I studied to be a baker and worked as a confectioner before I applied to university. But I started to feel that it was too fast and repetitive; whenever you created something, it was already gone the next day. Ceramics felt familiar straight away because the movement with your hand is so similar to the baking.”
If he hadn’t grown up in a small town where the concept of a design career was non-existent, Wesley may not have had such formative experiences. “Although I’m not consciously thinking about Japanese aesthetics when I design, it undoubtedly had a big effect on me — and it’s probably where my interest in materials and simplicity comes from. When I was first in Japan at 17, I was really blown away by cafes and how good they felt and the entire ambience of restaurants. So I liked that kind of thing but didn’t know if I wanted to be a waiter in a crisp white shirt — that was my dream for a while — or if I’d study architecture. I applied to architecture school and got in, but last minute, applied to Aalto and decided to do the less viable plan, career-wise.”
‘The association between Finnish and Japanese design is natural materials, their modern use and minimalism.’
Salla Luhtasela, 2020
In 2019, the pair completed a residency in a small village called Kinomoto, travelling to the southern island of Kyushu to research ceramic porcelain. But beyond their time there, Wesley and Salla feel there’s already a natural bridge from Japan to the Nordics. “The association between Finnish and Japanese design is natural materials, their modern use and minimalism. In Finland, there’s a preference for minimal objects made by craftsmen as opposed to mass production — and Japan really values the handmade, with a general appreciation for craft and simplicity.”
Salla explains the difficulty of defining Finnish design, partly because it’s so quotidian. “Perhaps that’s why it’s so similar to Japan, as the design is often very utilitarian. We don’t so much value design objects, rather there’s a culture of everyday design.” Wesley adds: “It’s a universal appreciation for what might be called design but isn’t considered design.”
Kaksikko might never have come about if not for a series of serendipitous events, recalls Wesley. “We didn’t have a set plan for the studio, but we did an exhibition in Helsinki Design Week. The CEO for Finnish Design shop liked our Perch Stool and said we should apply to their competition, which we won. So that was kind of the beginning.”
The Perch Stool began as a sort of a side product, Salla notes. “Wesley just did those for us to sit on when we were at the exhibition, because it was a big old warehouse and there were no seats.” They enjoy the irony of such a simple piece becoming the star of the show. “I think it’s common when studying design to think your work has to be really loud and attention-grabbing; so it was funny with the stool that we had no intention of making it into a product, but in the end, people loved it.”
Wesley and Salla naturally gravitate to hardwoods like ash, oak and birch, but are keen to dismantle some associated myths. “There’s a lot of birch — the traditional Finnish wood — but Finnish people don’t think it’s sexy; every mass-produced stool from the 1930s until now was done in birch so it has this association with grandma’s house,” explains Wesley.
“The wood itself is really strong and pretty — sometimes yellowish or pinkish. In Japan, they really like Finnish birch because it feels exotic and beautiful. That’s why we’re doing the Perch Stool for ÅBEN in birch, and so the entire production can be super local; only a few hundred kilometres from the trees to the final product. It’s a great way to work.”
‘ In Japan, they really like Finnish birch because it feels exotic and beautiful. That’s why we’re doing the Perch Stool for ÅBEN in birch, and so the entire production can be super local; only a few hundred kilometres from the trees to the final product.’
Studio Kaksikko, 2020