Central Helsinki contains a concentration of shops presenting the best of Finnish design in the capital, from kitchenware to jewellery and from textiles to furniture. The desirability of Nordic style and durability of the pieces is reflected in their prices, but why skimp on top quality, functional gifts and souvenirs? Most of the best boutiques are within easy walking distance of each other, in or around a compact Design District.
Marimekko’s distinctively bright and cheerful fabric designs sprung to international fame in the 1960s when Jackie Kennedy bought seven of the brand’s dresses. The classic poppy motif has been copied and imitated countless times since then, but the originals are still included in the frequently updated selection on offer. There are three stores in Helsinki: one in both the central Forum and Kamppi Centre malls, and one at Mikonkatu 1.
Founded in the 1930s by Finland’s most renowned designer and architect, Alvar Aalto, and his wife, Aino, Artek remains the prime outlet for their distinctive bent wood furniture and stylish lamps. It might not be the least-weighty souvenir, but a flat-packed black, red or blue Aalto stool will add an unmistakably Finnish tone to your living room or office. The showroom is in spacious premises in the Keskuskatu pedestrian street.
Located on the northern side of the pleasant and very central Esplanade Park, Aarikka’s main store lures tourists with its wooden jewellery and ornaments. Playful necklaces, bracelets and earrings made of plain and coloured wooden balls are flagship products to look out for. The charming wooden sheep and Galaksi silver earrings make perfect idiosyncratic Finnish gifts.
The name gives no clue that Common is a compact showcase store for various imported (mainly Japanese) design items, such as towels and textiles for the office, kitchen and bathroom. Tucked on the ‘Five Corners’ in the Punavuori district on the western edge of a designated Design District, the store has the agreeable no-thrills, simple style characteristic of both Finnish and Japanese design.
In Hindi, Tikau means ‘durable’ or ‘sustainable’, and that’s the central tenet of this colourful little store in Korkeavuorenkatu, a street with a village-like atmosphere. Its tasteful, high-quality hand-woven mats and bamboo lampshades and basketware are designed with a Nordic sensibility in cooperation with village artisans in India as part of a Finnish NGO effort. It includes a charming children’s clothing section.
An aristocrat of Finnish design, the Iittala brand is also the epitome of Nordic style, quality and durability. Some of the items – including the iconic Kastehelmi and Aalto vases and Ultima Thule glassware – originated decades ago, but are actually more popular now than they have ever been. The airy flagship showroom, one of a cluster of design shops on the Esplanade, is also the place to pick up one of Oiva Toikka’s beautiful handmade glass bird ornaments. Hackman’s stainless steel cutlery is available here too.
A cooperative promoting and celebrating Helsinki artisans, Craft Corner takes a smaller-scale approach to Finnish design, offering top class work by individuals and smaller studios. Exquisite wooden bowls and pieces by Ulla Huttunen and Arto Salminen are especially worth a browse, but don’t overlook other small-brand items crafted from glass, textiles and ceramics. The store is at Unioninkatu 26, a 15-minute walk from the main train station.
Finland's national epic poem lends its name to the silver, bronze and recycled gold rings, earrings, necklaces, pendants and brooches comprising the Kalevala range. The Classical Collection takes Viking-era and mythical themes and motifs to create a style that all Finns will recognise from engagement, wedding, christening and birthday gifts. The range is stocked by jewellers all over Finland but the main Helsinki store is on the north side of the Esplanade at No 25.
Silk and wool scarves, bags and snazzy ties are the specialities of this ever-fashionable favourite that appeals to people of all ages. The designs at Marja Kurki are surprisingly upbeat and contemporary for a brand that has 40 years of history. Proud of her Karelian roots in eastern Finland, Ms Kurki founded the brand herself, and sources the best quality silk from China.
Iittala & Arabia Design Centre
Housed on the second floor of the former Arabia pottery in a northeastern suburb, the Iittala & Arabia Design Centre Store is a magnet for tourists seeking Moomin-character mugs and children’s crockery. Finns also flock to update their Paratiisi (Paradise) tableware selections, while everyone can admire the gleaming white Arctica plate sets. The Pentik Outlet, stocking that brand’s popular interior decor products, is in the same building. Take the No. 6 tram from central Helsinki.