Design enthusiast and Alvar Aalto expert Juhani Lemmetti has transitioned his love of vintage Finnish furniture into a thriving furniture shop in Helsinki.
Nestled in a basement in Helsinki lies a new shop, Artek 2nd Cycle. With worn corners, chipped paint, and overflowing piles of Alvar Aalto stools greeting the visitor at the entrance, Artek 2nd Cycle is a bit rougher than its polished counterpart, Artek. The 2,400-square-foot concept store, which opened its doors in October 2011, specializes in mid-century vintage wares, much of it harvested from estate sales around Finland. The store is located just around the corner from the Artek flagship showroom on Eteläesplanadi 18. Many of the items at Artek 2nd Cycle originate from such designers as Ilmari Tapiovaara, Arne Jacobsen, and Charles and Ray Eames, with special attention to selections by Alvar Aalto, who founded Artek in 1935 along with Aino Aalto, Maire Gullichsen, and Nils-Gustav Hahl. The shop also has glass, silver, ceramics, and lighting fixtures. Led by seasoned vintage collector and Artek development director Juhani Lemmetti, Artek 2nd Cycle aims to refurbish classic designs for a new generation to enjoy. Says Lemmetti: “One of the best parts of Artek 2nd Cycle is that we see young couples come into our shop, and they want to buy the exact same furniture that their grandparents used to have.”
How did you discover your passion for vintage furniture?
I traveled extensively when I was younger, and after visiting countless museums abroad, I realized the importance of Finnish design in the larger context of history. I began collecting native Finnish 17th- through 19th-century furniture. All of those original pieces were designed very well—but they were designed by craftsmen, shaped by function and experience, not necessarily by “designers.” I am a very aesthetic person. I have only a good eye and a good singing voice. The rest is destiny.
What is the goal of Artek 2nd Cycle?
To extend the life of products. Our philosophy is about sustainability and timelessness, which is shown through our items that have served many generations well. Not everyone comes in for the sole purpose of buying something. Some people know everything about design and furniture, but we really like to help enlighten the regular folks, who can influence the world a bit with their choices.
What is the criteria?
Since the very beginning, Aalto’s pieces have been accessible and affordable for the masses. It was part of his philosophy to make everyday life better for regular people, and he was a pioneer for sustainability before everyone was talking about it. We sell very high-quality pieces, and many architects and interior designers come to us asking for 100 units of the Aalto Chair 69. If the chairs are newly manufactured, they feel cold. But after a fresh coat of paint, these chairs are warmer and feel like home.
You have a strong personal connection with Aalto’s work. Is there a specific piece that’s important to you?
In terms of architecture, I must say Aalto’s Villa Mairea in Noormarkku, Finland, because it mixes Bauhaus functionality with pure Finnish nature. As for furniture, I have two favorite pieces. At first it was the Paimio armchair, with the comfort of birch. But now I am starting to enjoy the three-legged Stool 60 more. It’s so simple, and you can use it as both a stool and a table. If you want a simple, spartan lifestyle, all you need is a bed, a candle, and a three-legged stool.
How do you define good design?
Good design is not snobby. Good design is about function. People often speak of design as a big, impossible, unbelievable concept. Many designers today think only of novelty, instead of concentrating on designing better environments for living. We have too much stuff nowadays, and no one cares if you design the most unique, expensive teacup in the world. The design industry is clearly very competitive, as evidenced by the thousands of new chairs on the market every single year. But why are there not enough viable solutions to traffic problems, housing, and holistic life issues? Designers have a lot to give in those areas.
How has Artek 2nd Cycle evolved?
We feel that we give the tools to the public, and the public makes the decisions. Our space is not too small, so when people come, they can spend a few hours here. We hold some programs, including lectures about furniture history, Aalto, Tapiovaara, and sustainable development. We aim to grow yet continue to maintain a connection to our Finnish roots.
Go Find It!
Artek 2nd Cycle
Pieni Roobertinkatu 4
WHO: Juhani Lemmetti, development director of Artek and Artek 2nd Cycle.
SPECIALTY: Collecting old, iconic Finnish design pieces (especially by Aalto) and lightly restoring them for the next generation.
TOP SELLER AND BEST DEAL: Reclaimed hardwood work surfaces and lighting pieces.
COOLEST FIND: About 20 years ago, Lemmetti happened to look in the trash just outside his apartment and stumbled across a true jewel: a Paavo Tynell brass chandelier, which he sold a few years ago for $26,000.