In February 2014, I flew to Finland for roughly 48 hours to meet and interview Yrjö Kukkapuro. A well-known figure in Finnish design circles—he studied under Ilmari Tapiovaara and later taught successive generations of students at the school for applied arts in Helsinki—Kukkapuro isn't terribly recognized outside of the country. His most famous design, the Karuselli chair, is an all-time favorite of retail impresario Sir Terence Conran and once graced the cover of Gio Ponti's Domus magazine; it was highly influential in the realm of ergonomic midcentury design and is now being manufactuered by another famous Finn, Artek. Another Kukkapuro classic is the 1964 Ateljee modular seating system, a cousin to the paneled, upholstered leather Dieter Rams seating for Vitsoe of the same era.
Yrjö and his graphic artist wife Irmeli, who lives and works in the same open-plan, 2,150-square-foot studio as her husband, keep many of Yrjö's seating designs and prototypes around—which reinforces the very idea of home as workshop. The 80-something pair is something to see: Completely in love, completely in sync, completely in stride in matters of taste and hard work. During the trip, I spent a lot of time with their only daughter, Isa Kukkapuro-Enbom, who grew up to work in fashion and is enmeshed in Helsinki's design scene at large. When driving up to their house, about 15 miles outside of the capital city, we passed an outdoor jungle gym. She had been describing her parents' shared attitude towards living in their studio ("They live from the work, and they live for the work") then pointed out the playground: "They make some gymnastics here every day." If that's not a sign of enduring partnership—doing calisthenics together, outside, in a Finnish winter—then I don't know what is.
Kelsey Keith has written about design, art, and architecture for a variety of print and online publications.
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