Behind the Scenes: Finnish Designer Yrjo Kukkapuro at Home
By Kelsey Keith / Published by Dwell

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.

Designer Yrjö Kukkapuro at home outside of Helsinki, Finland; shown with a model of his iconic Karuselli lounge chair.

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.

Yrjö Kukkapuro's worktable. The table was made by Nike a factory in Eskilstuna, Sweden. Kukkapuro calls it "the Rolls Royce of all drawing tables” and reports that it was purchased over 40 years ago from Wulff Company in Helsinki.

Kukkapuro designed his open-plan home and studio with the help of an engineer; together they came up with the unusual parabolic roofline, which they fabricated from eight-centimeter-thick, poured-in-place concrete. This archival photo is from the fall of 1968, before the structure had been built around the roof. Photo courtesy of Yrjö Kukkapuro.

A glimpse of the home shared by Yrjö and Irmeli Kukkapuro, courtesy of a Finnish magazine, Avotakka FinnMilieu70, that photographed the studio shortly after the family moved in.

Kukkapuro signed the bottom of a Karuselli chair model from Vitra. He designed the ergonomic seat and ottoman in the 1960s; it is now being produced by Finnish manufacturer Artek.

Kukkapuro collaborated with graphic artist Teemu Lipasti in the 1960s to design brochures demonstrating the ergonomic properties of his chairs, like the Karuselli.

Kukkapuro-designed furniture and prototypes, mainly chairs, are piled everywhere throughout the home/studio: arranged in casual seating groups, standing at attention in soldierly rows, and stored out of reach on top of cabinets. Here, you can see the textured detail on the underside of the swooping concrete roof.

Irmeli Kukkapuro, whose own graphic art studio is right next to Yrjö's space in their live/work home, keeps shelves full of travel knick-knacks, tokens, and family pictures, like these two showing her husband as a young man and her daughter Isa as a toddler.

As Irmeli and Yrjö Kukkapuro got older (they're now in their 80s), they built a structure alongside the original 1968 home. Here, their wood-paneled kitchen, featuring some of Irmeli's and friends' artwork along the walls.

Read the full home tour and profile on Yrjö Kukkapuro in Dwell's June 2014 issue.

Kelsey Keith


Kelsey Keith has written about design, art, and architecture for a variety of print and online publications.

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