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Pictures: Rory Barr for Finland Today

This weekend, thousands of Finns descended on Messukeskus in Helsinki to take in the wall of housewares that is Habitare 16, the biggest furniture, interior decoration and design fair in the country. This was my second Habitare and I felt a lot more familiar with the Finnish aesthetic, as last year all I could think was that everything either looked like it was from Ikea and 10 times the price, or it was made of unfinished plywood and again 10 times what I would have expected to pay. However, this year was different. While I would say that most of the furniture did have that Scandinavian look that most untrained eyes automatically label as being Ikea, I saw the nuances this time. I met the makers and the designers and touched and looked at the craftsmanship and the materials. Here are some design trends and concepts that stood out to me this year.

Smoked Glass
Dammit, I hated smoked glass in the 70’s/80’s and here it is again. The Marimekko concept space had a giant brown smoked mirror. I quietly prayed that it was a one-off and that perhaps they were trying to be ironic in some way, but no. I saw it hanging on the walls of several other booths. All I can say is never in my house!

img_8834The Seventies
As I touched on the previous paragraph, certain design elements are rearing their ugly heads from “that decade”. I saw a lot of brown being used in decor. From throw blankets to knotted textiles meant to hang on the wall to rugs, brown was there and not going anywhere. A rich, chocolate brown can be a beautiful thing, but when found near orange and avocado, it just gets retro in a bad way and fast.

Finns love their felt, and in all sorts of shapes and design categories and in a multitude of colors. I have noticed a certain love of small felted balls assembled in groups forming throw rugs, place mats, trivets, wall hanging . . . pretty much anything. I see them at craft fairs, at design shows, in stores and now at Habitare. Apart from the balled felt, there was felt art, mostly in muted tones, but in a few basic shapes that were meant as a wall feature. It was sound dampening meets design.

Amen. Pink has returned to the decor world. But had it really left? Thankfully, the fuchsia and bubblegum have exited and have been replaced by a soft pink that is gentle and warm and very inviting for us femmes. This ecru-meets-pink shade was found as wall colors, upholstery, trays, drapes, carpets and room accents. They even had pink lidded Pyrex. I was in heaven. My husband was not.

In Canada, plywood is reserved for menial projects, however, Finland elevates it to a coveted design material. When my husband and I first moved to Helsinki, we snickered at its ubiquity, its unfinished look and its lack of durability. However, after a year of seeing it everywhere, I have learned to appreciate it. Surely when I return home with some of my plywood design treasures, our friends and family will in turn snicker at us.

In Canada, our neighbor to the South looms large in culture, informing our media, fashion, food imports and pretty well everything else. As Canadians, we at times quietly resent this, but carry on eating our California avocados and drinking our Coca-Cola. However, many Finns do not hide their love of the USA. We saw American flag scarves, pillows, tablecloths, tin posters, cars, serveware, clocks, prints and pretty well anything else that would sit still long enough to have the good ol’ stars and stripes stamped on it. Will this affection remain if Trump gets elected?

img_8861There was genuinely something for everyone at Habitare: antiques, furniture, Christmas decor, paperware, hi-fi equipment, candy, vintage clothing, glassware, delicious meatballs, art, and several play areas for children. However, what I didn’t see this year was Michael Monroe wandering the aisles. There is always next year!

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