Meaningful and remarkable things along the way

Tapio Anttila

One day I was thinking about what things have influenced, moved or touched me as a designer. Professionals in all fields have a role model, thing or influencer who has acted as an inspiration or a trend setter. It doesn't have to be a representative of your own field, because it can be an object, a landscape, a painting or an atmosphere - so almost anything. Like a book, a film, a poem, an object, a performance, an exhibition, a building, a space, a person - the list could go on and on. Can you name four things that have made a lasting impression on you? 

Keep reading and I'll tell you which ones are mine.

I found quite a lot of them and choosing four was quite difficult. As a furniture designer, I am of course quite product-oriented, but I have deliberately included other things in this list. Let's start with the most important.


1. My late teacher Ilmari Tapiovaara

My class and I had the pleasure and honor of being taught by "Imma" in the 80s. Unfortunately, we were his last students, as age began to weigh on him and forced him to stop his valuable work. I appreciate him because he managed to design products in his career that charmed ordinary people as well as critics both in Finland and around the world. Not the easiest mission. He was also a master of using wood in his designs. I still clearly remember his words in lectures and critiques. He instilled in me an appreciation for our traditions. I realized that I registered retrospectively that why should I look at influences from abroad over the fence, when we have them already ourselves.

Undoubtedly Ilmari Tapiovaara was and is still my biggest inspirer and influencer.

More thoughts related to this in my first blog Life is learning.


2. The boat named Jese

In the 90s, I came across a wooden boat lying on trestles in the port of Lahti. It had been graying there for years. The exceptionally streamlined lines captured me completely. It was the most beautiful boat I had ever seen and I couldn't get it out of my mind. I persistently found out the owner and the deals were made. Reason had nothing to do with this affair, which is something my close circle liked to remind me of.

Then began a renovation project that required years and fitness. When sanding, Honduran mahogany in surprisingly good condition was revealed under the gray surface. After several liters of linseed oil and ten layers of Italian oil varnish, the boat began to reveal its best features. At the same time, I did detective work and found out the entire history of the boat. Axel Sundberg had carved it in Hamina at the war reparations shipyard in 1946. The customer had been matchmaker Kiril Aladin and he had named the boat Jese.

"The lines of the boat were perfect - there was nothing extra, nothing could have been added or taken away." 

So why is this boat on my list? All shapes and details were made only guided by functionality and refined over generations. The cover and ruff were convex so that the water would not stand anywhere. The bow was sharp to cut the wave, while the stern was shallow and would not resist the waves. The wood had been used at the very limit of what it can bend to. The end result was beautiful, even though the word "design" was not yet in use in Finland at the time. This boat taught me to notice something that I try to achieve in my own design as well.



3. Kendo

In the 90s, I seriously practiced kendo,  Japanese fencing. I in a competition group and achieved some success in it. I had previously practiced karate, and Zen, which is an integral part of Japanese martial arts, particularly attracted me. I read everything I could get my hands on in the literature - of course the classics "Zen and the art of shooting with a bow" by Eugen Herrigel and Miyamoto Musashi's 17th century swordsmanship guide "Earth, Water, Fire, Wind and Void".

In one book, a beginner asks the Master how he can also become a fencing master. The master replied: “It's easy, you practice the technique for years, until you master it perfectly. Then you just forget about it and start fencing naturally.” This encapsulates the Zen idea that one learns about things with piety, practices and then, when one is ready, lets things happen. In a perfect shot with a bow or a strike with a sword, it is said that "it" shot or struck. In this case, a total state of flow is achieved and the creator "forgets himself". The fencing guide also advises not to "think about anything" in a combat situation.

"If you think about loss or gain - you have lost." 

In my design, I pretty much follow the same principle. I figure out a lot of things from manufacturing techniques to user needs and then I "forget" them. Then I easily get into a flow state and ideas start to come up. There are limits, but they don't limit me. I don't think about success or failure - loss or victory. I remember when I was fencing, it sometimes felt like I was watching the situation as an outsider. When I'm designing, I get similar sensations, as if I'm not doing things myself. It may sound strange or silly, but this is an experience that has greatly influenced my work and attitude as a designer.

My own sketches from kendo class

4. A pipe hobby

For some reason, pipes have always fascinated me, even though I actually rarely smoke. I might smell the sweet aromas of a Brown Sugar Flake box or the licorice scents of a Balkan Flake Latakia leaf. Sometimes I admire the shapes and materials of my pipe collection or I touch their different surfaces. From time to time, I spend time by cleaning the stems or nests with the tools dedicated to the procedure. And of course researching different pipe models online is an important part of this hobby. You have to have the right time and state of mind to smoke yourself.

My collection includes many classics, such as Peterson or Stanwell pipes. Names such as Dublin, Prince or Bulldog flash in the barrel types. They are very traditional in form and have been refined over generations - in fact, according to the features of use. Sometimes for craftsmen, when the curved shape of the handle fit the mouth well and left the hands free to work. Sometimes, for gentlemen's dinner parties, for which a straight stem was suitable, which made the pipe elegant, but it required another hand to support it.

"Each pipe has its own story." 

My great idol Tapio Wirkkala was a merciless pipe man, and I don't think there are many photos of him without a pipe in his mouth. The whole production of him, the master of design, is staggeringly extensive, but the hand-fitting pipes he designed have been less noticed and are real rarities.
Designing a new modern pipe collection would be really difficult because the traditions are so strong. The French company Chacom has succeeded in this respectably. They have managed to preserve something old that has been developed for generations, but have brought a completely new design language to it while respecting the traditions.

Maybe the whole thing is more of an emotional state for me and my relationship with my own pipes is deep. Acquiring them has been planned for a long time and the purchase has been carefully considered - and they are also well taken care of.

As a designer, I strive to build a story into my objects, so that the users have a similar relationship with them, as I have with the pipes described above.

- Tapio

p.s. Renki L shelf takes good care of pipes and other small items.