Pioneers of Pine: Vaarnii

April 2nd, 2024
Written by:
Nikolai Kotlarczyk

Osa Outdoor Dining Chair by Henrik Tjaerby for Vaarnii. Photo credit: Vaarnii.

Finnish furniture and lighting producer Vaarnii has quickly created a name for itself within a crowded design landscape as an industry disruptor. Thanks to a clear directive and an impressive list of international collaborators, Vaarnii has played a key role in bringing back a long out of favor material. We sat down with co-founder Miklu Silvanto to discuss how the brand balances the local and the international, the brutal and the sophisticated.

Currently based in Copenhagen – with an impending move back to Helsinki alongside the remainder of the Vaarnii team, the career of creative director and co-founder Miklu Silvanto has stretched across continents, with time spent at the likes of Apple and Bang & Olufsen. Since they met some 15 years ago, Silvanto’s relationship with close friend and co-founder Antti Hirvonen has been one experienced exclusively outside of Finland. The duo would often talk about their love for their homeland, but also about the lack of truly unique contemporary design coming out of the country – the Finnish design legacy remaining dominated by Aalto and Artek. With this in mind, the pandemic of 2019 brought a chance for the duo to act on these discussions, and while Vaarnii seems like a radical departure from the traditional furniture manufacturing model, Silvanto explains the straightforward nature in which it was founded.

Vaarnii co-founder Miklu Silvanto. Photo credit: Vaarnii.

“In the beginning, we had a simple determination to build an amazing company with quintessential Finnish nature. We were inspired to invest back into the country that gave us the means to succeed internationally. We wanted to create a more environmentally sound alternative and ensure Finnish furniture manufacturing industry would return to growth and stay vibrant. Part of finnishness is determined, blunt simplicity. So we would have one material and since the locally available choice was birch or pine and birch has been done beautifully, we went with pine. Simple as that.”

While creating a collection exclusively from pine presented a perfect material from an environmental stand-point – benefits include its speed of growth, ability to store carbon, alongside the sheer quantity available in Finland, pine did come with its question marks; Silvanto noting the over-varnished, yellow looking pine furniture and interiors he would come across throughout his childhood in Finland. Another consideration around working with the material was its soft nature, making it malleable and easy to work with, but not as strong as its hardwood alternatives. Not backing away from these characteristics, Silvanto and Hirvonen embraced them, coining the term “brutal sophistication” when talking about the distinct bold design aesthetic they were aiming to achieve. Silvanto explains how important it was that Vaarnii’s first collection stood true to these values and how those initial briefs laid the groundwork for the success of the brand.

Vaarnii presented their collection at Tableau during 3 Days of Design 2023. Photo credit: Michael Rygaard.

“Most companies don’t have a strong angle, or a clear vision, and they resort to borrowing the designers own aesthetics. When you see these brands you think “OK, what are you? Who are you? Why do you exist?” We were very determined to avoid this confusion when starting Vaarnii… The initial briefs we sent to designers had dozens and dozens of reference images of much older, hand-crafted furniture from carpenters and the Nordic countryside as well as obsessively clear articulation of the brutal and sophisticated aesthetic we want to build. There can be only one beginning for the company and we put immense focus on ours.”

Kolmio Table and Bench by Cecilie Manz for Vaarnii. Photo credit: Vaarnii.

While deliberate and detailed with these initial briefs, the designers they tasked with the responsibility of this first collection contained a natural diversity, which is reflected in each individual product. From material driven designer-makers such as Soft Baroque, Max Lamb and Kwangho Lee, to designers such as Industrial Facility and Cecilie Manz who contributed a much more technical, detailed driven approach.

Danish designers also feature heavily within the Vaarnii catalogue – Henrik Tjaerby, Nina Tolstrup as one half of London-based Studiomama, as well as the aforementioned Manz. While Silvanto acknowledges the influence Denmark has and will continue to have on Vaarnii, and the Danes natural understanding of working and living with pine, he is also keen to point out what makes each respective designer unique.

Osa Outdoor range by Henrik Tjaerby for Vaarnii. Photo credit: Vaarnii.
A sketch of the Osa Outdoor table by Henrik Tjaerby for Vaarnii. Photo credit: Vaarnii.

“We live in a globally interconnected world of mixed influences and identities. It is important to appreciate the place of birth and tradition, but it’s clear that every designer we work with is a result of their interesting global work history and understanding of a really diverse set of aesthetics… for example, Cecilie Manz is really influenced by her parents and also Asian cultures like Japan… and Henrik Tjaerby lives in Spain and worked in London for a long time and is a cosmopolitan carpenter designer whose work is impacted by the Spanish weather.”

Detail of Norppa Rocking Toy by Studiomama for Vaarnii. Photo credit: Vaarnii.

The respective projects of these Danish designers demonstrates this diversity, from Tjaerby’s robust and rugged Osa Outdoor collection, to Manz’ refined and nuanced Kolmio table and bench. A feature product within the range is Studiomama’s Norppa Rocking Toy – whose cute appearance underlies the technical construction and countless rounds of prototyping that went in to perfecting its form. A personal favorite of Silvanto, he exclaimed with great joy how Studiomama “…f***ing nailed the brief.” Evident within Norppa, as with the entire Vaarnii collection is a considered and educated approach, perfectly matching designers with products and allowing their individuality to shine through. Coupling this approach with a unbreakable commitment to local manufacturing, sole use of sustainable materials and an openness and transparency within their approach to business, Silvanto, Hirvonen and the Vaarnii team are quickly making a name for themselves as a true industry leader.

Norppa Rocking Toy by Studiomama for Vaarnii. Photo credit: Vaarnii.