The life, work and leisure of the Finnish design legends Antti and Vuokko Nurmesniemi intertwined in the Helsinki Design Museum’s new exhibition

Antti + Vuokko Nurmesniemi
Designmuseo, Korkeavuorenkatu 23, Helsinki, Finland
How did the works and working philosophy of Antti and Vuokko Nurmesniemi shape Finland in the post-war era?  What was the couple’s revolutionary atelier house really like? What are the stories behind the many iconic Nurmesniemi clothes and products? The Antti + Vuokko Nurmesniemi exhibition will open at the Helsinki Design Museum in late October, and it is the first exhibition to focus on the couple’s life together and both of their careers from the 1950s up to the 21st century.  Interior designer Antti Nurmesniemi (1927–2003) and textile artist Vuokko Nurmesniemi, née Eskolin (b. 1930) are both top names in Finnish design history. They contributed to building equality and the Finnish welfare society in the post-war era, both together and independently. Antti and Vuokko Nurmesniemi had an uncompromising attitude as advocates of good and sustainable design. Work and leisure, family and friends were all intertwined in their lifestyle. The Nurmesniemis were eager to network internationally, and they were included in setting the foundation for the international reputation of Finnish design.

“During their international travels, their social life expanded and their working methods were often very much all-encompassing. Antti Nurmesniemi actively contributed to debate in society in topics of design, and his working style was very systematic, whereas Vuokko had a more intuitive and free-form approach. Their working methods also reflect their personalities,” concludes Design Museum’s Harry Kivilinna, one of the exhibition curators.

In the 1950s, design education was not strictly limited to a certain profession. Vuokko Nurmesniemi was trained in ceramics, but she pursued the profession of a textile artist. Antti Nurmesniemi took his degree in interior design, but he ventured into industrial design and graphic design. The couple’s collaborative projects were usually connected to exhibitions, such as Artek’s breakthrough exhibition in Helsinki in 1957 and the Triennale Milano of 1964. One of their most important and long-term projects was their atelier house, located in Helsinki’s Kulosaari district, and its interior design. The atelier house, designed by Antti Nurmesniemi, was completed in 1975. In their house, home and work, public and private became intertwined. The house does have separate facilities and entrances for the home and the design agency, but you can see into the downstairs agency from the window in the upstairs living room.

“The atelier house reflects Antti Nurmesniemi’s philosophy on the significance of interior design. The structures of the house included some of the most modern technology at the time, and it oozed the futuristic house concept. The atelier house was a meeting place for their wide circle of friends and clients, and it became an important place for shooting the collections of Vuokko Oy, the textiles designed by Vuokko Nurmesniemi and the furniture designed by Antti Nurmesniemi. In addition to a place for work and a private home, the atelier house became a space for exhibiting Finnish design, explains Dr Susanna Aaltonen, a curator of the exhibition and a Docent of Art History.

The Nurmesniemis had extremely productive careers. Antti Nurmesniemi completed hundreds of interior designs and the exhibition showcases nearly one hundred dresses by Vuokko Nurmesniemi. The exhibition also sheds light on the working processes of them both, Antti Nurmesniemi’s contributions as a thinker and an influencer in society in addition to his design work, and showcases Vuokko’s creativity through the design process of the Pyörre print and the pieces of clothing that followed.

Antti Nurmesniemi

Antti Nurmesniemi (1927–2003) was a pioneer of industrial design in Finland. He studied in the Institute of Industrial Arts and Crafts in 1947–1950. He did not only design products but was also actively involved in the development of the design sector. In 1956, he founded his own interior design agency, Studio Nurmesniemi, that employed many of his colleagues over the years. The first industrial design project by Nurmesniemi was the Pehtoori pot he designed for Wärtsilä in 1957. Traffic in the Helsinki metro began in August, 1982. This was preceded by a long design project, started in 1970, by Studio Nurmesniemi in cooperation with designer Börje Rajalin. The metro is a great example of Nurmesniemi’s design work as it combines the professions of an interior architect and industrial designer. The metro carriages still feature the orange colour and the benches that follow the original concept. Antti Nurmesniemi was awarded the prestigious Pro Finlandia medal in 1964. Vuokko Nurmesniemi has called her beloved husband “a great, quiet man”.

Vuokko Nurmesniemi

Textile designer and ceramic artist Vuokko Nurmesniemi (b.1930) is an internationally renowned and distinguished designer. She first studied ceramics at the Institute of Industrial Arts and Crafts, but Armi Ratia encouraged her to get into fashion design. She worked as a fashion designer at Marimekko from 1953 to 1960; at the time of Marimekko’s international breakthrough. One of her most iconic designs is the Jokapoika shirt (1956) that has been in production for over 60 years. The Jokapoika shirt is a simplified version of men’s classic collar shirt, but it became an instant hit with women too. In 1964, she founded her own brand, Vuokko that still has a flagship store on Korkeavuorenkatu Street in Helsinki. Vuokko Nurmesniemi was awarded the honorary title of Academian of Art in 2007, and she is a honorary doctor of the University of Arts and Design Helsinki. Nurmesniemi’s niece Mere Eskolin became the CEO of Vuokko Oy in 2009.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.