Finland’s Centennial: Feeling Blue (or Ultramarine)

Written by Kelsey

Why don’t Finland’s war ships have bar codes on the sides?

Because when they dock, they don’t Scandinavian.

All apologies for opening with a terrible pun, but it makes a point about this Nordic nation and its unique cultural identity. Finland is neither Baltic nor Scandinavian nor Russian; rather, it exists as its own entity with a curious combination of its neighbors.

Stick with me here. In the wake of World War I and the Russian Revolution, Finland declared independence from Russian rule in December 1917. Before Russia took control of Finland, the nation was subject to Swedish rule. These influences–along with vibrant indigenous cultures–converge in a landscape that is also enhanced by all its contradictions: mountains and sea, midnight sun and darkest winter, blue lakes and white snow.

Arctic Ice Bar, Helsinki, image via. Lady with reindeer, Lapland, image via.

Similarly, dichotomies of religion and culture exist side by side, such as the modern metropolis of Helsinki juxtaposed against the stark wilderness of rural Lapland. Growing out of such wild contrasts is a design aesthetic that is as exquisitely intricate as any traditional Russian textile, and as streamlined and effortless as any Scandinavian contribution.

Finns themselves, like their country, are made up of a combination of seemingly opposing forces. For instance, they are notoriously enamored of personal liberty but enjoy a close-knit community spirit. It’s perhaps this socially gregarious, freedom-loving but intimate ethos that inspires Finnish design to be at once beautiful to look at and a pleasure to use in daily life. And do they ever put their fine design to practical use.

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This brings me to iittala. Cafes in Finland frequently serve guests with glassware by iittala, which has been producing artisan glass since the 1880s. To celebrate Finland’s centennial anniversary of independence, iittala has added a limited-run color, Ultramarine, to a few of their best-loved lines. The color calls to mind, as in the Finnish flag, the water of Finland’s thousands of lakes, or a wide expanse of open sea or sky.

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As perennial favorites, the smooth Kartio Tumbler and, especially, Alvar Aalto’s Finlandia Vase and Aalto Vase are natural selections for the celebratory shade. The undulating silhouette common to Aalto’s beloved design echos the ever-changing shoreline of one of Finland’s many lakes, a comparison drawn even closer by the deep blue hue. As with any color of Aalto’s iconic collection, these vases don’t necessarily have to hold flowers; you’re free to let your imagination flow.

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The Kastelhemi collection, iittala’s iconic “dewdrop” design, has also been produced in the Ultramarine variation (pictured above with Teema dishes). The little glass dots have never looked more like raindrops. And the nubby, sparkly texture can be dressed up or down depending on the table you’re setting.

You’ll find sea-blue and complementary hues standard across iittala’s many design motifs, from the magical Taika pattern to the charming hand-blown glass bird figurines. But the Ultramarine is only available for a brief time for Finland’s 2017 centennial celebration–so be sure to grab your favorite pieces while they’re here!

About the author



When she’s not polishing up promotions as a web content specialist for Lumens, Kelsey is practicing how to properly pronounce Danish, if only to be able to say “home is where the ‘hygge’ is.” Aside from Scandinavian design, she spends a lot of time thinking about organic gardening, mini farms, honey bees and England.

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