Finding Inspiration in Nature

Updated: Sep 12, 2020

I always talk about my interiors finding their inspiration in nature, and my recent trip to Finland got me thinking about where my design philosophy gets its roots from.

On my trip, I observed the Finnish architecture and towns - from Helsinki to my dad's small rural hometown, Tammisaari, to the even more remote island where my grandmother lives - and one characteristic that was shared throughout the various settings was the way human-made buildings and towns exist in harmony with nature.

As our flight was landing into Helsinki airport, I could see forests, lakes and coastal islands - serene, undisturbed greenery - until I looked closer. Amongst the trees, the occasional roof of a house, or a pier peeking over a lake were visible... but fundamentally, it was the buildings that had been shaped around the landscape, not the nature shaped around the buildings. I could not observe any massive clearings cut away to make room for neighbourhoods - the man-made structures were sometimes almost invisible amongst the natural setting, roofs covered by branching trees.

Patina in Helsinki

Helsinki does have more of a city-feel than most other parts of Finland, but there is still plenty of nature inside the city - not only is it on the coast of the Finland by the sea, but the city is filled with green public parks and also characterised by rocky hills. In fact, on our trip we visited 'Linnanmäki', a theme park on the outskirts of Helsinki which is situated on a hill (translated as "Castle's Hill") - my brother and I loved going there as kids so we wanted to go back for nostalgic and sentimental reasons.

The theme park is famous for a roller coaster called "Vuoristorata" - literally translates as Rollercoaster. Finns do like to get to the point. Built in 1951 for the 1952 Summer Olympics and originally intended as a temporary structure, it has since consistently been the most popular ride at the park every year. It is entirely of wooden-construction, still operated by brakemen and it is one of the few roller coasters in the world to be awarded 'Classic' status by the American Coaster Enthusiasts (ACE) club. The structure is carefully maintained - all the wooden parts have been replaced at least five times, although the cars are still the original ones. Apart from being brilliant fun (and the only ride we did more than once), I love the 'natural' elements of the ride - not just fact that the structure is wooden and as the car journeys through a tunnel in the final few seconds of the ride, the smell of tar floats through the air, but the way it is constructed onto the rocky landscape, with apple trees growing between the tracks. As rickety as parts of it feel, it's without a doubt the most beautiful rollercoaster I have been on.

The following day we headed West towards a small, old town on the coast of Finland called Tammisaari (also known as Ekenäs in Swedish - it's a majority Swedish speaking town), where my dad grew up. There are two buildings in Ekenäs designed by world famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto; the Tammisaari Savings Bank (1964) and Villa Skeppet (1969), the home of Aalto's biographer, Göran Schildt. The rest of the town is a quant collection of old planked wooden buildings painted in pastel colours with picturesque white wooden window panes.

From Tammisaari we drove to catch a ferry onto a large island, to a place (I'm not sure I can call it a town) called Skåldö, and from there we caught a pre-arranged 'taxi boat' which carried us, our luggage and our food supplies for the next few days onto the remote island of Älgö where my grandmother lives (at least in the more habitable months of summer). I didn't conduct an official census, but I think it would be safe to say there are more deer on the island than people... and the phone signal is limited. HEAVEN!

After 3 hours, I always notice how tired I am - the sea air - and time starts to slow down. Instagram is buffering, but I stop noticing and then caring. It had been too dry to forage for mushrooms, but I still love walking around the woods trying to spot wild deer (we saw many!), carrying firewood from the log store to the sauna cabin and getting the fire going. After-sauna entertainment involves a few drinks on the sauna cabin patio, listening to the crickets and watching the sun set over the sea from amongst the many trees which disguise the buildings within.

A couple of days in and what even is Instagram and why do I need people when I can grow my own potatoes and catch my own fish for my dinner?!

Retreating to the country, away from the modern world is a typical Finnish (Scandinavian, and Northern) lifestyle - many people who live in the city will have a country house on a lake or by the sea a few hours away where they can escape the stresses of the modern world for the weekend. Many cabins and summerhouses (including my grandmother's) don't have running water, and some even lack electricity - this is about feeling more connected to nature and the outdoors, slowing down and living a more harmonious existence.

It is this Nordic ethos of being at one with nature and the sense of calm that it brings that explains why I love to find inspiration in the patina of a rusty tractor wheel, a rustic wooden door, or some weathered lichen on a rocky cliff - and it is this energy that I find so inspiring and want to bring into my designs. My philosophy is that the best designs are ones which are considerate of the fabric of the building (the landscape in which they exist), that make you feel at home (a cosy retreat), and where the client can bring something of themselves into the design to add character (weathered, patina).

A few days away was not just inspiring, but the perfect way to press 'reset' on my mind. :)

Inspiration from the Island:

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