Harri Koskinen: The Finnish designer on bringing his Iittala vision to Finnair
As Finland’s foremost living designer, Harri Koskinen knows all about the beauty, form and functionality needed to create the very best in Nordic design. His Block lamp has been part of MoMA’s permanent collection since 2000, while his Muu chair won him the prestigious Compasso d’Oro Award in 2004.
Koskinen has also worked with iconic Finnish table and glassware brand Iittala throughout his career, from a scholarship in their glass factory after university in 1996, through to a period as its design director between 2012 and 2016.
So it was logical for Finnair to ask him and Iittala to team up and create a new range of chinaware and glassware for the all-new Business Class and Premium Economy cabins, rolling out across the entire Airbus A330 and A350 widebody fleet during 2022 and 2023.
“Everything started from Finnair’s wish to renew everything inside of the cabin,” says Koskinen. “Both Finnair and Iittala felt that my experience of design might be the best solution for the problem.”
A feeling like home
“The nice thing about this experience is that Finnair’s idea for the new flight experience is to make the cabin feel like home. They have been working on aspects of comfort and coziness - a warm and familiar home environment.”
This, says Koskinen, inspired him to create the new Kuulas dining collection for Finnair’s new Business Class and Premium Economy cabins. Instead of turning to the square and rectangular designs usually used for in-flight tableware, Koskinen and Iittala opted for a more classic, circular look.
“There was the idea for it to be a premium service, so we tried to avoid rectangular or functional items. We wanted to avoid the feeling that you are on a flight and eating in a small space, so we used round plates and round items.
“The main task was to create authentic, familiar items which reminded customers of aspects of everyday life.” This, adds Koskinen, meant using materials including ceramics, glass, steel and wood.
“It's a premium experience. The materials are long lasting and they are real and authentic. So no fake solutions.”
A true collaboration
Creating the Kuulas range wasn’t just about looking to use a more rounded design, however. Iittala and Koskinen worked with Finnair Kitchen, ensuring that the plates, cups and glassware were able to present the new-look menu in the best way possible.
“This has been like a very close collaboration with Finnair Kitchen,” says Koskinen. “These rounder items have been designed with the idea of how they can have a new perspective on what they can serve in flight.” The result is a more creative menu that focuses on the very best in Nordic cuisine, with Japanese and Asian influences.
“There was a very long term evaluation about what makes sense and how the kitchen meal portions worked in certain dimensions.”
It wasn’t just the kitchen team that Koskinen and Iittala had to have a close relationship with, though. There were strict guidelines from the design team that needed to be followed at all times.
“Since the space is limited and the capacity of the trolleys calculated very carefully, there are so many numbers and guidelines that you need to take into consideration,” says Koskinen.
“One of the main ideas was to try and design the tableware to be as light as possible,” he adds. However, ideas for using thinner, pressed glass had to be put to one side, with thicker materials needed to ensure robustness. Koskinen and Iittala managed to keep the weight down by simply using fewer items, cutting down on the clutter that can often appear on tray tables after service.
“The aim was to get less things on the table,” he says. “Fewer items also meant that we could save some weight.” By cutting down on weight, Finnair is able to meet its sustainability targets, making planes lighter and saving fuel in the process.
Creating a Nordic feel
The Finnish heritage of Iittala and Finnair meant that working together on the redesign of the long haul cabin was a great way to showcase the very best that Finland has to offer. Iittala’s glassworks factory dates back to 1881, while Finnair will celebrate its centenary in 2023.
This shared outlook meant that, along with the Marimekko designed textiles found throughout the cabin, Iittala and Finnair were able to create what Koskinen calls, “...a very obvious and natural Nordic spirit.”
“There isn’t a design language on board, as such,” he says. “But when you are working with functional objects like this, with comfort and coziness, you are touching on the Nordic design language.”
Koskinen says the process of working with Finnair and Iittala, which has been ongoing for over two years, has been a pleasure.
“It's been a fantastic collaboration,” he says. “I’m very happy to be taking part in it.”
The Kuulas range will be used in Finnair’s new Business Class and Premium Economy cabins, including plates, bowls, coffee cups, tumblers, wine glasses and cutlery. Select items will also be available to purchase for use at home.