One of the most ambitious and successful projects of all time to showcase Finnish design on an international level was The Finland House in New York. This gallery-showroom, restaurant and office complex was established on behalf of the Finnish American Trading Corporation in 1947 and located right in the heart of Midtown Manhattan (murray hill) close to the Rockefeller Center and with iconic Waldorf Astoria hotel just around the corner.
The Finland House showroom, 39-41 East 50th Street, New York, NY, c.1947.
The Finnish-American Trading Corporation Ltd. (FINATCOL), which was founded partly by the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and partly by a few private Finnish export companies, purchased two five-storage French revival styled buildings on the 39 & 41 East 50th Street in 1947. The newly found company wanted to completely renovate the buildings and open it to showcase the best and finest design and culture from Finland. On the first and second floor there would be a gallery-showroom for design and furniture items as well as a restaurant serving well known Finnish dishes with an international twist. The other floors were planned to be used for office purposes by the trading company and its associates. Nothing similar on this scale was never tried before in Finnish export history.
Matchboxes from the Finland House Restaurant, early 1950s.The other box background with wood imitation, referring to restaurant´s wood panel interior. Private collection.
The renovation of the buildings was designed by an American architect company Magoon & Salo, who were in charge of the basic construction work, facade renovations and the office space interiors. However, for the restaurant and gallery spaces on the first floor Finatcol wanted to use a Finnish architect to give it a special "Finnish touch" with a goal to import all furniture and decoration directly from Finland. Even the obvious choice would have been by then already world-known Finnish architect Alvar Aalto, the Finnish American Trading Company hired one of his Aalto´s former assistant and colleague, architect Aarne Ervi. Ervi was by then starting to get wider recognition after designing several notable architecture projects and his successful involvement just a year earlier with a similar large scale interior renovation project for a restaurant in Helsinki, called Kestikartano (see previous post) probably had a significant impact to get the commission in New York.
To give a specific Finnish character to the interior, Ervi decided to use a lot of wood in form of wood panelling on ceilings and partly wood veneered walls, all made of various Finnish wood types. For the showroom and gallery space he planned by purpose an airy interior with relatively few objects to showcase at once, with minimalistic, adjustable glass wall shelves. Originally the showroom was owned by a Finnish traditional jewelry company Kalevala Koru, who on the side of their own products showcased various Finnish industrial art objects of any kind.
Scale model sketch of the restaurant space by Aarne Ervi.
The bar with large custom-made chandeliers by Paavo Tynell, 1947.
What it comes to interior details, Aarne Ervi used some of Finland´s best designers at the time for the work. Even Alvar Aalto didn´t design anything directly for this project, Ervi used his iconic plywood chairs and other small furniture from the Artek-collection for the restaurant space. All other furniture were unique and designed by interior architect Ilmari Tapiovaara and manufactured by Keravan Puuteollisuus Oy. Textiles were designed by Greta Skogster-Lehtinen and hand-made by her own company. Helvi Mether-Borgström and Lasse Ollinkari contributed also as interior designers on behalf of Ervi´s company.
The upper restaurant balcony with custom-made furniture by Ilmari Tapiovaara, 1947.
However, in the focus of all interior was its lighting design. As already several times in the past, Aarne Ervi turned to Paavo Tynell and his company Taito Oy. Aarne Ervi had worked several times with Tynell in the past, previously named Restaurant Kestikartano and Pyhäkoski Power Plant to name a few. The Finland House would become one of their most
Since the space got a limited amount of natural light coming in, Paavo Tynell´s lighting design became even more important. With various big, perforated brass fixtures Tynell created rich, flowing light to the space to simulate natural light and shadows. In addition to lighting pieces, Paavo Tynell also designed various brass items for the space, such as railings and door handles, all unique and in collaboration with Ervi.
The main restaurant hall, 1947.
The Gallery space with a sales exhibition by Taito Oy, late 1940s.
The entire showroom-gallery with its restaurant was an immediate success among American clientele, but the biggest attraction for them was the lighting design. Tynell´s designs were considered unique and fresh compared the American post-war modernism and his designs were praised in several notable publications in the US.
Restaurant´s upper balcony, with a view to the gallery space through a glass shelving system.
The Finland House was to become the most important channel for Taito Oy (and later Idman-Taito Oy) to showcase their products in USA for an international clientele. In addition to permanent interior and its lighting design, Taito held continuously sale exhibitions at the Finland House gallery. This led to more collaborations with American and international architects as well as consignments from important private clients. All pieces were sold exclusively by the Finland House showroom, who also got numerous distributors across the US.
The Finland House gallery shop, 1947.
After almost a decade of productive marketing and trade of Finnish design, the Finnish American Trading Corporation decided to sell the Finland House property in 1957, and it was also decided not to continue running the gallery separately. At the same time in Finland, Idman Oy made a decision to focus entirely on serie produced lamps, something that might had an impact on closing the NY showroom at the end, considering that Tynell lamps were one of their most successful articles. The buildings were demolished shortly after closing the showroom late 1950s.
Due to its uniqueness and high quality, the Finland House remains as a prime example of Finnish interior design. It was a historical collaboration between artists and companies on an international scale and an important platform to present modern post-war Finland.
The Finland House catalog featuring table lamp model 9202 by Taito Oy.
The Finland House catalog cover, late 1940s, featuring ceiling lamp model nr.9081.
Magazine ad by the Finland House, late 1940s.