“Compare our colors with those from other parts of the world and you will immediately see the difference between the precise, natural tones in Finnish design and the much more vibrant color spectrum in other countries.” That was what Kaj Franck dictated to a journalist at the American Scandinavian Review “in the block, who asked him about the design of his service in 1966. She compared – only to find out:“ They only seem richer and more appealing, while the stronger tones suddenly appear gleaming. ” Her article talks about “the dark blue of the Finnish night” and “the white of freshly fallen snow”.
Franck’s solid color service, then called Kilta, is still sold today: it is currently celebrating its 70th birthday under the name Teema. The aforementioned shades of blue and white have received numerous additions over the years, most recently three new colors for the birthday with the name linen, vintage brown and vintage blue (not to be confused with the original blue). New feed for a large fan community: Today, Teema smiles at us in a variety of ways on social networks. Sometimes in a clean, pure white Scandi look, sometimes in color variants like the romantic “Powder”, sometimes in a multicolored eclectic chaos, often paired with the other lighthouses in Finnish design, such as Alvar Aalto’s furniture or the large-flowered ones Marimekko fabrics.
”Teema embodies Kaj Franck’s thoughts on sustainability, equality and humility. It always resonates with new generations; it serves all the needs of today and adapts to different food cultures, “says Nina Harjulin, brand manager at Teema manufacturer Iittala. It may sound like a typical PR phrase. If you look at the service’s long history, it’s definitely true.
modesty. Until the late 1940s, it was not necessarily the first concept to emerge when it came to decorating one’s own home. The good, richly decorated service in the dining room sideboard was also a distinctive feature of Finland, from which the family’s prosperity could be read.
The man who wanted to do away with such outdated ideas about table culture was 34 years old when the Finnish Arabia Porzellanwerke made him their design manager in 1946. He was no stranger, after graduating in industrial design from the Central School of Industrial Design in Helsinki. However, he had little experience in the field in which Arabia was concerned: serial production of ceramics was intended to meet the needs of the growing Finnish population.
Influenced by Bauhaus
This job was part of a more comprehensive modernization of the country: in the previous 850 years, Finland had belonged to Sweden and Russia and only declared its independence in 1917 – and after World War II it was in great distress: not only had it lost Karelia, what which led to the flight and displacement of about 400,000 inhabitants, but also faced the challenges of rebuilding the ruined Lapland.
The idea of a Finnish design was still underway at the time. Local peasant folk art played a role in its formulation, but also an internationalist approach that sought to equate this folk art, influenced by the Bauhaus and the British Arts & Crafts movement. Franck’s oeuvre, which includes numerous other porcelain and glassworks, derives its dynamism from this conflict. Teema turns to the last page, is a continuation of the ideas of the Bauhaus, which Franck, born in 1911 as the son of a Lübeck merchant in present-day Vyborg, Russia, had certainly studied well.
First and foremost, however, Franck’s approach was not a design ideology, but a concrete reaction to the ever smaller space in Finnish cities; storage space in the kitchens of the new buildings was limited. Franck’s idea: Instead of the versatile service that was usual back then, customers simply had to gradually buy what they needed – and what they liked. Everything could be combined with each other and would, due to its restraint, also go with other pieces that were already in the household.
With the Kilta designers, Franck omitted the previously usual S-curves and curves; Instead, he chose geometric shapes such as circles, squares, cylinders and cones. He made no precise attributions: The oven dish could also be used as a serving dish – so you did not burn your fingers, Franck designed an extra bamboo carrier.
The oldest item still sold under the Teema sign was created in 1948, a milk jug so narrow that it fits between the two frames of a wooden window – not all households had a refrigerator at that time. More important and ultimately the breakthrough for the service, which was originally sold under the name Kilta from 1952, were of course the cups and plates. The individual pieces were designed in such a way that they could be stacked to save space, a functional and design highlight: the narrow but steep plate edges.
In 1957, Kilta was awarded the Grand Prix at the Milan Triennial and was praised by the design press worldwide. While it became an everyday service in Finland, it enjoyed success in Germany, especially in design-savvy academic households, which continue to this day: Many of those who buy Teema today use it to complete the table setting they talked about their parents.
25 million items were sold worldwide in 1974, and then it was all over: the factories that produced the service closed – also because technical innovations had been oversleeped. Kilta was finally reinstated in 1981 after persistent customer protests. The slightly picky name – “Kilta” means “guild” – was replaced by Teema, who is known to this day and is more internationally understood. But not only the name had changed: instead of faience, the tableware was now made of less sensitive porcelain. From 2002, the name of the producer was changed from Arabia to the parent company Iittala; Variants were dropped, others were added; the original coffee cup – which is a bit tight for today’s drinking habits – has been reinterpreted in two larger versions, and there has also been a deep plate for soups or pasta dishes for the range.
Teema has long since liberated itself from its Finnish origins. It plays in the orchestra of design classics with contemporaries from different countries; shares its clientele with Dieter Rams’ Vitsoe shelves, the Danish Poulsen lamps and Thonet’s bent wooden chairs. Like all these, it has grown into timelessness and it exists effortlessly in even the most modern interior. At the same time it is traded briskly used; on the relevant vintage design platforms, but most recently also in the Iittala stores in Finland and Sweden.
Kaj Franck’s legacy is still very visible today. The country’s most important design award? And Franck’s Design Prize. The largest Finnish trading platform for vintage design? Name is Franckly. Lotta Kuuteri is Business Owner at Franckly, she says: “The endless possibilities to combine colors and shapes have made Kilta, or rather Teema, one of Finland’s best-selling services”. She keeps a close eye on the secondary market for Teema and Kilta: “Especially when pieces are phased out, we feel the demand increase. Right now, for example, there are a few different records on offer. So vintage pieces are a great way to add a little variety. “Old pieces still made at the original Arabia factory and a color palette that is also deeply rooted in Kiltas history are also in demand:” Currently, all shades of green is from the range, which of course boosts the second-hand market. ”
Susanna Thiel, chief curator at Design Museum Helsinki, says: “Franck was a critic of ‘design for the sake of design’, where the goal is always a new product. He took a radical approach to the designer’s responsibilities and emphasized the designer’s role in promoting social values, ethics, aesthetics and anti-materialism. “
Franck, who died in 1989, was alienated from the role now known as the author’s designer: “The designer has been made the dominant selling point, and the terms have become unclear, confused and illogical,” he complained in a 1965 essay. , adds that a good product requires work from people from different disciplines. On the other hand: Teema was already exhibited in a MoMa retrospective in 1992 and is now part of the most important design collections in the world. Kaj Franck has long smiled prominently from Iittala’s website. You may well show up a little with this story.