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The work and life of this legendary Finnish design couple are highlighted for the first time in the same exhibition at the Helsinki Design Museum.

© Max Petrelius
© Paavo Lehtonen

From the bright orange seats in the Helsinki underground to striped lounge chairs, from coffee makers to landscape architecture, from colorful textiles and clothing to corporate visual identities… The designs of this legendary duo shaped post-war Finland. Interior designer Antti Nurmesniemi (1927-2003) and textile artist Vuokko Eskolin-Nurmesniemi (1930-) propelled Finnish design onto the world stage. The Helsinki Design Museum pays tribute to their philosophy and work in a retrospective that brings them together for the first time, highlighting the extensive nature of their practice over a fifty-year career. “Both have had remarkable international careers in their own fields of expertise, so it is quite surprising that their work has never been exhibited together until now,” says Harry Kivilinna, curator of the museum, which celebrates its 150th anniversary this year.

© Paavo Lehtonen
© Paavo Lehtonen

Good and sustainable design

Work, leisure, family, and friends were all closely intertwined in their lifestyle. The Nurmesniemis met while studying at the University of Arts and Design in Helsinki and married in 1953. While he started his own design studio in 1956, she ran the renowned Finnish fashion house Marimekko before founding her company, Vuokko Oy, in 1964. Since then, the couple have enjoyed a productive career, both together and independently. He has established himself as a thinker and influencer in society in addition to his design work, collaborating with publishers such as Tecta, Cassina, and Artek. She has revolutionized the textile and fashion industry with her geometric, striped, and abstract patterns and prints. 

© Paavo Lehtonen
© Paavo Lehtonen

The perfect home 

One of their dreams came true in 1975 with their studio house on the posh island of Kulosaari. Situated by the sea and out of sight, this modernist villa still fascinates aficionados with its timelessness and modern use of space, perfectly encapsulating their lifestyle. It has become a meeting place for clients and their friends, such as Charles and Ray Eames, a photo studio for their collections, and an exhibition space for Finnish design. “What is remarkable is that Antti and Vuokko did not have much influence on each other. They both made their own designs, and their lives revolved around the work, giving it both meaning and substance, extensive social networks, and lots of travel,” says Mere Eskolin, Vuokko Oy’s managing director. A powerful legacy that has stood the test of time beautifully. 

© Paavo Lehtonen
© PF Studio

Nathalie Dassa

Vuokko and Antti Nurmesniemi exhibition

Helsinki Design Museum, Finland

Until 9th April 2023