While I was trawling the Internet, namely Pinterest, for some of the best designed places to visit in Helsinki for my visit in December, I kept coming across the name of interior architect and designer Joanna Laajisto. Literally every cool little bar or contemporary restaurant I found had her name attached to it, so I was intrigued to find out more about her creative studio, and more importantly hop on to her projects, stat. I recognised some of her interiors from across social media and various blogs, but didn’t realise she had designed quite so many beautiful design spots in Helsinki.
Laajisto began her career in the West Coast of the United States. She worked for international architecture practice Gensler in Los Angeles designing large-scale commercial projects, and even travelled the world as a professional snowboarder, before settling back down in her native Finland and setting up Joanne Laajisto Creative Studio.
Her work is characterised by a focus on functionality and aesthetics, elegantly combining a neutral palette of tactile, natural materials – lots of wood, leather and stone – with minimal, Scandinavian furniture. It reminds me of GamFratesi’s work at The Standard in Copenhagen, and some of the interior projects of multidisciplinary studio SPACE Copenhagen. From interior concepts and retail design to visual merchandising, she says her philosophy ‘is not to clutter this world with unnecessary things but to find the hidden beauty of a space and to enhance it by creative solutions’.
Joanna Laajisto is certainly a name that should be on your radar, so here I’ve rounded up six of her must-see projects in Helsinki, some of which I visited for myself while I was there.
Finlandia Caviar, Helsinki
Finlandia Caviar is a small shop and restaurant dedicated to caviar looking over the picturesque waterfront at the heart of Helsinki. I popped my head in but couldn’t entirely justify indulging in caviar by myself… The design is simple and pared-back, as refined as the produce on sale, with light grey walls and furniture by Finnish craftsmen. Geometric floor tiles provide an element of pattern, while pen and ink drawings adorn the walls. I love the little hooks over each table for the clipboard menus, a lovely simple finishing touch.
Eteläranta 20, 00101 Helsinki
Story – Old Market Hall, Helsinki
Housed in the Old Market Hall, a beautiful covered market next to the water that has served customers since 1889, Story was bustling when I visited on a cold December Saturday lunchtime. Story is sited at the heart of the market, in the lofty, double-height space once used for unloading horse carriages. Laajisto has cleverly divided the space, using wooden oak units and black metal shelving to create more intimate tables and conceal leather upholstered seating booths. Blackboards display seasonal specialities while a herringbone tiled bar is used to serve customers. Colourful chairs are by HAY and the pendant lights are Laajisto’s own design. An unusual fishing net light over one of the tables pays homage to the harbour’s fishing industry and the market’s history.
Eteläranta, 00130 Helsinki
Seeking to create a comfortable and casual interior, Laajisto transformed this old, well-known dining spot from its former dark wood and red columns into Michel, a light, airy restaurant at the heart of Helsinki’s shopping district. The sage green wooden panelling pays tribute to Helsinki’s traditional kiosks built in the 1940s and still found across the city today. Elsewhere, the Tulip tables by Eero Saarinen for Knoll give the space a mid-century feel and the seating is by Andrew World.
Mikonkatu 4, 00100 Helsinki
Löyly restaurant is part of a contemporary sauna complex designed in 2016 by Avanto Architects in a former industrial district of the city, less than 2km from the centre. The brief was to create an atmospheric space that complimented the strong architecture of the angled wooden building. Wooden joinery (made of sustainable glued laminated birch) separates the raised platform for the bar with the seating area of the restaurant, providing diners a comfortable perch from which to view the sea. Black concrete floors and blackened steel are softened with light Scandinavian birch wood. The chairs, upholstered in Kvadrat material, are by Italian manufacturer Torre and the bar stools are by Gubi. The elegant, black String lights over the tables are by Michael Anastassiades for Flos.
Hernesaarenranta 4, 00150 Helsinki
Bar & Co, Helsinki
I couldn’t actually find Bar & Co when I visited, but the interior is so beautiful I wanted to share it anyway. It’s would be very sad if this had closed and I’m hoping that’s not the case. This is one of her more refined designs, with clean, white walls, white tiles and French-style cafe chairs. There are four different spaces, each with different themes. A long marble bar marks the entrance, while the more intimate library room features cosy sofas and lounge chairs. The smoking room is clad in a rich green wooden panelling and lit atmospherically in candlelight. Just let me know if you can find it!
Bier Bier, Helsinki
Bier Bier was one of my favourite finds, a wonderfully cosy bar that manages to transport you back in time while maintaining a smart, luxe interior. Old tiled fireplaces create a warm ambience and seating either side provide intimate nooks for late night drinks. The rich wooden joinery is modernised with teal walls, brass lighting and leather upholstered stools. A perfect place to escape the chill of winter evenings.
Erottajankatu 13, 00130 Helsinki
I wonder had you come across the designs of Joanna Laajisto or was it just me? Do you like the look of her work?
All images: Joanna Laajisto Creative Studio