”A designer’s mission is to solve a problem” – Ari Kanerva looks for an understated balance

In art, one shows that a problem exists. Design aims to solve a problem. This is how Ari Kanerva, a professional in functional design, describes his work.

Hailing from Lahti in Southern Finland, the 43-year-old Kanerva was named “2019 Furniture Designer of the Year”. One of his clients is SELKA, for whom Kanerva has created the MAHTUVA and SOPIVA table lines, designed for the new kind of home office.

The Finnish Association of Interior Architects SIO gave the following reasons for their choice:

Ari Kanerva has created his version of modernism. Kanerva is an international designer, whose furniture designs have a certain “Finnish touch”. He stands out as an enthusiastic, inventive and recognizable designer with his own distinctive style. 

Swimmer, Artist and Designer

As a child and teenager, Ari displayed no particular signs about his future career, save for the fact that he has always liked to draw a lot. Kanerva’s main interest was sports, and as a swimmer he competed on the Finnish championship level. Nowadays, in his fourties, he enjoys crossfit.

In high school, gym teacher was one of young Ari’s professional ambitions, but eventually he decided to pursue a career as an artist. One year of art school was enough to conclude, however, that the life of an artist was not for him. Luckily, Kanerva had found a compromise between the arts and how he actually wanted to lead his life.

“I had started to notice more and more often, what an abundance of non-functional and downright ugly objects there were in the world.

Quite naturally, design became a field of study, profession and way of life for Ari Kanerva.

Bad design and good design

What Kanerva considers bad design is super-imposed decorativeness.

“That in my view is overdesign. One seeks to create a distinctive object, but the end result hampers the actual usage of the object.

Kanerva values a clear-cut functionality.

“I don’t consider design as art but rather some kind of functional sculpture. In art, one shows that a problem exists, whereas in design one aims to solve a problem.

Ergonomics and functionality are the starting point

Kanerva does careful research of the item’s intended use and ergonomics. He describes his style as minimalistic and very refined. Visual balance and thoughtful little details are regularly featured in his designs.

On his website, Kanerva describes his working method in this way:

“From a sketch on paper, through handmade mockups to a finished industrial product, it is the chain of problems and solutions that I find fascinating. I try to make my design simple and functional, yet play with forms. I also aim at a balanced appearance where none of the details predominate.”

The end result is typically a compromise between many different factors. Still the process is at its core simple, as Kanerva succinctly puts it:

“The manufacturer gives the specifications, and we provide the end user with the best possible result.”

MAHTUVA and SOPIVA – the newest bestsellers for the home office

The MAHTUVA and SOPIVA desks are the most recent SELKA hit products, both of Kanerva’s design. Years earlier, he had already worked with the old Selka-line in projects which utilized components manufactured at the Nastola factory. Now Kanerva had the opportunity to design a special kind of adjustable working desks intended especially for remote work.

“The people at SELKA had a clear vision of what they wanted and the state of mind to finish the project quickly. For my part, I had my own view visually of how the product would function. We made very quick progress”, Kanerva describes his fluent co-operation with SELKA.

“Nowadays, so many people do their work on a laptop and don’t require a large and heavy display that the workstation doesn’t necessarily have to be several metres wide. If that unnecessary space exists there, it would simply produce more clutter”, Kanerva recounts the starting point for his designs.

The correct working posture is extremely important for a person’s health: an easily-adjustable desk allows a person to sit, stand and change positions several times during the workday.

“A height-adjustable desk enables everybody to find their best possible working position at any particular time. And as the desk is not large, it can fit into even the smallest homes. With the gas spring the table doesn’t require a power cord, which makes it even easier to move around and use anywhere in your apartment, your balcony, for instance.”

”Korkeussäädettävä taso mahdollistaa jokaiselle ihmiselle parhaan asennon juuri sillä hetkellä. Ja kun pöydän koko ei ole iso, se mahtuu pienempiinkin koteihin. Kaasujousi eli sähköjohtojen puuttuminen entisestään mahdollistaa helpon siirrettävyyden esimerkiksi parvekkeelle”, Kanerva hahmottelee uutta työympäristöä.”

With all this in his mind, Kanerva started working towards and refining the end product. One table more rounded, one more angular. Just a few elements. The placing of the leg so that it is comfortable to sit at the table, one is able to move one’s chair closer without immediately banging one’s knee to the table leg.

In past decades, this kind of product would have been thought to belong solely to the office environment. Now it was manufactured for home usage. The size of the workstation was scaled with consideration to the minimum required for white-collar work.

“This new way of thinking ultimately met the challenges set by the corona virus.”

Taking a longer view, Kanerva says that the trandition did have its origins in pre-COVID-19 times.

“There was already a trend where offices were starting to be cozier and more comfortable, reminiscent of home. Then the new kind of thinking was utilized in the opposite direction, so that you could place furniture in homes which previously would have been considered as public space furniture. These two worlds have intermingled.

Ari Kanerva

  • Was named “2019 Furniture Designer of the Year”.
  • Studied Spatial and Furniture Design at the University of Art and Design Helsinki and graduated (MA) in 2008.
  • Runs his studio at Turku where his main focus is on furniture and product design.
  • Has taught at Lahti University of Applied Sciences Institute of Design and the South-Eastern Finland University of Applied Sciences Xamk in Kouvola.
  • Has worked with multiple Finnish and international companies.
  • His first design that ended up in production was the Tiuku clock, a part of the range of the Italian furniture company Covo.

Text: Petteri Ruotsalainen