No visit to Helsinki is complete without a full day devoted to exploring the mazelike streets of the Design District.
Named a World Design Capital in 2012, Helsinki holds its own among the heavy hitters in Scandinavia’s Nordic design belt. While the shops are spread across four distinct neighborhoods, the true heart of the area lies in Punavuori, a neighborhood centrally located between the sweeping boulevards and marina activity. Fashion boutiques, furniture stores, home goods, and paperies line the streets, each one a true testament to the creative prowess of Finland. Just remember to bring an extra suitcase.
Perhaps one of the most well-known Finnish brands, Marimekko is a prime example of Sisu, the resident term for resilience and determination. In a city where the average daylight ration can dwindle to less than one hour per day, it takes strength to stay enthusiastic and positive about the winter months. Marimekko focuses on bright colors and engaging patterns bold enough to dispel any winter doldrums. Founded in 1951, Marimekko made a splash in the U.S. style scene when First Lady Jackie Kennedy wore the brand in 1960.
Another modern brand, R/H is the brainchild of two women, Hanna Riiheläinen and Emilia Hernesniemi. Founded when they were just university students, the brand focuses on a younger, more playful aesthetic, while still remaining true to Nordic sensibility. Classic cuts incorporate unexpected design details, from polka dots that look surprisingly chic to two-tone sweatshirts that work on everyone from toddlers to office workers.
For Samu-Jussi Koski, essentials are the basis of his collection. The former creative director at Marimekko and now founder of his fashion and home wares brand Samuji has created a line of classic pieces with a distinct, architectural voice. With an emphasis on muted colors, superb tailoring, and quality fabrics, each item feels like a one-of-a-kind essential. It’s the perfect place to find a little black dress.
Lokal is a not-to-be-missed homewares haven and art gallery. With white walls, blond wood, and quirky pops of color, the store features a fantastic collection of local Finnish design. A repeat visit is a must, as the shop’s rotating exhibits transform the space. Order a cup of Helsingin Kahvipaahtimo coffee from the locally sourced beanery within the store, and give yourself time to wander.
Take your classic notion of a desk pile and toss it out the window. Pino, the Finnish word for “pile” creates a desk scenario so chic, you’ll never struggle to stay that extra hour. The shelves are crammed full of items that somehow each feel essential, and yet the overall effect still feels restrained. From colorful desk organizers to chic paper goods, Pino’s products are full of inspiration and enthusiasm.
At first glance, it’s difficult to ascertain just what Plootu actually is. From the outside, you can see café tables set out, and indeed the first step inside does seem to resemble a café, with wooden tables, a chalkboard menu, and a spread of fresh yogurts and jams laid out on the communal bar. However, step inside and you’ll be greeted with a wonderland assortment of antique chandeliers, garden bric-a-brac, and space enough for the regular performances that fill the shop’s calendar. It’s a flea market, concept store, café, and event space rolled into one.
Good to Know
While the weather in Helsinki is often a challenge, the Design District is perfectly situated for popping in and out of shops along the cobblestone streets. Freezing rain and limited daylight are no hindrances to this stylish labyrinth, and for once, getting lost is encouraged, as you never know what hidden gem you’ll stumble upon.
Insider Tip: The Design District is closed on Sundays, so plan ahead. It’s best to get an early start, since most shops tend to close by 6 pm.