Antrei Hartikainen, designer, master cabinetmaker


December 2023

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Seitikki light installation

In an era where solutions demand scalability, what becomes of the future for small-scale, handcrafted traditions? Antrei Hartikainen, recognized as the Scandinavian Emerging Designer of the Year 2023, advocates for a novel production model. He envisions a convergence where craftsmanship intersects with industrial efficiency.

My father was a woodwork artisan and my mother an art therapist. I am not sure if that was what guided me, but making things by hand was certainly always my biggest inspiration. Already before finishing secondary school, I was working at the workshop. After graduating, I started my woodwork artisan studies and that’s when I became certain of my path.

At the start, I was more driven by technical skills and not so much by design. I had an urge to bring my woodworking skills as close to perfection as possible. I spent all my time at the school workshop. I took part in the national skills competitions and even took home the silver medal in cabinetmaking in the world skills championships. After my studies, I found my way to the best possible internships, such as Lutz Reinhardt’s workshop, where furniture designs by Eliel Saarinen are crafted, for instance.

The design studio Nikari founded by Kari Virtanen became a new chapter for me. I complemented my previous knowledge of materiality by design and sculpturality. I moved to the village of Fiskars where Nikari is based, and got to know many artisans and artists. Little by little, my responsibilities grew, and I got to instruct other interns. I was able to consolidate my understanding of the profession: how a certain joint is produced, and what is necessary for a good end result.            

With wood as a material, it’s very easy to tell what is and isn’t possible. When I start to draft a new project, I often know more or less what I am after. I shy away from quick conclusions and rather let the wood show me the way. During my studies, I was interested in non-Finnish species, thankful for their darker hues and workability. Nowadays I work a lot with domestic wood, but also with imported wood, just not endangered types. Linden, ash, elm, and oak all have their distinct qualities. Pine has been the trickiest for me. At first I couldn’t appreciate its colour but have since taken a liking to it. I dream of working with fresh green wood.

Antrei Hartikainen / photo: Ananya Tanttu

Processing and patination will determine how an object or a furniture piece will appear. Will we give the material the time it needs? Wood tends to first turn yellow, then brown, but people just don’t have the patience for it these days. They want instant results. I like to leave pine untreated, I only sand it. The other extreme is to use woodstains and vinegar solutions when I am looking for a specific colour.

Wood tends to first turn yellow, then brown, but people just don’t have the patience for it these days.

Melt tables / photo: Antrei Hartikainen

In my own work, a technical focus has little by little taken a back seat. The carpenter’s sin is to want everything to look complex. Damages and errors have become a more natural part of my work. When we obsess over flawlessness, we also distance ourselves from the material itself. If we desire a knotless surface, we are desiring something that is made of wood but no longer looks like it.

The design process has slowly entered my work. I look for streamlined forms, while also maintaining an organic and clear feel. Some years ago, my works had a lot of tenderness to them. As an example, the Sisin sculpture series featured both organic and geometric curves. The material was almost faded out. Aside from wood, I have also started familiarising myself with glass, ceramics, and metal. I was lucky enough to work with glass experts in the glass city of Riihimäki to produce my glass series. It is new for me as an artisan to create something where I am personally not in contact with the material in question.    

Working with surplus materials does not always allow for a strict plan, we need instead to leave room for chance.

Responsibility in all aspects of design and production has taken a central role. Responsibility involves many themes. In addition to production methods, it also includes the notion of timelessness. To consider the durability of an object, also in terms of aesthetics. I am not one to seek out trends or certain styles, and I avoid toying around with new materials as a gimmick. Very often, my new works start with the leftover materials of a previous creation. Working with surplus materials does not always allow for a strict plan, we need instead to leave room for chance. Industrial production can also be done with material consciousness, by working with various components for instance.

Melt wall / photo: Antrei Hartikainen

I use chemicals but I try to find the least harmful ones. The durability of an object or furniture piece is the most precious factor, and I truly want my works to be produced in a way that allows for maximum longevity. Sculptures should be seen like we see magnificent buildings, as creations that we want to keep.    

Getting to know a material requires understanding and a vision of the various processes involved, from the source all the way to the end of the life cycle. A designer is always faced with something new, and an essential part of the job is to challenge oneself and others. The list of items of different magnitudes to learn is endless, and they hit all subtopics of the work. I wish there were more interaction amongst different fields, so that the finest aspects of architecture and design could draw from each other.

Disco tables / photo: Antrei Hartikainen

The importance of making things by hand will surely retain its importance alongside new technological developments. I believe that forgotten skills, historical knowledge of materials, and artisan skills will again find new users. Doing something with your hands will continue to ground people also in the future, granting a balance to all things digital. Handiwork will increasingly take a back seat in terms of industrial production, but it will become ever more important in art, culture, and everyday life.

Doing something with your hands will continue to ground people also in the future, granting a balance to all things digital.

My own dream is to bring a breath of handwork into industrial production – to find a way to make products for everyone, with features that make us want to keep them, and to pass them on.  

Antrei Hartikainen is a master cabinetmaker and designer known for his exquisite works in wood. The award-winning pieces, including functional products and pure art works, achieve heights of sensuality, elegance and craftsmanship.

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