In this interview, we are joined by Antti Rouhunkoski – Head of Interior Architecture and co-founder of Poiat, and Henrietta Hyttinen – Marketing and Communications at Poiat. Based in Helsinki, Poiat is a modern interior architecture studio focused on delivering timeless and minimalist spatial and furniture projects across Finland and worldwide.
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Who are Poiat, and how did it start as a company?
Antti: Poiat was started more than 10 years ago; we established Poiat with my friend Timo. We met at the University of Art and Design Helsinki, nowadays Aalto University back in the days.
We both were doing our own project at first and, Timo was going to work for one architectural office for a few years.
< Antti Rouhunkoski (Co-Founder at Poiat)
I continued my career as a designer doing my own projects, and after a few years, Timo joined me again, aligned, and quit his former job.
Then we quite soon established Poiat because we wanted to create the office instead of working with our own names, which is quite a tradition in Finland. So that’s how Poiat got started.
How is the company structured these days?
Antti: We have two companies. We have Poiat Office, the studio working on interior design and architecture projects, as well as furniture design. We design furniture mainly for our own furniture collection, but for other brands as well.
Our second company is Poiat Products, which handles the sales, production, and marketing for our brand Poiat Furniture.
So it’s a closed-loop for furniture collections designed by Poiat Studio.
Together with Timo, we ran the company for a few years and then were joined by my brother Jussi and Timo’s wife Jenni to be in charge of Poiat Products (Furniture).
So now I and Timo are in charge of Poiat Studio, where as Jussi and Jenni are of Products. But all of us work closely together, and then we’ve had also Antrei Hartikainen as a part of Poiat Furniture as a designer and partner.
Antrei is a skilled master cabinet maker that has designed our Bastone Collection, and then together with me and Timo the Fiori Collection.
So that’s been a fruitful collaboration, but just to sum it up here, maybe for the audience, we usually tell that we’re a design studio with our own furniture line.
That makes it more simplified.
How did you get interested in architecture?
Antti: I was interested in architecture already in high school, and I had the dream to become an architect. Still, quite soon, I learned that in Finland, there is a solid tradition for mathematics in architecture and, that’s the big part of the tests in the School of Architecture in Otaniemi.
In a way, I lost my dream because of that. But then, when I worked in one company, my friend, my colleague was already in TaiK, University of Art and Design Helsinki, nowadays called Aalto University.
He was the one who encouraged me to try to get into the interior architecture department, which back then was referred to as spatial and furniture design. So that’s how I managed to get there after a few years.
I didn’t get accepted the first time, it was the third time I got in, and then I was delighted that I could be so close to the architecture.
What are Timo's and your primary responsibilities at Poiat Studio?
Antti: I’m the one who is running our interior architecture and spatial projects. Then we have two designers working with me at the moment on interior architecture projects, and that’s my main job in our company.
Also, I’m participating in product development and commenting on our projects and the designs we are making.
Timo is the one who is responsible for the coordination and organization of the whole process. He’s head of design development.
We have our own departments, but then also working closely together.
Could you describe your architectural design style?
How do you like styling the interior architecture, and from where do you get your inspiration?
Antti: I like to describe our style as warm minimalism. And it’s the term that is used in Belgium nowadays. Our first interior projects came up end up like that – warm minimalism.
I like to play with the contrast in minimalism. In the 90s, it was a trendy scheme, all white and glossy, and I wanted to break that by adding some contrast to it.
We like to use different tones of colors and to create tactile surfaces that are really important and a big part of our design.
All materials must have some feeling when you touch them. Also, something else that is important in our design is the context. We study architecture as a whole. Where a project is located and try to create some kind of fusion between different styles and the layers of the time.
Sometimes we refer to our style as some kind of retro-futuristic style. Something old, something new, and something contemporary – that’s our recipe in a way.
Describe what drives Poiat's furniture collection?
How was the idea for furniture born?
Antti: I think it’s part of my colleague Timo. He likes to create always collections instead of a single piece of furniture. It’s natural to him.
When Timo sketched, Lavitta – our first product.
Everything started with Lavitta Chair, which we presented in Habitare, a Finnish furniture fair, in 2014.
After a lot of positive feedback and support, we decided to expand our design studio by creating our own furniture collection – Poiat Furniture.
Lavitta Chair was the first piece which we then quite quickly then expanded into a lounge chair, tables, and benches.
Even when we produced the Lavitta Chair, there was already the idea of these other parts. It all came naturally. That’s where the difference lies, as some designers design a single piece instead of a collection.
Partially things happened that way because we got Timo’s former client who funded our first collection.
And because it was a collection, more than a single product, and people outside our company saw the possibilities to create something more significant.
Nowadays, we have four collections: Lavitta, Fiori, Bastone and Unio, which we have just launched in October. After launching Unio and opening our showroom, it is nice to see how everything blends in together in a space.
The Lavitta collection - what was the light bulb moment?
Antti: It was Timo’s first sketch of the chair. I would say that it was the sketch in a way; the idea behind it was that Timo saw this classic outdoor garden chair made of wooden boards in the countryside.
His idea was to turn this classical chair into a contemporary version with some modern materials. Then he did the sketch, and that was the light bulb moment.
Could you tell us a few words about Helsinki Design Week?
Henrietta: We had a successful ten days. First, we planned to hold a big launch party at our showroom, but then we decided to change that into small meetings with design professionals that we conducted during weekdays due to the circumstances.
Then on the weekends, we were open for the public so that everyone could come to the showroom, and it went well.
We had professionals from different design agencies, reporters, independent designers, stylists, so forth visiting our showroom. It was charming. We had excellent conversations with them, and on the weekends, it was nice to see our clientele here and get some real-time feedback.
Our big reveal to the world was Unio, our new sofa collection.
We had a soft launch during Helsinki Design Week, and then in October we officially launched our Unio Collection.
The collection is composed of two different sofas and one armchair.
Unio is a new milestone for us because we have been commonly known as a wooden furniture company, and now we have expanded our collection to soft furniture
TALLBOX ASK: Antti, have you got any comments to add about Helsinki Design week or how it has been so far with Unio?
Antti: I think it was good if you think these times during COVID are very local in a way.
We didn’t have any people coming from abroad.
Compared to previous years, I think it’s nice to see a little bit of feedback, because now we are going to Stockholm Fair so we can make some comparisons, like how it went here and how it will be in Stockholm.
Any obstacles at your work?
Antti: I would say that many obstacles come from the fact that we work closely together with the construction business through our interior architecture projects: there are all kinds of difficulties in our projects almost every day that need resolving.
Sometimes there are more significant, sometimes smaller, and I would say that we try to be open and listen to constructors and the other parties involved in the projects.
It’s like a recipe for solving problems that we try to create. So I wouldn’t say that we have some significant obstacles we are facing at the moment.
It’s typical for architectural companies to be on the work site constantly. Some refer to this process as a transport vehicle, with the driver being the construction manager between the people and the project.
The pandemic caused some problems with the deliveries and the schedules. For example, there are a lot of small parts, even screws that go onto wooden beams even they are sold out. Not enough production and that’s when it causes the problems, and all of that stretches the timetables.
Henrietta: The lack of material always affects both sides of our company because we are a wood-based furniture company. Then, of course, the lack of a variety of materials globally affects many other aspects of the sector at the same time. I think we have survived the pandemic quite well!
So that is always a positive thing, and I allow myself to think it will be okay someday again!
Looking into the future after the pandemic, what long-term have you got?
Do you usually have a clear vision for the future, or do you take it day by day?
Antti: We have some differences between our two companies: on the studio side our interior architecture projects often last from 6 to 18 months, so we are always planning ahead in a way.
It’s great to notice that the word of mouth we have received through our spatial projects has led us towards bigger projects and a wider portfolio, and continues to do so.
A dream of mine would be to design a boutique hotel.
With Poiat Furniture, we are usually planning a bigger structure for the next 12 months, and then developing our yearly plan in smaller time frames, when things are becoming more actual.
Then we have of course long-term plans and goals, which at the moment are focused on the international market and broadening our product portfolio.
A lot of our long-term plans are also focused on the factor of funding, this year we have received funding for developing and expanding our collections so that has required some detailed long-term planning.
It is a significant milestone that we have been able to expand and will continue to expand our product portfolio, and another important thing has been opening our new showroom and studio space this Autumn (2021)”
Henrietta: It’s nice that now we have a place for clients and professionals to visit and test our furniture because we do not have a large variety of our furniture in a specific brick-and-mortar store.
And now, looking into the future, we have many exciting new products coming, so stay tuned for that.
How do you see architecture in the next 20 years?
Antti: I’m certain ecological issues will be more important every day. Aesthetically, everything is already seen and invented; it’s tough to create something new that is never seen before regarding aesthetics.
So doing things that are already done, but more ecological way with more ecological materials and solutions. So I see that as one of the main ways architecture will develop in the next 20 years.
Henrietta: And that is really important and something that we cannot just turn a blind eye to. That is really important for us to keep in mind that we have something to leave on this planet for the future.
What is the unique signature that sets you apart from other architecture offices in Finland?
Antti: In a way, there are some things we already talked about, warm minimalism and layers of time, and the context are really important for us. So we try to convert and translate the context to a warm feeling in every work we do, especially with residential projects.
We want to project a strong feeling to people’s lives who will be the inhabitants or the owners of the space. So that’s something we really put effort into and try to find.
It starts with the beginning of a project, we try to find a common language with our customers. So that’s one of the main characteristics of our design.
How would you describe the furniture part of the company as a service?
Antti: The furniture collections are an important connection to the space because we are an interior design company.
We started as an interior design company, so we see the role of the space is essential, and we know that every piece of furniture has to have some relation to the space.
We try to create furniture that we can also use in our spatial projects. If they fit our own projects, we are delighted and think that other people like them.
Henrietta: Many of our products have already been described as modern classics.
So it’s nice that our furniture can evoke this kind of feeling. We want them to be also something that you can give to the next generations in your family.
It’s not trendy.
It’s something that is quite timeless, even though it has a specific style.
We are glad that we are perceived as a company that does not produce something that goes out of style or doesn’t fit two different spaces – it’s built to fit in all spaces and be there for decades.
Also, the quality of the furniture is really essential to us.
That is something that sets us apart. Our designers take time to develop the products and supervise the production until the end.
It’s about knowing how the details work, and it’s nice that Timo and our assistant designer Alexander take a lot of time to go through every little thing with the manufacturer.
We want to create furniture that lasts for a long time and, at the same time to some flexibility with fabrics, leathers, or wool fabrics for our Lavitta Collection upholsteries.
That way, it gives people options to add something new but keeps the line of the whole entity being there for decades – just like a base.
On what projects are you working on at the moment?
Antti: At the moment, we are working on quite many interior architecture projects for apartments and houses, which are typical projects that we mainly do. There are significant renovations, and some of them also need permission for construction.
It takes a long time, but that’s something we love to do because we can really start from zero and then develop the whole design and create the entity for the space.
That’s what we are now doing in our spatial design division, and with the furniture design, we are completing our own collection and finalizing the next pieces of furniture.
We love and like what we do!
Do you use architectural renderings?
Antti: We use renderings a lot, and that it’s really a big part of the design nowadays that we use 3D design also as a tool for creating spaces and creating designs.
So it’s not only that we show the result to the customer, how it will be or how the space will look, but instead, we work with the volumes, with color, with materials in 3D, and we create many renderings for ourselves, before showing them to our customers.
And we try to be really accurate with all the details.
We place everything in the picture, even accessories, jars, art pieces, whatever is in the space, and go through the functions.
On many occasions, the 3d renderings are the point where we get the credit from our customers that they like what they see and realize how it will be in real life. So architectural renderings play a considerable role in our design.
Henrietta: And of course, it’s really lovely to share these fantastic renderings in our social media channels for marketing purposes.
It’s a great way to visualize a project to our audience, because it can take a lot of time to complete a spatial project, so with renderings we can show our vision right away.
Regarding the CAD or BIM software you use in your projects, what is the workflow?
Henrietta: Our designers work mainly with Autocad to make 2D drawings. Based on the drawings, the 3D artist creates a 3D model. For making 3D models, we use Rhino, and for the rendering, we use Vray. There is constant communication between spatial designers and 3D designer.
How do you organize your time around projects and personal life? Have you got any tips?
Antti: I would say like when we started our companies, it was much more chaotic. We were doing things too much by ourselves and trying to survive just two of us in every situation. It was really hard. The most significant change was that we realized that we needed more people to help us.
And also have people that we trust and we can share the work and give different tasks to different people.
It helped a lot also for my personal life. When we started, we did lots of work during the week and during the nights, but I would say that it was a big step to finish that and try to work daily, less but more effective.
That would be the tip – no work during the weekends because creative work needs breaks and relaxation.
Have you got any advice that you would give to your younger self?
Antti: What I said in the last question was about the timing and work schedule. Try to schedule the work and leave time for rest.
Think about the financial side of the project; what is the amount you charge for your work?
That’s really important because it’s something that is also related to timing. If you price your work too low, it means you have to work more hours to get the same money.
I think it’s a little bit problematic, in our branch because young people, especially students, are using free work to gain credit and references. So I would say that’s maybe the one I would do different ways.
Think of it as a business.
Final words about Poiat?
Antti: I’ve been thinking lately that the best projects might be the ones that are something to come in the near future – I have been really proud and excited about the projects we have done, but at the same time I’m looking forward to the future.
Henrietta: I think that’s interesting for our clientele and people who have been following our journey.
It has developed from one chair to already this point, and then we’re just going forward and getting more international.
That’s always been a big part of their strategy and even more towards the future. You can follow our work through our social media channels and website, where you can also subscribe to our newsletter.