Functionalism is a Finnish thing

Finns like it practical and adjust their homes so that everyday life is as easy as possible. But don't you get bored of that? Will functionalism continue to be important in the future?

Functionalism is a Finnish thing
Functionalism is a Finnish thing

Finns like it practical and adjust their homes so that everyday life is as easy as possible. But don’t you get bored of that? Will functionalism continue to be important in the future?

“Such beautiful functionalism!”

The spontaneous remark by American dinner guests inspired me to look at my home through new eyes. Well, yes, the furniture is practical; there are hardly any items that are not needed and anything that might get in the way had been put away in closets for the visit.

My guests had it right in the sense that our house is carefully measured. In our standardised house, the renovation projects have been designed to better take into account situations that come up in everyday life.

Finns are used to demanding functionality. Kari Lappalainen, who has worked in the field for over 20 years and is the founder of an interior decoration agency bearing his name, sees this in his work.

If an apartment lacks functionality, people will want to add it to their home, even if the house has to be refurbished. Lappalainen has worked on such projects before.

A roof over your head or luxury?

Lappalainen has excellent insight into what Finns look for in a home.

He thinks Finns can be roughly divided into three groups. About one in five people think that the outcome really does not matter that much. They could be described with the phrase: “As long as I have a roof over my head.”

“The clear majority, about 70 per cent of people, demand much more from the functions of the apartment and understand how many benefits the functionality of housing has in everyday life.

About one in ten people know exactly what they want from housing. They demand high quality, both in design as well as, for instance, materials.

In the property market, these types of properties are called exclusive homes.

Wall-to-wall carpet in the bathroom—no way!

When flipping through a home decoration magazine, you easily get the impression that functionality is undergoing rapid change together with home design trends. Houses are expanding, walls are being taken down, and kitchens are being moved into a totally new place within the apartment just like that. It is even flaunted some times.

Lappalainen points out that, actually, the functionality of apartments has changed very little over the years.

“The functions, too, remain the same. We sleep, wash ourselves, eat and spend time at home. On the other hand, everyday chores have become easier. When a new renovation project is planned, we take into account such things as clothes maintenance and where things are kept.

Bathroom facilities are also given increasing attention. Bathroom sizes have increased and they have become more inviting.

New ideas are looked for from abroad. In addition to the beloved Finnish home decoration magazines and blogs, many of those interested in these things are also following the international scene.

Have our tastes changed? Do we steal ideas from abroad?

“In the Nordic countries, functionality has held onto its status. We are amazed by the bathrooms in the UK, for example, where you can still find wall-to-wall carpets.

Common sense is reflected in interior design

Where does the Finnish flair for functionalism actually come from? Why do we dread such things as wall-to-wall carpets?

“We are full of common sense. Finland is a nation labelled by rationality. I see this as a strength that has positive reflections in other fields as well,” says Lappalainen.

He also points out that this is unlikely to change in the future. Drastic changes will not take place in our homes in the next ten years, for example.

However, housing will be increasingly divided into two segments in the future. Lappalainen thinks these divisions are already visible, but they will be emphasised in the future.

“In the first segment are the apartments in which electronics play a major role in everyday life. The people living in these homes are born with an iPad in hand and they immediately adapt the ways in which the most recent technical innovations can be used to facilitate everyday life.

Their apartments are, literally, networked. All electronic devices from lighting to building systems can be controlled, for example, with a mobile device. You can also control your home with your voice.

“In these homes, things are easy to manage, because the residents are constantly aware of what is happening both in the home and outside.

In the second segment, Lappalainen places the apartments from which everything redundant, including advanced technology, has been stripped.

“Practical and simple, but not meagre, life is lived in these homes. The residents appreciate everyday life that goes smoothly, but pay special attention to high quality and eco-friendliness.

Even though you could draw another kind of conclusion from the rising number of take away restaurants, we will continue to have kitchens in the future, as well as all other traditional facilities: bathrooms, storage space, bedrooms and living room areas.

“In the future, we will, however, emphasise the opportunity of adapting housing to the needs of different phases of life,” Lappalainen says.

Finnish Functionalism

  1. Practical
  2. Smart
  3. Responsible
  4. Precise
  5. Functional
  6. Unpretentious
  7. Organised
  8. Rational
  9. Quality conscious
  10. Material conscious

Kari Lappalainen

  • Born in 1968.
  • Has managed his own agency since 1997 (Sisustusarkkitehtitoimisto Kari Lappalainen Oy).
  • The agency’s services include architecture and interior design.
  • Kari Lappalainen has worked as a partner of YIT in contributing to the functionality of apartments.

Alvar Aalto – father of Finnish Functionalism


When Functionalism is mentioned, the works of architect Alvar Aalto are the first to come to mind. The first breakthrough of the style was in the 1920s. Elsewhere in Europe, the style was known as New Objectivity or Rationalism, but in Finland it was called Functionalism.

The first buildings representing Functionalism in Finland were erected in Turku and designed by Alvar Aalto himself and Erik Bryggman, another pioneer of Functionalism. As a part of his Turku projects, Aalto designed a residential building in which standardised, precast concrete elements were used as early as the late 1920s.

Many of Alvar Aalto’s works were industrial establishments and office facilities. One of his most renowned works is the Paimio Sanatorium, completed in the 1930s, for which Aalto’s agency also designed the interior decoration.

In addition to big, impressive buildings, Aalto designed, for example, wooden houses that were built in serial production. In their design he concentrated on the resident first and foremost and wanted to design the houses to be as functional as possible.

Alvar Aalto lived a flamboyant private life. He loved parties and publicity and was happy to appear as the leading light of his architecture agency. His wife, Aino, was important to him as both a spouse and a colleague. She specialised in interior design, but was also professionally involved in her husband’s design projects.