Interview with designer Jonna Saarinen

“Home is where you can find your heart at peace — by the sea, in the woods and on adventures.”


Jonna Saarinen is a Finnish designer, illustrator and educator living and working in London. With an MA in printed textiles from the Royal College of Art, she creates memorable modern, yet nostalgic, pieces that suggest a boisterous, bold character and an affinity for all things natural and wild. She also teaches printing techniques at the RCA. Learn more at jonnasaarinen.co.uk

The following is a transcript of our video call from September 2016. It has been edited for clarity and coherence. Prior to our talk, I had asked Jonna to send me a few photos that carry the meaning of home to her. You will find them throughout the text with her original comments. While the conversation took place two years ago, it was important for me to kick off this new blog by sharing it with you.

Saarinen: So, tell me more about your project!

Kelu: Yes, well, it’s not really a project (yet) but I want to start a series of conversations with people about what home is to them, talk about their sense of home. I am especially interested in people who have lived in different places because that puts everything in perspective. I myself have grown up and lived so many different places that when I am asked “where are you from?” or “where is your home?”, I can’t answer that. I just carry around a sense of home with me, and it’s not a place for me or a country or a specific house. So I’m interested in people with similar experiences. Connecting to nature, to me, is also a big part of feeling at home, which is why I wanted to start this series with you! When we spoke earlier in February, we touched upon these themes a little bit, and we have some of the same feelings about nature and home.

Saarinen: Yeah, I think so. You know, it’s very, very strange because I do, to a degree, feel very much at home in London, but then when I come to Finland, I totally forget that I have ever been there, so I understand what you mean. But also, when I talk about home, I do normally mean Finland…

At the moment I am in Turku, at my parents’ house but I used to spend about half the year, more or less, on an island called Parainen where my grandma lived and we used to go to school from there. She had a place in Turku, as well, because the place on Parainen had no running water; it was just a little wooden house. Then, as soon as the snow melted she would ship there and then come back when it started to snow again. So we used to stay with her. It was me and my brother and my two cousins. It’s only about 20 km from Turku so we used to cycle to the bus stop and then go to school by bus. It was about half an hour by bus… That always, kind of, was home. I was always upset when I had to come back to the mainland.

Kelu: Did you live in an apartment in Turku or in a house?

Saarinen: We are in a house built in the early 70’s. I’m in my bedroom that I’ve had since… ahem… the only bedroom I’ve ever had. There is all the crap from my teenage years currently lying behind me. Everything about this house is really 70’s — brown and stuff… What have we there — drawings that I’ve done as a kid, Moomin sheets. My parents built the house in the early 70’s and it’s never been renovated so it is like a time capsule. It’s quite cool in here. A lot of brown. And a lot of brown wallpaper. I quite like it! I think probably that’s where my love of wallpaper started. In our house in London I’ve wallpapered everything.

Jonna Saarinen Home Patterns
“Wallpaper makes me laugh!” Jonna Saarinen

Kelu: Yeah, I’ve seen pictures of it! I don’t know if it was the time period where people used wallpaper more but when I was growing up we always had wallpaper, and everybody had wallpaper, and at some point in the 90’s everybody started hating it (myself included) and a few years ago I started going back to that idea because I’m so tired of just… walls. Whenever I see pictures of where people have wallpaper with nice prints or crazy prints, I just think: oh, that’s so nice, so cozy!

Saarinen: Well, wallpaper makes me laugh! As a concept, it’s a very bizarre idea to put heavy patterns on a wall. Some people find it claustrophobic, even. But for me, it makes me laugh so if you can, why not? When we bought the house where we live in London, it was derelict. It was wallpapered in all these 60’s wallpapers but they were falling off the walls and stuff… And I thought it gave the house a really nice feel so I replaced all the [old] wallpapers with Finnish and Swedish wallpapers from the 40’s to the 60’s. And all of them are ones that make me laugh. They are just so bonkers! [laughing] And that’s the kind of design I like — colorful and that makes me laugh.

The house where my grandmother lived, it doesn’t exist anymore. Everything in it was wallpapered. So that’s probably one of the reasons I really like wallpaper.

Kelu: Right, I was actually going to ask you about where your love for bright, colorful prints comes from. And I start getting an idea now! I remember the first time coming across your prints — the kitchen towels and trays — on Instagram — I was drawn in instantaneously. I thought: This is done by a person who has a very similar aesthetic to mine; I really love this!

Saarinen: The whole thing started at the Royal College; it was my final project. It got named ‘Hundreds and Thousands’ because you had 5 minutes to name your final project to go into the catalog. The project had many different names but they put me on the spot there.

It was about growing up and about living with my grandma. She had lots of hand-knitted cardigans; she always wore an apron on a dress, and woolly socks and sandals. She had so much different pattern on, and it was all very colorful… Like, rollers in her hair and then the scarf and everything was different color. And as a kid, I thought it looked ama-a-azing. I thought she looked really cool.

Kelu: Well, I think she looked really cool, too, the way you described her!

Saarinen: [laughing] …and I loved the fact that she didn’t care what other people thought.

So, originally my final project had about 50 prints and they were crazily overprinted on top of each other over and over and over again. And it was like: who says that you can’t overprint, who says that you can’t have all these crazy colors and why do they have to match! And I do love that: my sheets don’t match and my wallpapers definitely don’t match with anything and I quite like that I have a hundred different prints in there. And the crazier it gets, the more it makes me laugh!

So yeah, that’s where it comes from probably. She was my style icon when I was growing up. I like the fact… you don’t care what other people think, you don’t have to. You don’t have to look cool in that sort of way that is ‘thought’ to be cool at the moment.

Kelu: I am looking at a photograph you sent me of your grandma with a dog.

"Seeing images of my late gran Mummi and her dog Lassi always make think home. In that image it is always summer, it is always sunny and we are in Parainen on the Finnish archipelago. No need for shoes or combing your hair, as the summer will never end (I used to spend all my childhood summers on the islands with my gran - we had no running water and no worries)." Jonna Saarinen
“Seeing images of my late gran Mummi and her dog Lassi always make think home. In that image it is always summer, it is always sunny and we are in Parainen on the Finnish archipelago. No need for shoes or combing your hair, as the summer will never end (I used to spend all my childhood summers on the islands with my gran – we had no running water and no worries).” Jonna Saarinen

Saarinen: She always used to have those Lassis. They were all boys and they were called Lassi. When one died, they replaced him with another. The last one passed away when I was 14. But yeah, there was always one around. They were treated like they were human. Her husband passed away in the early 70’s, my granddad, so I never met him. But she had a double bed and she shared it with the dog. The dog went everywhere where she went. [laughing]. I loved the dogs. They were really nice.

So, for me, as far this home thing goes, everything that I have… She was the one who started to collect the Moomin mugs for me. I got my first one in ’95 when the very first ones started to come out. And she got me the Moomin alarm-clock and everything Moomin-related, like the original sheets. She started it.

Kelu: She didn’t introduce you to Moomins, but she started collecting the things, right? Obviously, when you travel to Finland, Moomins are everywhere… but I’ve never actually talked to a Finn about growing up with Moomins.

Saarinen: The books were always there… and there were some really scary puppet animations from Poland, as well, in the 80’s that got made in the 70’s… And we used to read the books. My other grandma was buying me the comic books… [fetching one of them] I’ve been given it in 1984… So yeah, we always had the books. But remember when the Japanese did the animations that came out in the early 90’s? That was when all the products started to reappear. Whereas until then there were little bits… Arabia [Finland] had stopped their ceramics in the 60’s so there was a big gap. And then all of a sudden there was quite a lot of things, like toys, coming out again. But I was too old for the toys so I started getting mugs and other things like that. I have my first mug somewhere here but I’m not sure where it is.

"By the sea, on the islands, by water." Jonna Saarinen
“By the sea, on the islands, by water.” Jonna Saarinen
"The forests in Finland. It does not matter if it is winter or summer, the forest is always calm and silent. The only place where you can truly hear your own thoughts." Jonna Saarinen
“The forests in Finland. It does not matter if it is winter or summer, the forest is always calm and silent. The only place where you can truly hear your own thoughts.” Jonna Saarinen

Kelu: I am looking at the photo you sent me — of this tiny little island with a house on it… And also the forest and the snow… The first thing I think of is: comfort. It just looks so comforting. It’s like it’s hugging me! Anyway… I think Finland especially is still a place where seeking solitude is not considered a form of anti-social behavior, where it’s normal. And I find it so fascinating. And so healthy! I don’t know if solitude is what you had in mind when you sent me the photo of the island and the forest. Maybe we think of different things when we look at it.

Saarinen: The tiny little island is an island outside Turku, where the archipelago is. If you take a boat from Turku and you go to this island that belongs to the town, where there’s, like, a beach and stuff, — you go past that island and the little house. And [laughing] it’s, like, my ideal house. Because if you have a boat, you’re 15 minutes from the city center. So you can completely live a normal life, all you need is a boat. Maybe in the winter you would need an icebreaker.

Kelu: Does it [the sea] freeze over? Can you walk on it?

Saarinen: You can. When we were kids, we used to play ice hockey and stuff on the ice. And the river, the River Aura that leads to the sea, if that freezes over strong enough, it becomes a public ice-skating rink; but then sometimes the winters are so mellow that it doesn’t freeze over. So you can’t… it’s frozen but you can’t walk on it because you might go through. So that’s when you’re kind of in trouble on your little island because you can’t walk our of there and if you don’t have an icebreaker you can’t really… you can’t basically get your boat out, either. So it depends… So that’s the only downside.

Kelu: Otherwise, it’s just perfect.

Saarinen: Otherwise, absolutely perfect! What else do you need?! It’s literally your own little rock with a house on it. I think it’s absolutely perfect, yeah!

Kelu: Yeah, there’s something about it. For me… all these words like ‘perfect’ and ‘comforting’ and ‘hyggelig’ and ‘cozy’ come up. There’s just this sense… it’s hypnotizing for me. I’m looking at it and it’s like I’m there. And the thing is, it’s a rock with a house on it but(!) there are a couple trees on it and that to me is the final perfect finishing touch because I love trees and it’s like a perfect miniature of the world I would like to live in. That’s probably why I like it so much. So that’s why when I think of home… at least for the summer… it’s a very cool representation of my ideal.

Saarinen: This is how Tove Jansson and her partner used to… they had a summer place and that was just a rock and I love that, you know. But that was actually quite far away. It took a few hours to get there.

Kelu: Have you ever been there?

Saarinen: No. I would really love to go. This summer… there’s one week when it’s open to the public but I think otherwise you can rent it for, like one night, but I missed it. I think it was a week after I left Finland… we had to go because of my partner’s sister’s 40th birthday, so we had to leave. But otherwise I’d really, really wanted to go there. And also, there’s a lighthouse that inspired the Moomin house, outside Helsinki, and they have finally now opened it up for the public again… The new owner has opened it up for visitors.

Kelu: There’s another lighthouse that I’ve wanted to visit. You can also stay overnight there. It’s 25 km off of Hanko. It’s called Bengtskär, I think…

Saarinen: Bengtskär, yes.

Kelu: By the way, sorry if I’m being so erratic… do you speak Swedish?

Saarinen: You know what [speaking slowly], I studied Swedish at school for 6 years. Because obviously we have to do that. I can read it. I can understand when Finnish people speak Swedish. When Swedish people start speaking Swedish to me I can’t understand a word because of their accent, and I’m not very good at it. But the island, Parainen, where my grandma was, that’s actually a Swedish-speaking area. In Swedish it’s called Pargas. When you go to the city center, everything is in Swedish.

Kelu: So it’s like Hanko. Whenever I go there, I hear Swedish around me all the time.

Saarinen: Yeah… but even Turku is quite Swedish. There’s quite a lot of Swedish-speaking people…

Kelu: I’m taking a Danish class now, Danish for Scandinavians. It’s mostly for Swedish and Norwegian speakers. And it’s so funny because I can only call it Scandinavian, because people don’t really speak Danish yet so they kinda try but it comes out as either Swedish or Norwegian with a few Danish words or… pronunciation attempt. And my head is just going crazy [laughing]. I think I’ve learned more Swedish so far than Danish, quite honestly.

Saarinen: But you know, they are sooo similar. I can just about read Danish. If I see something in Danish, I can’t make the whole sense of it; I can’t translate from word to word but I can kind of get the idea of what they’re trying to say… But obviously, when Danish people start to speak…

Kelu: Oh yeah! I can read Danish but I get lost when I listen to them.. especially when they speak fast…

Saarinen: But it’s the same with… I think the Swedish that we are being taught… Finnish people speak Swedish like they speak Finnish, and it’s very easy to understand. And then when Swedish people start to talk, it’s like ‘whoa’, like, I have no idea what you’re trying to say. Their way of pronouncing r’s and s’s is so different than ours. There’s a joke about it that Finnish people are forced to study Swedish for up to 10 years of their lives and as soon as they go to Sweden they start speaking English because they don’t [laughing] understand a word of what is being said. So if they were teaching us Swedish Swedish, we would be much more confident. Also, I’ve noticed in London that Swedish people laugh when Finnish people talk Swedish. It’s putting us off.

The word is juntti that we are looking for here… We are considered a little bit, I think, of the Nordic countries, the kind of country cousins, who, when everyone was having quite sophisticated lives, we were still, you know, worshipping our… elves… somewhere in the field and kind of talking to trees and stuff.

Kelu: [interjecting] That’s why I love Finland so much!

Saarinen: We were for quite a long time quite backwards. So, when we speak Swedish it kind of emphasizes a little bit of that… There are all these jokes floating around that nobody really knows what Finnish people are up to. Like, going around stabbing each other like we did… for Junkkari… when Christianity came to Finland. We killed quite a lot of them ’cause we were quite happy with our pagan gods and stuff.

You know, the whole Kalevala thing, I love the way how so many things were named after Kalevala and it was just to create a national identity ‘cause we didn’t really have one, you know. And I think design has since become a Finnish national identity.

Kelu: And that’s why I think… It’s just my perception, I’m not a professional anything in design or architecture, but as someone who’s very sensitive to anything visual [pausing]… Identity is a big thing for me. It’s my personal issue and I always look for different clues of how different people, or places even, identify themselves, and I think Finland… the Finnish way of designing things is much deeper than just… than, let’s say, the Danish way. It’s not just pure aesthetics. It has deeper roots somehow. That’s why it speaks to me more.

Saarinen: I think there had to be some sort of way for creating a nation, you know, after we became independent. And it’s quite clear that most of the influences we have are either from Sweden or Russia. It was 800 years prior we were a part of one of these countries. So it wasn’t even long before we became independent that Finnish actually became the official language. Swedish was our official language for hundreds of years. So yeah, I think it [design] was used as a tool to create this kind of new nation and totally ignoring the fact that we were a part of other countries. To create a kind of identity.

Kelu: Well, since we’re talking about the sense of home, it’s almost like, in an abstract way, creating your own home. Like, you’ve been living under the Swedes or under the Russians, and now you have your own place and how do you make it into a home? It’s not only about place. It’s also about rituals, about what you do every day. And I think what happened with Finland was that you needed to create those rituals, a home country for yourselves. I mean, you’d had it but now you had to say to the world: this is who we are.

Saarinen: Yeah, absolutely. And you had to be kind of known for something, I suppose, after the 2nd World War. There’s a lot of theories about this and I’m not going to put my spoon in the soup, but I think, in a way, the way things went, and all the money that we owed to the Soviet Union and we had to pay back, it forced us to create our industries, maybe faster than we would have done if that hadn’t happened, because obviously the war debt was such a massive burden for the country that the quicker we could pay it off, the quicker we were free. So I think that’s why quite a few industries took off so quickly. The paper/wooden industry, ship building. Design was one of them. I think it was a way of getting away from that. We couldn’t be truly on our own until we didn’t owe any money to anybody anymore from the war. So obviously war was awful and it was bad for everyone but something good, in this way, came our of it. It forced people to think on their feet and make things happen.

In a way, back then, Finland was better at marketing themselves than we are now. We have a lot of amazing things that could potentially do really well but Finnish people are just not very good at marketing themselves to the rest of the world. I think we were better at that in the 60’s.

Kelu: You might have a point. Even within Scandinavia, Finland is not very well ‘known’ almost.

Saarinen: No, no. Yeah, my parents were in Holland this summer and they were in a restaurant and there was a German couple with their children in there, but I’m talking about people in their 50’s and their children were, like, 15. My parents both speak fluent German, but they were together and they were speaking Finnish, and they were like, oooh, what an interesting language, where are you from? And they were, like, oh, we are from Finland and they started to chat with the couple in German.. and they were, like: alright… where, where’s that? And they said ‘Scandinavia’, and they were, like, oh yeah, Sweden! Like, you know, absolutely no idea, where Finland was.

Kelu: Wow, that’s quite shocking. And sad.

Saarinen: [laughing] But when I moved to London, a lot of people whom I met then didn’t know where Finland was so we used to (I went with my childhood friend), we used to quite often just say that we were from Scandinavia and people were, like: oh yeah, Scandinavia. But talking about Scandinavia like it was a country. Even though we were Fennoscandia but we didn’t want to confuse people even more. But it was so… it annoyed me so much. Because people had literally no idea. It was, like: ooh, is it, like, part of Iceland or..?

Kelu: Wow! It’s so hard for me to understand personally because all my life, all my childhood, I’ve grown up around the Baltic Sea where it was Germany, Latvia, Estonia, St. Petersburg. So Finland was always very big… big in my imagination, and you often met people from Finland. It’s almost like… it might sound far-fetched but when I hear Finnish or when I think of Finland I feel so… I feel like I’m at home in a way — in a very strange way, even though I don’t speak Finnish. The other day, I was at my friend’s house and we were watching some old Finnish songs on Youtube and all of a sudden, sitting here in Denmark, speaking English and Greek and trying to speak Danish all day long, and all of a sudden hearing that song in Finnish.. there was just such warmness in my heart.

Saarinen: How funny! [laughing]

Kelu: Yeah, I don’t know why that is. Maybe it all goes back to my childhood, whatever… I don’t know. So, it’s hard for me to understand how you can NOT know where Finland is!

Saarinen: But you know what, also in England there’s this other thing that always baffles me that people say that, oh, we went to Lapland for our holiday. And I am, like: alright! Did you go to Norway, Finland, Sweden? And it’s, like: no, no, no — Lapland. [laughing] It’s three different countries! But people have no idea where they’ve been. So I’m thinking: ok, I’ll leave it there; obviously you haven’t got a clue where you’ve been. I find that very bizarre.

I have to say, though… I’ve been watching Saami news here on television, and I’m very fascinated about their language and their way of living, as well. I love that. I absolutely love that. So many people in Finland love the lakes and the middle, and for me, it’s kind of the south and the islands, and then it’s the north and the Same people. I find them… a lot more fascinating than the middle bit. The lakes are beautiful but, I don’t know, there’s something about the Baltic Sea and then there’s something about Lapland. And now finally the Nordic countries are starting to give the respect the Same people need… ‘cause, I remember still in the 80’s they didn’t have schools in their own language. They were forced to study in Finnish or Swedish… [pausing] quite bad for a bunch of countries that reckon that they are very forward and caring and loving. The only, kind of, original people there but… yeah. Hopefully that has changed now.

Did you see in the news? This was… this has made my year! They studied a lot of different countries in the world, and the Finnish gene pool — it’s not European, it’s not Asian, it’s not Russian. It’s so different to all of our neighbors that we could actually be a race of our own. I was, like, oh my god: we actually might be Moomins! Can you imagine? [bursting with laughter] I would lo-o-ove that!

Kelu: Yes!

Saarinen: But you know, I’ve only started to talk about it after I left. While you’re here, you’re just… here. Being in Finland, you consider yourself European. First of all, you consider yourself Nordic, then secondly you consider yourself Northern European, but then when you take me away from there and you put me into England, all of a sudden I become so Finnish, like, everything about me… just so Finnish. I think it comes out more when you’re away from your country.

Kelu: How does that translate into your environment? If I went to your home in London, would I immediately get it that it’s Finnish? By the way, is your partner Finnish as well or not?

Saarinen: No, he’s English. Yeah. Well, probably. I only have wooden floors. The aesthetic is very Finnish.

Even though it’s a 1920’s English house, I kind of have made it look (even though we haven’t changed anything structurally or taken any features out), I have made it feel very Scandinavian, I think. English people love their carpets. I can’t stand carpets. Yeah. I like rugs but carpets I don’t. I like wooden floors. [pausing] Little things. I like to drink filter coffee.

Kelu: Like I do, too — the only kind of coffee!

Saarinen: Absolutely! We take our shoes off before we come in, which I find very bizarre in England that people never take their shoes of.

Kelu: Yeah, neither do the Greeks and it bothers the hell out of me!

Saarinen: It’s weird, you know. You go to people’s houses with cream-colored carpets and then you sit on your white sofa on your cream carpets watching telly with your shoes on. How does that work? It’s very…

Kelu: It’s not just that. When I’m at home it’s almost like a sacred space, like a sanctuary, so it has to stay that way but if you walk with your shoes inside that sacred space it’s almost like; ohhhh, nonono, you’re blaspheming, almost. It’s not just about bringing actual dirt or dust into the house, also spiritually, it’s wrong to me.

Saarinen: Yeah, absolutely. I find that very bizarre. I can’t really get my head around that. That’s the first thing I do when I get home, I take my shoes off. I always take my shoes off.

Also quite a lot of our furniture, it belonged to my grandmother and my great aunty. So I’ve got a lot of old Finnish furniture.

Kelu: So you had that shipped from Finland?

Saarinen: Yeah, and everything I have in the kitchen is either my grandma’s or my great aunty’s, as well. I basically have a Finnish family’s kitchen from the 1950’s. [laughing] It’s probably mostly things like that. Also all the textiles and stuff are from Finland, all my bedding… Otherwise I am quite accustomed to the English way of life. But yeah, most of my bedding is by Finlayson. I love Finlayson. Marimekko and Finlayson.

But a lot of my friends say that I’ve gone quite stereotypical. I even have things I am not sure I would have if I was in Finland. Like some of the.. like the Marimekko poppy fabric, which I absolutely love, and here [in Finland] it’s so overused that not very many people want it in their house anymore…

And the camper van…

"My camper van Bluubs. He takes us on adventures, and where ever we park, we are always home." Jonna Saarinen
“My camper van Bluubs. He takes us on adventures, and where ever we park, we are always home.” Jonna Saarinen

Kelu: That’s right. I am just looking at the picture of it. You said you like taking it to Hamburg.

Saarinen: We’ve never taken it to Hamburg. We’ve only been around England in it. Because we have had lots of engine problems. But we go to Hamburg every year. I feel very at home in Hamburg.

Kelu: Huh, how so? Because you were going there as a kid or…?

Saarinen: We used to go there when I was a kid. In a way, Hamburg is a little bit like my spiritual home, which is very strange. There’s something very Finnish about Hamburg. It’s a bit like a naughtier, darker version of Turku, I find. And I love the harbor; I love all the cranes, the big boats. Yeah, I don’t know why, I’ve just always been very drawn to Hamburg. That’s why we keep on going back. My parents go every year for the Finnish Independence day. I don’t know what it is. It’s a very easy-going [town], probably because it’s an old port, a harbor town. But at the same time it’s very efficient. Everything works very well.

Kelu: You don’t speak German, do you?

Saarinen: Well, I studied German for 10 year at school, so I can understand German. It’s taking about 3 days to start talking.

Kelu: You’re kind of like me then.

Saarinen: It takes time. And once again, Thorsten always laughs at me. I speak German like I speak Finnish, kind of like “dom, dom, dom” [laughing]. I would say that my German is definitely better than my Swedish.

Because I left Finland when I was 18, and I switched to English (and I didn’t actually speak English when I moved to England).

Kelu: Really?!

Saarinen: Yeah, ‘cause I studied German and Swedish at school. I knew a little bit from watching television but I didn’t speak properly. I think I put all my brain power into learning English and it kind of killed quite a lot of other languages. For 6 years, I didn’t speak or read German, not once. I lost it a bit. And also my Finnish is quite awful. I speak like a 90’s teenager [laughing] ‘cause everybody else’s language developed into a grown-up’s. Yeah, I speak really badly. I’ve never had any use for Finnish as a grown-up so…

Kelu: So where do you take your van usually? Where do you go with it?

Saarinen: We go all around the south coast of England — Cornwall, Devon.

Kelu: How often do you do that?

Saarinen: We’ve had the van for 8 years, and the first year we had it we spent a month going around. This summer, I think we’ve been away 4 times. We went for one week and then we’ve done 3 weekends. I love it because it doesn’t matter where it is, as long as you park it — you’re at home; everything is in there. It’s perfect.

Kelu: It’s like you’re taking home with you. From the pictures, it looks so welcoming!

Saarinen: It’s very, very cozy. It started with Marimekko. I did the bedding and we got the melamine Marimekko poppy glasses. The van is from 1980, so now instead of Marimekko I buy from here [Finland], from flea markets, 80’s and 70’s Finnish enamel [-ware], like Finel and stuff, for the van.

Kelu: I was just thinking… the picture of the van… taking home with you and being on the way… and always feeling at home wherever you are with it. I had a friend in Norway who was a psychiatrist and he had a nice house outside of Oslo. He didn’t drive — it was his conscious choice; he didn’t want to drive; he didn’t have a license. I talked to him a bit about home and all that, and he told me the strangest thing that I had never though about. He took the bus every day for an hour each way to get to his work. And he said to me that the moments of his day when he felt the most at home were on that bus. That was the strangest thing to me. Because it wasn’t even his own mini-van — it was a public bus! But he said that there was something about the bus moving, so it wasn’t even about the actual physical bus, it was about the procedure. I thought that was very interesting.

Saarinen: Yeah, that IS very interesting. ‘Cause that’s normally what people hate.

Kelu: Exactly! The commute!

Saarinen: But I suppose if it’s something that you do every day… I have to say that in London I hate the bus, I absolutely hate the bus but when I work at the college I take the train to Victoria (because where we live there’s no Underground), and I do like the train. It’s a proper train, and the 20 minutes in the train, I do enjoy that.

Kelu: It’s one of those ritual things where it becomes a comforting everyday thing that you look forward to.

Saarinen: Yeah, I think it’s also… Before we moved where we are now I lived in Clapham and we were on the northern line on the Tube. At the time, I was doing my BA, and to go to Holburn, to go to college, I had to get on the Tube. And sometimes it took five trains to go past me before I would fit into the carriage. Now where we live we are in the countryside. It’s not like we’re actually in the countryside but because it’s a conservation area there are lots of old Victorian buildings and really old big trees, and it feels like you could be somewhere in Finland in a quite leafy area. Then, when you get on the train, there’s always space on the train so you can always get a seat and you can look out the window and you’re not squeezed into this tin can underground where you can’t see anything and it’s very uncomfortable. I think that’s why I enjoyed it, and I still do because the first time I took the train I felt like: this is so incredible compared to the Underground! Now I avoid the Underground if I can. It’s amazing how much difference a view from a window can do!

Kelu: Yes! That’s one of those things that I can’t put my finger on: why it’s so important. Unfortunately, I’ve never lived in a place where I would have a view that made me happy. I’ve lived in nice places but never with a view that I would look out and say: This is the view that I want to have forever. And if you think about it, what is a view? It’s just something that you see through a window, it’s a picture. Why is it so important? I can’t understand that. It’s the same thing with me and tall grass or wild flowers or raspberries growing in the forest when you go through them and you open them… There’s something about the action of opening tall grass or wild flowers… It blows my mind. To me, that’s the ultimate happiness, somehow. And I can’t explain why.

Saarinen: Yeah. It’s like: I like gardens and things… I like them wild. And it’s the same with the forest and seeing big bushes or wild flowers. I’m not a fan of very manicured [plants]. I love them when they are just growing. I really enjoy that. And the forest, all the moss (we call it jäkälä [Fin. lichen]) with all the different colors, it forms like the floor. And it doesn’t matter what forest you are in — it makes you feel at home when you are in there. It’s almost about something that doesn’t change. You know what I mean?

Kelu: A sense of stability?

Saarinen: I think so. We have a little summer hose on an island, a different island, which is the other direction, not to south but through Naantali. When I am in there the forest is the same. There are things that are different and there are places that don’t exist in there but the feel of it is still the same. It’s like times change but that’s something that… stays. The look of trees and the floor… That’s what I love — the floor of the forest: the moss and the mushrooms. Now it’s amazing, there are craziest-looking mushrooms around and I can’t get my head around them. I was thinking: oh my god, I should post all of them on Instagram [laughing] but I should open a separate account just for mushrooms because they are all so incredible!

Yesterday was a very strange day. My grandma (my dad’s mom) passed away nine years ago and she went into a nursing home eleven years ago, and her flat has been untouched since the day she left. That was my appointment: my cousin got the key and she called me and said, do you want to go and have a look? At first I was, like: I don’t know, I really don’t know. But we went, and it was absolutely bizarre. It even smelled the same. Nothing had changed. Everything was covered in dust, obviously. I spent three hours in there and then I went to the seaside and it was quite nice to be gone from this really tiny boxy flat into just… oh, mushrooms, thank god!

Kelu: [laughing] That’s such a Finnish thing to say!

Saarinen: Yeah, I was so enjoying the sunshine and the sea and the mushrooms… a bit of normality. But I got some treasure out of there, as well. I got a very cool clock: it’s German… Random things. No value to any of it BUT me surrounding myself with things like that also makes me feel… Finnish. In London. If I was here [in Finland], I don’t think those things would be as important to me.

Kelu: I’m going to ask you one final question, or rather I’m going to ask you to finish a phrase. You know the one that goes “Home is where the heart is”? So I want you to say “Home is…”

Saarinen: [long pause] That is really difficult! That is really, really, really difficult.

Kelu: You know, you can take your time and just email it to me. It took me some time to come up with an answer myself.

Saarinen: You know what, with the camper van we always say “home is where you park it” but that only goes for the van so I can’t say that. I’ll give it some thought. I have never thought about that, ever. It’s almost like how we’ve been talking, I do feel quite at home in many places and I don’t think it’s one place.

Kelu: Just think about it. It can be a word or a phrase, something that expresses that idea. For me, I started thinking about it a lot during my master studies in Norway, England and Germany because the program was about being on the way, being outdoors, transitioning, going away and coming back. I just started thinking. Because I’d never had a home, a place to call home, and in the last ten years especially my home became… I don’t really own anything except my tableware — my mostly Finnish cups and plates and all. I always bring them with me, at least some of them, wherever I go, so for me home has become any place where I put down my coffee mug. That’s where home is to me.

Saarinen: This is the weird thing. I think in quite a few people’s eyes I come across as someone with hoarding problems because I keep a lot of random things, and I don’t really know why.

When my grandma who I spent summers with passed away, in her belongings there was Quality Street sweet tins and inside there were old Finnish fuses — those big ceramic things that go into the fuse board, and on top of it there was a little sticker saying, in Finnish, “Fuses. Blown”, so they were all blown but for some reason she collected them into those tins. I took them and I kept them. And I still have them. I have no explanation why I am keeping fuses that were blown in the 80’s in these old tins. But I’m only hoarding things that I’ve inherited, or things that have been given to me. Things that I buy myself, like clothes, they don’t really matter to me. So there’s something about the things that belonged to someone else before…

Kelu: Someone you cared about — not just random people?

Saarinen: Yeah, mostly. I have some clothes that belonged to my great-grandmother that I never met — she passed away 1966. And she was quite big so I can’t wear them because they are humongous but I’ve kept them all. I don’t know what I am doing with them. My mom says that I don’t have to be the National Archives [laughing]. But it feels like if someone took such good care of them before, who am I to just go and chuck them in the bin?

Kelu: I’ve never heard it put this way but I understand it.

Saarinen: So, it’s random things. I don’t necessarily look at things that are expensive. Like, when people inherit things, I’ve heard from my friends: oh, there is a painting or an Artek chair and they want it bad. I always go for random things like my hoard yesterday. The things that other people don’t really care for… It’s a lot about love. Yeah, I can see a pattern: I go for things that someone has previously loved and put a lot of care into. Other people can’t see what is the point of that but I feel like…

Kelu: You’re resurrecting the things.

Saarinen: Yeah, maybe I’m some sort of savior… [bursting out with laughter]

Kelu: We should come up with a nice term for that! Start a movement.

Saarinen: Somewhere between the National Archives and savior of things… that’s where I stand. The more random, the more I want it.

Kelu: Thank you so, so much! I always enjoy talking to you. I really feel we are on the same page about a lot of things.

Saarinen: Have a lovely day and I will speak to you very soon!

Jonna by David Vincent Wynd

1 Comment

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