Emerging from a Finnish cottage on a winter’s day would normally require a thick coat and boots. But in the impromptu Finnish village at the Institut Finlandais in Paris you can step out in your pyjamas and slippers. Koti (Finnish for “home”) is an unusual B&B, created to show off Finnish design and creativity on the centenary of Finland’s independence. The six cottages, opened to the public this week, are available to rent on Airbnb for the next 100 days.
Koti is one of a growing number of holiday rentals around the world created by designers as a way of promoting their work or celebrating a particular style. For new or small-scale producers who struggle to get publicity or to afford a shop or showroom, it can be a novel way of getting noticed.
“The starting point was the Finnish home and especially our Finnish summer homes,” explains Linda Bergroth, the designer behind Koti. The six cabins are based on the traditional aitta (Finnish guest cottage) style, with slatted spruce walls and pitched roofs. Built by Jussi Nordberg, a boat-builder from south-west Finland, and Mattila & Merz, a Finnish design company, they were sent over in flat-packed sections and assembled on a wooden platform in a big room with floor-to-ceiling windows. The results are alluring and quirky. There are double rooms, single rooms, twin rooms and family rooms, just like in a hotel.
When Bergroth designed the interiors, she eschewed big Finnish brands like Iittala, Marimekko and Artek and focused on small and medium-sized companies. The bedclothes and towels are made out of tactile washed linen by Lapuan Kankurit (who also turned 100 this year), while the furniture is by Mattila & Merz for Nikari, a firm admired for its sustainable and minimalist approach. A Finnish breakfast of granola with wild berries and malted rye bread is served each morning on a long communal table in the centre of the “village”, adorned with delicate ceramic tableware by Nathalie Lahdenmäki and sculptural coffee pots by Studio Kaksikko. If you like the butter dish or the linen robe, you can buy it from the shop on the other side of the Institute.
Anna Murray, one half of a successful design duo called Patternity, has been renting out her two-bedroom apartment in London on Airbnb since 2015. “London is changing,” she says. “There is less space and it’s less affordable. You have to think of clever ways of showing your work.” Patternity focuses on patterns, and the apartment features rugs, cushions, prints and slippers in enigmatic monochrome. With clutter-free bedrooms and books about sacred geometries, the whole place is dedicated to the studio’s design philosophy. But her flat, she says, is more about “creating an experience and exploring a lifestyle than showing our design pieces.” Murray leaves her guests with instructions on places to do yoga and buy natural products. “People often buy stuff, especially our book,” she says.
Camille Walala is known for her bold, graphic style. The walls and furniture of her home in east London (which is available to rent on Airbnb) feature her signature geometric shapes and patterns in black-and white and bright primary colours. Bert and May, an interior-design firm, launched its first barge-hotel in east London in 2015 (they are planning others in Bristol and York in 2017). Any fears about the discomforts of life on a narrow boat are soon dispelled by the rooftop terrace, underfloor heating, wood-burning stove, walk-in shower and mid-century Scandinavian furniture.
Last year Airbnb opened its own design laboratory, Samara, and next month it launches a project in Japan that combines local design and craftsmanship with a social agenda. Yoshino House is an all-timber home designed by Go Hasegawa, a young Japanese architect. It is made out of 28 types of local cedar by carpenters in Yoshino, a mountainous region filled with cherry blossom just east of Osaka.
The area has a thriving tourist and timber trade, sake breweries, and factories that make washi paper and chopsticks. But it is afflicted by a common set of social problems: young people moving to the city for work and an ageing population. The house is kitted out with tableware and objects made in the community, and all the proceeds from the rental of its two rooms will be invested back into the town to create jobs.
Like Koti, the house in Yoshino is not just a way to see contemporary design, but a way of exploring the culture it represents. When asked if there’s anything else that makes Koti particularly Finnish, Bergroth says, “We really don’t know what will happen when 12 strangers spend the night together with minimal sound-proofing. I think that risk-taking and love of weirdness is very Finnish.”