A childhood in Uganda shapes designs in Finland
HELSINKI, Finland – Lincoln Kayiwa has designed a line of furniture and home accessories in birch and granite, porcelain and glass – materials that are no stranger to this Nordic country and its heritage of craftsmanship .
But while his designs – from chopsticks to cutting boards and clothes racks to dining tables – possess the clean lines and minimalist shapes found in contemporary Scandinavian design, they also embody stories and memories of his upbringing. in Uganda.
A 10-foot bench named Joki, which means river in Finnish, features ergonomic curves and contours inspired by the Nile, a section of which meandered past the Ugandan countryside boarding school that Mr. Kayiwa, now 42, used to frequent. when he was a teenager. Made from birch plywood, it separates into four parts, one of which is flat top and can be used as a table (starting price 53,650 euros, or $ 62,455).
The Nzela, a multipurpose table, is named after his grandmother because it is reminiscent of the food-laden family gatherings he enjoyed in his rural Ugandan home. The table is made up of three flat tops that fit together without screws or hardware. Designed as a module, it can be combined with others to accommodate food and additional guests (from € 11,808).
Family reunions “were special times away from school, surrounded by family,” said Mr Kayiwa, who moved to Helsinki in 2001 to attend a design school and has since become a citizen of Finland. “It was all about food and family and just sitting around the table, just being together.”
Although he easily delves into such stories, Mr. Kayiwa adds just as quickly that he wants his clients to build their own memories through his work, and he invites them to engage in the design process. (His pieces are made to order in many sizes, colors and materials, almost all handcrafted in Finland from local materials and sold through his online business, Kayiwa.fi.) “I want to create things that people can contribute their own stories to,” he said.
Referring to the Nzela table, he said, “If you want to be alone and sit alone at this big table, that’s fine. If you want to use it as a drawing board, that’s fine. You can also play table tennis on it. It has the right dimensions.
He recently released an artistic version of the table in the vibrant color block patterns of Dutch abstract painter Piet Mondrian, one of the many artists and designers who he says inspired him in his work. Since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, he has been designing an ornate Jugend-style building at his home in the Ullanlinna district of Helsinki. (Jugend is a term for a variation of Art Nouveau.)
The elegantly decorated apartment houses a collection of contemporary art, photography and design that Mr. Kayiwa has assembled over the years, including a set of chairs designed by Eliel Saarinen, the Finno-American architect of the new art. The architect defended the principles of design, Mr. Kayiwa realizes in his own work: that everyday objects can be modern, decorative and functional.
“The motivation is always that they have to look good, even if they’re not being used. They should be like sculptures, ”Mr. Kayiwa said of his designs, pointing to one of his pieces, a large pyramid-shaped candelabra cast in white porcelain and gold. Named Faith, its shape is inspired by the Egyptian pyramids, he said.
“If I took out the candles it wouldn’t be an eyesore,” he said of the piece, which contains 21 candles. “It would still be a form of sculpture. You don’t need to put it away when guests are around and it’s not in use.
Riku Riippa, a sculptor based in the Finnish town of Kokkola, owns a Faith candelabra. He said his family hadn’t used it yet but appreciated his presence in the house and couldn’t wait to fill it with lighted candles on a winter evening.
“In my opinion, Lincoln has a brilliant sense of form,” Mr. Riippa wrote in an email. “Most of her artwork has a nice organic feeling. For example, Faith maybe reminds me of some kind of volcanic structure, like something that termites or ants might build.”
Mr. Kayiwa is the son of an architect whose work included private homes and government buildings. Watching his father tackle such diverse architectural challenges sparked his interest in design, he said. And his early education in Catholic boarding schools made him question matters.
“This strict Catholic environment, I think it kind of got me to always ask, what if I did the opposite?” he said. “It started from there, this curiosity. This feeling of, why should things always be like this? Why can’t things be different?
His first contact with modern design, he said, came in 2001 through a slideshow presented by an American visiting professor at Makerere University in Kampala, the Ugandan capital, where Mr. Kayiwa studied design. With their combination of beauty, humor and functionalism, the works of Finnish designers impressed him the most.
“I was like, how can this small country have so many designers? »He recalled. After the conference, he Googled Finland.
He moved to Helsinki the same year to attend the Helsinki University of Art and Design, now Aalto University, where he obtained a Masters in Design in 2007. After graduation, an academic committee selected his work for support, which ultimately led to the establishment of his own design studio, Kayiwa.
More than a decade later, his company has made a profit, he said, selling to predominantly American customers. Among his most popular products, he said, are ergonomic household items – cutting boards, rolling pins, candle holders and citrus reamers – handcrafted from four types of Finnish granite.
But his bestseller by far is Carat, a line of diamond-shaped drinking glasses that sit askew, on a diamond-shaped facet. Mr Kayiwa said he had problems with counterfeiting – resulting in numerous cease and desist letters and some settlements – but he now sells 150,000 pieces a year of the series, which includes champagne buckets and decanters. , through retailers and on Amazon. It also offers expensive versions of mouth-blown glassware on its website (starting at $ 140).
“He did a great job finding his way to become an international designer,” Helena Hyvonen, former dean of Aalto University, wrote in an email. “Creativity and entrepreneurship, combined with talent, is not an easy combination. I have a lot of respect for his creations and his way of working.