Designer Hanna Kaarina smiling.

Hanna-Kaarina and the things that makes her feel at home

When Hanna-Kaarina recently unpacked boxes in her new Helsinki apartment she found three imperfect ceramic vases – her very first. While working in architecture office in Japan she took the train to join weekend courses in pottery in the suburbs of Tokyo. One thing lead to another, and now she is a product designer at IKEA. Meet Hanna-Kaarina Heikkilä.

Right now, she’s got ceramic sinks on her mind. She doesn’t think it would be appreciated if she made them all individually shaped. Ceramic sinks don’t work that way. Working with the vase SJÄLVSTÄNDIG she aimed for the opposite. Together with workers at the factory in China they made them unique by shaping the vases by hand before they dried.

Ceramics is not the only material Hanna-Kaarina has worked with. She has also worked with wood – wooden buildings to be precise. After she left her home town Kemi by the Bothnian Bay in Finland she got a degree in architecture at the Tampere University of Technology, and started working for several firms.

“I worked with urban planning and housing projects. We mainly concentrated on wooden architecture. I was also a part of the design team for a church.”

Architecture brought her to Japan, and there she signed up for a pottery weekend class.

“I hadn’t tried that, at least not since primary school. It was so nice to feel the material.”

Japan has a long history of ceramics, and all her class mates worked with the clay in a very traditional way. Instead, she started to experiment, which took the teacher by surprise.

“I was the only foreigner there, and I didn’t care about the rules in the same way. Like using just one type of glaze.”

Back in Finland she decided to go back to school to get a degree in product design. She didn’t leave architecture – it was more a way to explore new areas. After a couple of years as a freelance designer, IKEA called and asked if she wanted to join the team.

Portrait of designer Hanna Kaarina.

What is the biggest difference between working with architecture and product design?

“The time line! In architecture, a project, from sketches to the final building, takes two-three years. You have to go through building permission phases, and the scale is bigger. Product design also takes time, but the part designers are involved is shorter is shorter. Also, in architecture the creative phase is more intensive in the beginning of the process”

What’s drives you to continue with product design?

 “I just like what I do! I also like the fact that you have to develop yourself all the time and learn new things, and expose yourself to new challenges.”

What is the biggest difference between working for IKEA and working as a freelance designer?

 “When you work as a freelance designer you are further away from the product itself. You send your drawings, and then you are ot so closely part of the process anymore. I enjoy being close to the process at IKEA. I know the engineers, I know the product developers, and I visit the factories. It is really hands on.”

So, what about the three vases she made in pottery class in Japan? Will they make it to a shelf in the Helsinki apartment?

“When I recently unpacked after moving I found them. I wondered what I should do with them. I think I should keep them, they are representing a turning point in my life.”

A pair of hands holding a white ceramic vase.

How would you describe your home?

“I have two homes – one in Sweden and one in Finland. I like contrasts and I prefer old things mixed with modern style. My home is full of memories and to some extend expresses who I am.”

Any items that mean a lot to you?

“I have smaller objects that have been with me for a long time, like ceramic pieces and small paintings. I also have some old Finnish glass ware.”

Are you a hoarder?

 “Ha-ha, it might look like that, especially in Sweden. Things have to have both a function and emotional meaning.”

Is it important is it that your home reflects your personality?

 “If you build a relation with your belongings, know more about the background or feel you are a part of the process, you also keep them longer.”

Anything you dream about designing in the future?

 “I would like to make a really nice chair. Chairs are quite challenging. We have so many chairs and it’s a difficult to come up with something unique, But I definitely would like to give a good try on that challenge”

More about Hanna-Kaarina …

Reading right now: Currently just magazines.

Favorite podcast: I listen to music almost all day!

Things I do when not working: Work and free time blends in quite smoothly, but I like spending time with friends.

Social media habits: Relatively good at following some things but not too active myself.

Item in my home that means a lot to me: Can’t actually name just one. I found my kimono when moving last time. A lot of memories came to my mind.

Flowers I like to put in a vase: Something robust and sensitive at the same time. Maybe some wild flowers. I really like niittyleinikki – buttercup in English.