30 June 2013

A Whistle-Stop Tour of Helsinki's Design District

When it comes to finding interesting places in new cities, I have a few strategies. The first is to identify online a few independent espresso bars and, if time, boutiques and secret-speakeasy-style cocktail bars. This means that I can wander with a purpose, and usually, I will find other cool venues in the same area. Once I'm in the right 'hood, I usually find that I can spot a good shop, bar or café on the basis of its design and typography. On business trips, when I know I won't have too much time for exploring, I prioritise the coffee bars. Luckily, in Helsinki, a lot of the good places to grab a macchiato happen to be in the same area — the design district.

Pino, a fab Helsinki stationery shop.

So, armed with the addresses of the Kaffa Roastery and a stationery shop I'd found online called Pino, I headed off to the design district, which is in the south-west corner of the city centre. Pino sells beautiful stationery, as well as a carefully curated collection of stylish and often useful objects for the home. I told the sales assistant she needed to open a branch in London. I then had to try very hard not to buy all the things. I think I did quite well to only pick up a couple of notebooks (the pink ones in the haul photo below), some decorative tape and a geometric grey dish.

Stylish smoke alarms at the Design Forum.

I had heard about a Font Walk you could do in Helsinki and asked where I could pick up a map, but the Pino assistant pointed me instead in the direction of the Design Forum. They didn't have the Font Walk map, but they did give me a copy of a map of the design district. I didn't have time to do a very in-depth tour, so I focused on the streets with the biggest number of interesting shops, cafés and galleries. But first, I had a look around the Design Forum. Again, I was taken aback by the huge number of beautiful objects. My favourite was probably the most stylish smoke alarms I've ever seen. I wish I'd bought one, rather than restricting myself to a couple of vintage postcards.

The kitchen section at Peroba.

Next on my list was Peroba, a lifestyle boutique, with a jealousy-inspiring kitchenware section. The thing about all of these Helsinki stores is that they are relatively small, but every item has been carefully selected for its beauty and/or usefulness.

Lunch at Sis.

I had lunch at a café-deli called Sis. They have several branches in Helsinki, and I can only describe it as a much more minimalist version of Dean & Deluca. It's certainly the most elegant place I've ever sat to eat a sandwich (buffalo mozzarella, tomato and home-made pesto) and a blueberry juice! To be honest, though, it would be hard not to find somewhere nice for lunch or dinner in the design district.

WTF, Helsinki?

My final stop was a shop called Moko Market, which is a sort of upscale version of the home section of Anthropologie, but with a more carefully curated selection of products, and an integrated café-deli section (it also has an entrance into Kaffa, which is handy).

Moko Market. I could have spent the afternoon here!

I lusted over a beautiful turquoise desk and some very stylish outdoor furniture, but I wasn't sure BA would agree with me about appropriate quantities of checked baggage.

In the circumstances, I thought I was quite modest with my shopping: a few bits from Pino, some coffee  and single-origin chocolate from Kaffa, and a couple of postcards. When I'm rich and looking to kit out my home, I'll definitely come back to Helsinki. With a much bigger suitcase.

Helsinki design haul.

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