New Zealand Home & Building, October-November 1998
green paper — At last, a homeware range that combines pure elegance with ecological concerns
Anyone who's ever visited Finland couldn't help but observe that country's similarities to New Zealand. They may be poles apart geographically, but both countries share a clean green image and a growing quest for a strong design identity.
At the forefront of Finland's search for a style that is purely Finnish is textile artist Ritva Puotila, whose woven designs using paper yarn have struck a chord in more than just her homeland. Judging by the growing export market for items produced by Puotila's Woodnotes company - they are now available in 38 countries including New Zealand they are right in tune with the worldwide craving for simple products with a hand-crafted quality.
It's one of the ironies of the late 20th century that as technology has advanced, consumers have come to crave products that evoke more traditional values. Puotila's series of rugs, upholstery fabrics, blinds and napery, all woven from paper string, evoke the simplicity and purity that underscores the move to minimalism in the nineties.
"It's always better to live with a few things," insists Puotila, a graduate of the 1950s when "there were so few things around".
Her current designs are an indirect product of the frugality that ruled in Finland during and in the years immediately following World War II. With cotton and wool in short supply, paper was used in their place. Puotila first adopted this technique in the 1960s, producing a range of tablemats and runners which met with only limited success. "People had difficulty understanding at that time that paper could be used," she says. "I thought then 'I have to correct that one day'."
Her opportunity came when her son, Mikko, completed an economics degree and with Puotila established Woodnotes in 1987. The company's spun paper yarn carpets were enthusiastically received by a market becoming increasingly eco-sensitive and appreciative of anything natural. "It is very important to me to make things that are ecologically sustainable," says Puotila. "But what is most important is the aesthetic."
Practicalities also play their part. The paper yarn she uses today is a sophisticated version of that seen in post-war years and has been developed to be moisture and dirt resistant and no more flammable than cotton.
All her designs are characterised by simple geometric patterns in line with her belief that "you don't want patterns to dominate in a room". And, just as importantly, "they have to look like paper. I don't want them to be mistaken for wool or cotton."
The Woodnotes collection is available in New Zealand through Matisse International Furniture, 125 The Strand, Parnell, Auckland (09-302 2284) and 23 Allen Street, Wellington (04-801 2121).