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Meet the woman steering Finnish design behemoth Artek in a new direction.

“Wherever you go in Finland, from someone’s home to a school or a restaurant, everyone has a piece of Artek,” says Marianne Goebl. “It’s part of Finnish life to an extent that I’ve never seen with a furniture brand in any other country.”

As Artek’s managing director, Goebl’s job is to usher the brand into the future. But her dedication to its history is apparent. “I had a lot of respect coming into this role, and I knew the importance of Artek in Finland.” Her greatest challenge, she says, is to maintain relevance without straying from the brand’s DNA.

Artek was founded in 1935 by architect Alvar Aalto, designer Aino Aalto, arts patron Maire Gullichsen and art historian Nils-Gustav Hahl. Marked by simplicity, functionality and technical innovation, their designs have come to represent a particularly Finnish take on modernism thanks to characteristics such as the warmth of locally sourced wood and products that address user’s emotional needs.

Goebl is determined to continue this legacy with pieces that stand the test of time. The task prompts one question, though, and it hangs permanently at the forefront of her mind: What makes a design classic?

Fortunately, when Goebl arrived at the brand, she was handed keys to the Artek archives and could consult a collection of preserved memos, product and interior drawings and furniture pieces in pursuit of the answer. “I was like a kid in a candy store,” she laughs.

But it was an admittedly flawed initiation; no one in the Artek studio knew exactly what those pieces looked like in their original state. Photographs were often in black and white, and many historical furniture pieces appeared painted by various owners over time.

Ultimately, it was a document from the 1940s that helped Goebl crack the case. Expounding Artek’s founding codes, it confirmed the colors, textiles and materials with which the Aaltos had built the brand, and thus allowed Goebl to reinterpret their vision.

“Back then, products evolved because a particular client may have wanted a different fabric or arm rest,” she says, addressing the need to adapt. “But furniture isn’t a sculpture. It serves a purpose, and many of these products were designed in the 1930s.”

Some of the changes that Goebl is making are subtle. “People are taller now than they were in the 1930s, so Artek has responded by raising the height of certain tables and chairs,” she says. Some changes are bolder and more daring, however, and Goebl has been much more forgiving of material and color than her predecessors. Artek now indulges in design trends with pieces like the 2014 401 armchair, which designer Hella Jongerius reupholstered in Millennial Pink.

To her surprise, the changes she is allowing to Artek’s classic designs seem to be celebrated. “People here seem to appreciate an outsider’s point of view. I’m reminding them of things they may have taken for granted,” she says.

This story originally appeared on Skandiastyle.com

  • Words:
    MacKenzie Lewis Kassab
  • Photography:
    Lasse Fløde
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