Julia Sirmons Talks
With Ilkka Terho, CEO of Valvomo
In our June
issue, as part of our coverage of the Meatpacking
District’s Design Week, I reviewed an
amazing exhibition of hip, smart interior
design by Valvomo,
a Finnish design collective. After his whirlwind
trip across the States – first promoting
Valvomo design at the NeoCon expo in Chicago,
and then meeting with Peter Pepper, an American
distributor of Valvomo products – I
finally managed to get a hold of Valvomo CEO
Ilkka Terho to ask him some questions about
this incredibly unique company and their plans
for the future.
Julia Sirmons: Could you
explain how the collective of Valvomo was
formed? How did you meet? How and why did
you decide to start working together?
Ilkka Terho: To sound dramatic,
it was destiny. We started studying architecture
together in 1989. At the time, and for decades,
all architects could be employed if they wanted
to. But in the early ‘90s there was
a huge recession where half the architects
were unemployed. That seemed totally hopeless
for young students. Therefore we took a bold
act and formed Valvomo to test out if we could
manage by combining architecture with interior
design and product design.
Julia Sirmons: How does
the collaborative creative process work at
Valvomo? How do you handle differences of
opinions or disagreements?
Ilkka Terho: It’s
a well-oiled machine by now, after about 15
years of working together. We form teams of
two to three people [for] each project, and
one person is responsible [for] the customer
relations, et cetera. Disagreements are solved
by discussions and reasoning. Everyone knows
that one can’t get his way every time,
but often enough.
Julia Sirmons: What aspects
of Valvomo projects do you work on? What elements
are you responsible for?
Ilkka Terho: My job as the
CEO is to "know a little about everything,
but not too much about anything.” I
manage the company and mainly handle the sales
and marketing. In addition, I design furniture
and participate in other design projects as
much as I can.
Julia Sirmons: What do you
like best about your job?
Ilkka Terho: The positive
feedback we often hear from the user [in the]
Julia Sirmons: How would
you describe the Valvomo aesthetic?
Ilkka Terho: Aesthetics
must support the fact that each new product
must deserve its existence in this materialist
world [through] the means of “telling
a story” or having a concept behind
it. That way it gives something to people.
Aesthetics comes after that in some mysterious
Julia Sirmons: From seeing
the exhibition in New York, it seems that
Valvomo has an aesthetic and a philosophy
that's very oriented towards urban living.
Is this true? If so, where does this philosophy
Ilkka Terho: Well, we don’t
have a conscious philosophy, rather an evolved
one. Perhaps the feeling of urban living comes
from the fact that most of our interior projects
have been designed [for] the city of Helsinki.
[It’s] funny though, [because] Finland
is not at all an urban society, but a big
country with very few people.
Julia Sirmons: Tell me about
the [NeoCon] fair in Chicago. I used to live
in Chicago, and it's a great city for architecture
and design. Did you like it? What kind of
work did you do or display there? Did you
make some good contacts?
Ilkka Terho: I liked Chicago
a lot. Unfortunately I had very little spare
time. It was an interesting trade show, as
it was in an old building in the city center.
NeoCon is a very serious office furniture
event; it doesn’t really show any playful
design. The only designs by Valvomo in NeoCon
were the products we designed for Peter Pepper
Products. In addition, I met with some six
to seven manufacturing companies [that] we
have been contacting in the past 2 years.
It was really good; [it] seems like we will
be working for more and more North American
Julia Sirmons: Tell me about
the Crater Bench that you're launching in
LA. What was the inspiration for the design?
What are its attributes? What do you love
Ilkka Terho: Pepper asked
for ideas for a plastic bench made with [a]
rotation molding technique. I came up with
the shape of the "craters" that
look nice and have two purposes: they are
comfortable and the[y] drain rainwater when
used outdoors. The groove that goes through
the bench is for that purpose. I liked the
process itself, as it was done 99% by e-mail,
due to the long distance. I[t] was quite an
unusual way to work.
Julia Sirmons: Tell me about
the projects or products that Valvomo has
done that you've liked the most and been the
most proud of.
Ilkka Terho: I like the
ones that make people think and/or make them
smile. There are many of those in our range
Julia Sirmons: Have you
always known you wanted to be involved with
Ilkka Terho: Personally,
no. It occurred to me after high school that
I might be able to pass the exams to study
architecture in university. Only a few pass
at a time. At the time I had no idea what
I wanted, but after two to three years of
studying I knew it was my thing.
Sirmons: What figures & movements in design
and architecture do you admire? [Which] have
inspired you the most?
Ilkka Terho: I am a very
practical person; I don’t consciously
follow too much what others do. I enjoy architecture
and design the most when I encounter it accidentally,
say, when I visit some city and see an interesting
building or space.
Julia Sirmons: What else
inspires your work?
Ilkka Terho: All aspects
of life can be a source of inspiration. Nature,
city, life, art, movies...
Julia Sirmons: What do think
will be most important aspect of design in
Ilkka Terho: Environmental
issues, and the eternal purpose of making
people feel good about their living environment.
Julia Sirmons: What's up
next for Valvomo? Any other projects in the
States anytime soon?
Ilkka Terho: We would very
much like to design interiors in the states,
too. We are trying to look for an agent to
help us with that goal. In general, we have
realized that we must get more international,
as the market is so small in Finland.
For more info on Valvomo,
check out their website at http://www.valvomo.com/
To see Terho’s Crater Bench visit http://www.evolutionaryoffice.com/pepeoufu.html