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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.

Crater Bench

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] end.

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 way...

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 come from?

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 manufacturers.

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 about it?

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 of designs.

Julia Sirmons: Have you always known you wanted to be involved with design?

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.

Julia 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 the future?

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

To see Terho’s Crater Bench visit




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