Setting new standards

Kaj Franck was born in Vyborg, Finland to a to middle-class German-Finnish-Swedish family. He graduated from the Furniture Design Department of the Central School of Industrial Arts, in 1932. Franck developed together with skilled craftsmen a variety of ceramic and glass moulding techniques to create his functional tableware as well as unique one-off art pieces. Franck has been awarded a large number of Finnish and international awards and prizes and his work has been displayed at a range of design museums around the world.

Kaj Franck is often described as the conscience of Finnish design. The attraction we feel for his designs goes beyond the mere aesthetics. His pursuit of creating universal, functional, combinable tableware stripped down from unnecessary illustration has been an inspiration for decades. Moderation, ecology and equality were Franck’s principles. He strove to minimise the number of everyday objects we need in our lives, drawing attention to the sustainability and life cycle of products. Today his legacy lives on not only in his designs but also in the designs of younger designers he influenced.


'Authenticity and appropriate material are inviolable concepts that cannot be questioned.'
Kaj Franck

Iittala glassworks’ competition for new decorative glass designs held in 1946 was to have a major impact on modern glass in Finland. It was won by Tapio Wirkkala and Kaj Franck, two designers who were to become very well known for their works at home and abroad. After the competition both men were appointed as designers at Iittala glassworks.


Soon after joining Iittala, Kaj Franck designed a range of everyday glassware known as Tupa. The mouth-blown green tumblers were the earliest versions of a design that would become a central feature of Franck’s output. As Iittala and Nuutajärvi at the time were competitors belonging to different parent companies, Kaj Franck left Iittala for Nuutajärvi glassworks, which was Finland’s oldest glasswork plant with a long tradition of craftsmanship, to continue to develop his increasingly functional design aesthetics.


Kaj Franck came to Nuutajärvi glassworks in 1951. Developing the village as a whole beyond the glassworks was an important attitude shared by both the Nuutajärvi management and staff. There was a strong sense of working together for what was seen as the common good.

Franck fitted well to this socially progressive community spirit and felt himself very much part of the village, despite never living there permanently. He brought a breath of fresh air from the wider world to Nuutajärvi and made Nuutajärvi name known around the world.

’We were great friends and sometimes got excited about the craziest things, just like a couple of kids.’
Oiva Toikka about Kaj Franck

During his time at Nuutajärvi, Franck was joined by a number of other designers including Oiva Toikka. A strong link developed between Kaj and Oiva despite their different personalities and a considerable age difference. Before joining Nuutajärvi Franck had been Oiva’s teacher at the Institute of Industrial Art, in which Franck worked as a Senior lecturer and Artistic Director. However, when the two became friends they treated each other very much as equals. Franck used Tako cards, cheap left over material from a packaging factory, to sketch and write down his ideas. During lectures he used the cards as a sort of PowerPoint slides of the time. Rearranging them to fit the topic at hand.


Smash the dinner sets!

The Kilta range of tableware (1952–74) has become symbolic of Kaj Franck’s design philosophy. In stark contradiction to the highly decorated table sets of the time, Kilta range, although minimalist in terms of form and the number of pieces in the range, was very versatile. and could be used in cooking, at the table, and for storing food. Franck’s motto: ‘Colour is the only decoration needed’ found it’s expression in Kilta. It was originally produced in white, black, yellow, green, and brown faience, although the latter was soon replaced by cobalt blue. Adaptability is integral to the design. The base for the cup is the same for the container and the small pitcher. The same lid could be used for all the three dishes. Franck stripped the dinner set to only contain the essential pieces, and in doing so revolutionised the tableware to better fit the requirements of post-war home units with smaller house holds.

The Teema range, launched in 1981, continues the Kilta tradition, adapted to suit the vitro porcelain now used. The range has been extended with new pieces and sizes to match contemporary needs, designed by Heikki Orvola. The colours featured in the Teema range have varied and some completely new ones have been introduced.

The pure ideas and clean-lined geometric forms make them universal and have enabled the range to easily adopt to changing eating habits and the needs of different cultures. Remarkably the range has stood the test of time for over 60 years.

The tumbler became one of Kaj Franck’s central themes from the beginning of the 1950s onwards. At first the designs were designated only by product numbers. The mouth-blown no. 2744 was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York in a range of vivid colours in 1955. It became one of Franck’s most beloved designs.His first pressed glass designs also date from 1953. Pressed glass design 5027 returned to production as the Kartio range in 1993 to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the Nuutajärvi glassworks, and Iittala has offered it in a wide range of colours since then.



’An artist unleashes all the potential of a specific material. In art, excess is acceptable.’ Art glass & unique pieces

Kaj Franck designed art glass alongside everyday glassware throughout his career, beginning during his early years at Iittala and subsequently at Nuutajärvi. Art pieces ranged from free-form creations to more traditional cut-glass vases, from short-run items to unique works of arts. He developed various bubble glass techniques, worked with filigree glass, and designed highly colourful goblets. Franck developed his own ‘rag mat’ version of filigree glass to produce carefully composed colour worlds all of their own. For Franck, art pieces offered a chance to discover new methods that could be applied in mass production. Kaj Franck’s experimental, unique pieces show an artistic side to his creative personality that is probably largely unknown to the public at large.