Around the table

Text by Taina Ahtela. Photography by Ville Varumo.

Food brings us together. We gather around the table, not only to eat but also to spend time with loved ones, raise a glass, do business and discuss. The tableware we use reminds us of people we have met and places we have been. “Even everyday table settings become special when the tableware has personal significance,” says stylist Kirsikka Simberg. We have gathered around the Nordic table with Simberg and six other inspirational people to hear their tableside memories.

KIRSIKKA SIMBERG Stylist at Plenty
“I have three siblings, and I grew up in a loud and lively home—especially at mealtimes. There was always room for friends around our big table. Crayfish parties, an annual autumn tradition, are my favourite occasions around the table. With all the singing involved, they’re loud too. The most fun part of it is just being together. Numbers have never been a problem, even if guests have to bring their own chairs or sit on top of the laundry basket. During the week it’s usually just the two of us—me and my husband. But even everyday table settings become special, when the tableware has personal significance.”
IRINA VIIPPOLA Design Manager at Arabia, Iittala, Rörstrand
“Weekend mornings are important, because there’s no hurry and you have time to make breakfast and eat together with the family. I’m a passionate coffee drinker, and I usually drink my morning latte from a yellow Teema mug, or a Mainio mug I’ve designed. In the afternoons I use a smaller cup, such as an Iittala × Issey Miyake one. As a designer, I often wonder why some pieces of tableware become meaningful to us. Is it that we get attached to them gradually, little by little? Or do we like them because they are associated with a certain memory, like a person or an event?”
MASAKO and KOHSUKE NAKAMURA Owners of Helsinki-based Japanese goods store, Common
When Masako and Kohsuke Nakamura visited Finland in 2002, the Helsinki-based designer and artist Fujiwo Ishimoto invited them to dinner at his home. It was autumn, and Ishimoto served his guests siskon¬makkarakeitto, a traditional sausage soup. The couple still remember the taste: there was something familiar about it, but fresh and new at the same time. Now, after fourteen years in Helsinki, they always cook the dish when they have friends or business partners visiting from Japan. “It was the beginning of a tradition. We inherited it from him,” Kohsuke says with a laugh.
The couple now run a small store called Common, which sells Japanese design, handicrafts and tea, and their native and adopted cultures both have a place at their table: Mingei ceramics from Okinawa sit next to vintage Arabia and Iittala tableware. In the summer Kohsuke visits the local flea market almost daily, hunting for treasures. He grabs a white Arabia jug from the 1950s or 60s: “See the glazing? It has a handmade feel, even though it’s industrially manufactured,” he says.
The couple think that Finnish and Japanese traditions are not that different when it comes to eating together. “The biggest difference is that in Japan the food is usually served from big sharing dishes, whereas in Finland everyone has their own portions,” Masako says. At the Nakamuras’ table, dinner often ends with perunaleivos, potato-based pastries that remind them of the traditional Japanese sweet wagashi. The pastry is served with green Sencha tea by Uogashi-Meicha—a blend first introduced to them as a gift from a friend, just like the sausage soup.

 ANNA VARTIAINEN Global Marketing Director at Iittala

“Eating together has always been an important ritual for our family, maybe because we have lived in France for twenty years, a land with a strong food culture. We always get the family together and cook, even if it’s late, like ten in the evening. Usually the food is quite simple, but always made from scratch. We have several courses and lay it all out beautifully. An aperitif—or apéro, as the French call it—is a great social tradition that I cherish in my own everyday routine, and love to start parties and dinners with it.”
VILLE VARUMO Photographer
“When our friends come by, they get a glass of sparkling wine at the very least. We don’t take out the silverware every time, but Isabella’s mother Yvonne has taught me about harmonious table settings and I have started to give it more thought. I have noticed, for example, that tea tastes differently according to the cup used. I couldn’t drink tea from a mug any more. A few years ago we were on the magical Yakushima island in Japan. We bought six cups from a local ceramicist, and one of those has become my favourite. It’s nice to hold, and its glaze fades beautifully so that the bottom shines dark blue.”
ISABELLA HOLM Human insights lead at Reaktor
“My mother used to say that there is always room for one extra person around the table. We too share our table several times a week. It’s important to me that people feel welcome at our place, and often that entails cooking together. I think it’s essential to make your home feel homely. Tableware plays a big part in this because we are visual beings. You do have to think, though, is this the kind of night where we can be bothered to wash the dishes? Can we take out grandmother’s Mon Amie collection, or should we choose machine-washable tableware instead? I am glad to have those 
as well!”