Photos: Johnna Puusa
Johnna Puusa fell for Scandinavian and mid-century modern design nearly two decades ago while living with her Swedish step-grandmother. With time and the discovery of her husband’s Finnish roots, her fascination and passion for the culture grew into a full-fledged career as the designer of Lumota. Puusa’s line of brass sculptures are modern and minimal interpretations of traditional Finnish himmelis, which were originally made from rye crop during the winter and hung over the table to ensure a bountiful future harvest. The designer, who is one of thirty artisans chosen to participate in this year’s Address Assembly (May 25-28), is currently working out of her studio on Vancouver Island, where she lives with her “adoring husband and two wonderful kiddos.”
Where do you live and how does it inspire you? I live in the small village of Shawnigan Lake, located about 45 minutes North of Victoria. I enjoy a lot of outdoor time here which is just cleansing for the soul. Walking, hiking and swimming are my main outdoor activities and take me to various trails, neighbourhoods and swimming holes. I find all the trees restful on my eyes, and the sweet air is stimulating and nostalgic. I also love the sounds of all the birds; eagles, woodpeckers, owls, robins, et cetera. All the sounds, sights and smells really lift me away from any negative thinking and push me in a positive direction.
What endeavour are you most excited about doing in the next few months? I am super stoked to be participating in the Address Assembly event. I’m looking forward to meeting all the other designers, showing my work, making new contacts and enjoying being in a big city! I think this trip will be pretty inspiring for my art, business and tastebuds! I love eating out in Vancouver.
What Vancouver restaurant are you most dying to visit? I have heard from friends that I should try to get to Bao Bei and Ramen Koika. Other than those, I’m hoping to stumble upon some tasty taco and sushi joints.
What do you like most about working with brass? Least? I love working with brass because it is so strong and forgiving; and also so shiny and pretty! The part I like the least is the polishing. Although I love the patina that develops as the brass ages, I prefer to start with a super shiny clean material – but it takes a lot of work to get there.
The himmeli is steeped in tradition and belief. Are you superstitious? Yes! I am totally superstitious but I am also very logical. As I go through life I see meaning in objects and circumstances but then my logical side tells me that I’m being silly. I do feel that if you really believe in something you will make it happen. For example, if you think a himmeli will bring you abundance then I think that may actually manifest.
What’s your silliest superstition? Oh, I think the usual…I never walk under a ladder and I get the heebie jeebies if I see a black cat cross the road. And definitely the ominous omen of a bird in the house!
Himmelis are a big part of Finnish Christmases. Do you love Christmas or are you a ‘Grinch’? I have two kids, ages 7 and 10, so I have a love/hate relationship with Christmas. Through my children I am able to relive the absolute magical feeling surrounding the holiday but it also takes a ridiculous amount of energy and effort to make it all happen.
Besides the himmeli, what aspect of Scandinavian design would you like to see more of in BC? Speaking specifically of Finland I’d like to see more in-home saunas. They’re the best way to unwind and relax after a rainy day hike.
What does a day in the studio, from beginning to end, look like for you? What does it sound like? A day in the studio for me involves listening to a lot of CBC! Sometimes I listen to music but mainly I love the company of CBC and the occasional podcast. I break my design work up into day-long projects. One day of polishing, then a day of cutting, then a few days of assembling, then tagging, paperwork etc.
What’s your current podcast addiction? I have loved This American Life for a long time. My all time favourite episode is #533 The Land of Make Believe. It’s the one where the father builds a big wooden boat for his 12 children in his landlocked suburban Chicago backyard. They manned the ship in true military fashion, each child having specific jobs and official titles. It’s an amazing and fun story that makes me smile every time I think of it.
What material have you not yet used but would like to? Carbon fibre tubing. I’d love to start creating some dramatic black himmelis without resorting to plastic.
If you could create ANYTHING with your own two hands, what would it be? A massive veggie garden. Our yard right now is really shady and dry. I am dying to start growing food – I need more basil and tomatoes in my life!
What is your hidden talent? Cooking! I am pretty good in the kitchen and like to recreate dishes that I used to eat regularly when I lived in Toronto. I make a good Pad Thai, green curry, a great butter chicken, jerk pork, and pretty tasty pizza! Also, lots of soups and salads! I love cooking vegan dishes too, when I feel the need to lighten up my diet.
What talent do you wish that you could possess? Not feeling awkward in social settings…is that a talent? If so, I could really use that one!
If you could have your designs in any space in Vancouver, where would it be? In the Marimekko shop…I think that would be so exciting! Hmm, maybe I should ask them!
Who – living, dead or fictional – would you love to own one of your himmelis? I wish I could have made made a himmeli for my Swedish step-granny, Ingrid, before she passed on. She was an artist her whole life; a wonderful textile designer with a very Scandinavian and modern aesthetic. Her influence has been far reaching in my life.
What would be your ideal design collaboration? I have spoken to this before and I will continue until it happens: I’d love to do a collaboration with my dear friend Kate Golding, who designs wallpaper and fabric. We would do some kind of installation of himmelis in all sizes, designs and colours, coordinated with wallpapers and fabrics depicting Nordic life (i.e. fishes, trees and sauna buckets).