Where I Work: Mirkku Kullberg of Artek

If you’re familiar with design (or if you read Design Milk), chances are you’re well aware of Artek, the Finnish brand founded in 1935 by four people, most notably Alvar Aalto. Today, the company is headed up by Mirkku Kullberg who began as CEO for the brand in 2005. With a degree in business management and having brought 20 years of experience in the fashion industry where she specialized in re-structuring, Kullberg continues to spearhead Artek’s longevity in a heavily saturated market with her forward-thinking vision. For this month’s Where I Work, we visit Mirkku Kullberg in one of her three office spaces where she makes it all happen.

What is your typical work style?

I do not have really a typical way of working. I wake up quite early and start early at the office as well. I try to do as much operative work as possible before the employees start their day. As I am traveling much, I do consider that it is important that I am fully available when I am at the office. I work until six and then I take few hours break and continue with emails and texts. Traveling inspires me and I am most creative, when I meet people, push the boundaries and mix and match ideas. Viewing the business is not possible when you are at your everyday work. It swallows you and tight schedules do not allow ideas to flow. When I get inspired I can easily work till one or two in the morning. This can continue some days and then I take time out and let myself relax. I have always liked to work, in all kinds of work – it is a really important part of my life.


What’s your studio environment like?

I have three work places. Two are in Berlin, where we have a home studio and the office at Artek HQ. I also have an office in Helsinki. I like the studio to be always a bit “in process.” For me it works best when there are others in the studio. I like chatting and working with half-ready ideas. My table is really clean, there are always magazines, documents, prints around. I still like to print out interesting articles from web and newspapers a lot. For years I have collected clippings from fashion, cities, architecture, literature, etc., in my files.

What can be heard in the office?

I enjoy listening to music only when I am working alone and I never use head sets.


How is your office organized/arranged?

In Berlin we have an open office and at our home studio, we work together. Spaces are divided but the doors are rarely closed. In Helsinki, I have a door but there is constant traffic around me. We have divided the spaces so that sales areas, marketing, and PR teams are together. I have the financial team connected closely to me in Helsinki and we really try to get things processed quickly when I am there.

How long have you been in this space? Where did you work before that?

My Berlin space is part of our home studio and we got the apartment/office four years ago. It really works well, as there is plenty of space. We work with three to four persons in the space, depending on who is traveling and having appointments outside of the office.


If you could change something about your workspace, what would it be?

We would need to work with the lighting as we have only work lights and some ambient lighting. Otherwise, it is cozy and relaxed, which I really like. My intention is to buy a better work chair. The aesthetics are very important but I also need a good and practical chair.

How do you record ideas?

I have my iPhone full of notes (which I do always even when I can’t connect), a long “To do List” on my computer and clippings everywhere. I am fascinated with words, fonts, ads and I gather them as photos and just try to memorize them. I have works in progess in my mind all the time and ideas just gather together.


Do you have an inspiration board? What’s on it right now?

My inspiration board is our library, which is a mix of architecture, art, fashion, and design publications. Currently, I am working with ideas related to online and retail experience and I am excited about pushing myself to think “out of the box”. I am also interested in posters, art, language, and poems.


What kind of design objects might you have scattered about the space?

I feel like I am in my office as I am always on the move. I carry too many things with me – books and magazines are everywhere.

Are there tools and/or machinery in your space?

I use a MacBook, have a MacBook Air as a travel computer, have two phones, and an iPad, very normal stuff.

What tool do you most enjoy using in the design process?

As a CEO my days may differ a lot from each other. I mostly write and draft my ideas for marketing and processes. I have a great team, which supports me to concretize the ideas, concepts, and plans. Sometimes I really admire how they think and visualize ideas. I do a lot of presentations with photos, quotes, and statements.

Let’s talk about how you’re wired. Tell me about your tech arsenal/devices.

My favorite tech device is the phone. I am constantly struggling with the connections and being behind with my emails. I like when someone phones me, has a suggestion for a problem or for an idea. I make a quick decision and react fast. I do not want to have emails from people, who are ten meters from me. Normally I do not even answer those emails. Those questions and ideas cannot be good if one does not even want to walk that short way to present them.

Do you have a favorite piece or collection that you’ve designed?

My favorite turnaround project besides Artek was the work I did with a Finnish fashion brand Nanso. We worked with Paola Suhonen (Ivana Helsinki), on a collection called Lempivaate (My favorite garment). We did an amazing brand story for the company, super collections, and the best communication I have ever been a part of.


When did you feel like you “made it”? At what moment/circumstances?

With Artek, we have had so many “We made it” moments. Artek was really stagnant and somehow had lost its spirit of radicalism. We have made bold moves and got the boat turning. We have made great strides both on architectural and art scene, dared to oppose the design buzz, and worked with classics but with a twist. Sometimes it is not always comfortable, not knowing if the project will fly, but we are not afraid of making mistakes.

Tell us about a current project you’re working on. What was the inspiration behind it?

As I mentioned I work with the retail and online experience, a new service and community concept. The whole digital world combines cafes, bookstores, art and design. Still in the very early stages but I have an idea, which inspires me to search and explore.

What’s on your desk right now?

As Artek merged with Vitra some weeks ago, I am working with the integration project and some upcoming events, which we are planning together. A lot of projects on the table at the moment.

Do you use any of the pieces in your own home/life?

My work is my hobby and work is everywhere. I am not creating products, but ideas in the air are everywhere.

Caroline Williamson is Editor-in-Chief of Design Milk. She has a BFA in photography from SCAD and can usually be found searching for vintage wares, doing New York Times crossword puzzles in pen, or reworking playlists on Spotify.