How Hotel Indigo Helsinki connects two contrary design worlds, Intercontinental Hotel & Resort Group, January 2017

In January 2017, the Intercontinental Hotel Group commissioned me to write a story about their new Helsinki hotel for their website and content marketing channels. All copy as submitted to the client.

To say Scandinavian style is having a moment would be an understatement – there are crime novels by Jo Nesbø and Henning Mankell, Nordic noir television series like The Bridge and The Killing; clothes shops such as Cos, Marimekko and Acne, and the foraged food phenomenon that saw Copenhagen’s Noma voted best restaurant in the world four times in five years – and that’s not to mention the publishing craze that means a search for the term “hygge” (a Danish concept loosely translated to cosiness) currently returns 440 books on amazon.co.uk.

With the whole world going mad for Nordic style, how does a Finnish architect create something uniquely Finnish in Finland? That was the brief from Hotel Indigo for their central Helsinki hotel. “Everything is based on the unique Finnish culture and language,” says architect Sami Horto. “We wanted to honour our Finnish roots, legacy and values and use them as a basis for our designs.”

Finland is not technically part of Scandinavia, which comprises Sweden, Norway and Denmark, and although it is considered a Nordic nation alongside those countries and Iceland, most Finns pride themselves on what makes them uniquely Finnish rather than what they have in common with their neighbours. By focusing on inspirations taken from the hotel’s immediate vicinity on a historical boulevard in Helsinki’s design district, and by specifying furniture and ceramics by Finnish designers, the architects and interior designers have created something very much of its place.

Tasked with transforming a former office building into a contemporary hotel befitting its historical environment, the architects stripped the property back to its 1960s concrete frame. A new zinc-plated façade was then handmade by 73-year-old local craftsman Esko Kivi and has since been awarded with the Rose of Construction (City of Helsinki) award. It is the feature of which Horto says he is most proud. “We wanted to create a strong relief on the side of the building facing the Bulevardi Street,” he says. “The zinc facade is a real masterpiece of skill and craftsmanship. It is truly one of a kind.”

Inside, the hotel has 120 rooms arranged over eight floors as well as a boardroom, sports gym, and restaurant and bar Bröd connected to the hotel lobby. “We decided to make the hotel as cosy and warm as possible,” says Horto. “We wanted it to feel like a second home.” An understated Nordic colour palette and informal furniture from bookshelves to barstools help to create that effect – and of course the traditional Finnish sauna, somewhat of a national pastime.

Interior designer Markus Eskola has used oversized graphic artwork by local artists Linda Linko and Pietari Posti as well as carefully considered details such as Minna Parikka shoes and Iittala ceramics in glass box-frames in the bedrooms to ensure the uniquely Finnish thread runs right through the hotel.

Whether you plan to curl up under a cosy blanket reading a Jo Nesbø novel by hyggelig candlelight, or enjoy the 19-hour days that summer brings by exploring the Punavuori neighbourhood’s design shops and sampling Nordic cuisine at a local restaurant; if you want to feel truly Finnish while you do it, there’s one thing you can’t do without: “Mähöne underwear – sold in the reception!” laughs Horto.

You can also read this article online here.