Helena Karihtala: A kitchen person loves designing kitchens


Helena Karihtala’s bright and open office is located on Helsinki’s Abrahaminkatu Street. As you walk in, your attention is drawn first to the stylish interior, the graphics of Catalonian Riera i Aragòn prominently displayed on the walls, and the Iiittala Vitriini boxes and the sculpture-like groups of glass which has been assembled from Kivi candle lanterns.

Helena’s workdays are filled with designing the interiors and spaces of private homes, designing a variety of corporate premises and exhibition projects.
A home that looks like a person
At the early stages of her company in the early 2000s, Helena’s commissions were mostly for designing the interiors of private homes, which is still the main thing. “There are quite a few new construction projects – people are still building,” laughs Helena. Designing new construction and remodel projects are very different kinds of work even though in both cases designing is done in collaboration with customers. The designing of details involves working on a very personal level because it involves the unique customs and habits of every family.

”In comprehensive house projects the designer is involved from the very beginning. In new construction projects there are often existing architectural drafts or final drawings. Based on them I start the designing of surface materials, kitchen furnishings, bathrooms, lighting, stairways and other elements of the basic structures. Sometimes the architectural drawings will need minor adjustments, for example the location of a door will change, or a wall surface will be expanded in order to get fixtures to fit there.”

”The ordinary consumer doesn’t deal with architectural images and drawings every day, so it may be difficult for him or her to even comprehend the size of a room and what actually fits into it. For example, a kitchen is often a space for which a customer has a lot of wishes. They want as many machines and appliances as possible to fit in there, as well as cupboard space and countertops. It’s not always possible to fit all of these into the amount of floor space drawn by the architect. That’s when we have to talk about what we can give up and whether we should make change to the layout in order to be able to fulfill all of the wishes.”

After structural design is completed, it’s time to go to the softer side: room furnishings, textiles and lamps.

A room is designed according to individual needs
During the design process, you need to think of everything ahead of time so that your house or apartment becomes functional as a whole, as well as a home that you love. “Some room may even be unnecessarily large, which makes it difficult to make cozy. As a designer I can give instructions and ideas of what all can be located in a room. We typically do not want to throw away anything that we have purchased. That is why we need to expand cupboard and cupboard spaces. There needs to be space to fit those bowls, clothing and recreation equipment.
”Sometimes we think that our own homes also absolutely must have certain functions. We think this is how it should be or this is what we must do. The designer must understand the customer’s values of life and I would like to encourage people to make the solutions that are right for them. For example, I like saunas but there are many people for whom taking a sauna is not so important. However, people tend to think that a sauna is necessary even in a tiny apartment because it increases the retail value of the dwelling. Instead you could consider using that space for storage or some other more useful purpose.”

A kitchen person loves designing kitchens
”I am a kitchen person and I look cooking, so designing kitchens is always fascinating. If there’s a customer who wants to give the kitchen an important role, then it’s easy for me to accept the messages he or she wishes from his or her own kitchen and its functions,” says Helena.

”Of course I can just as well design a small kitchen for someone who doesn’t prepare as much food. There is also a certain charm in finding a way to fit everything necessary in the amount of floor space available.”  

One of the basics of kitchen design is functionality. The concept of a kitchen work triangle is used, in which the distances between the water supply, stove and refrigerator need to be ideal. There needs to be enough work surfaces because household appliances that are placed on tables often take away space for preparing food. Appearance is important but so is the quality of fixtures and appliances.

”I wouldn’t say that you can’t get a decent kitchen affordably. But I think the kitchen is something you should invest in if it is possible. Quality appliances and fixtures last a long time. You can spend more money on what you feel is important and compromise on some other purchases. Everything in a house doesn’t need to be top of the class. The main thing is that the overall whole is high quality. An example is the appreciation for stone countertops. Natural stone is durable and beautiful but for someone who bakes a lot a good choice might be a laminate countertop. Likewise stone affect the acoustics if there is an open kitchen, high ceilings and stone walls in an open space. When you set down a glass or spoon on a stone countertop the sound might be heard throughout the entire house. These are some of the things to consider in designing.

Changing trends
Smooth handle-free kitchen doors and the color white are what we have sold the most in terms of volume to this day. Fortunately the atmosphere is changing and there is a growing number of people who boldly want something distinctive, such as color surfaces for accents. Of course alternative ideas are held back by the fact that a kitchen is a huge purchase, one of the most expensive investments made in a home. When people are making decisions, they are afraid they will get bored with any solution that is more unique. However, recently kitchens have moved in more cozy and relaxed direction. There are more colors and materials available than before and new things are being developed all the time. With regard to minor nuances, I would say that taps and faucets might contain some materials other than chrome and steel in the future.


Jorma Tuomainen