History as told by Arto Kukkasniemi

Establishment in 1972

Interior design and industrial design oy Sistemin was founded on July 1, 1972 by interior architects Arto Kukkasniemi, Pekka Perjo and Yrjö Wegelius. They were united by the idea of forming a strong, slightly larger and consultant-like office with the experience and skill to handle even large projects. At that time, an interior design office was usually a small studio for one or two people, often anonymously subcontracting to architectural firms. At that time, the profession of an interior designer could not be properly combined with consulting and an interior designer was often involved in construction projects under his own name.

The organization was clear and it allowed for joint action and also for each independent action. Oy Sistem had a strong marketing name and the company hired a secretary, common telephone exchanges, photocopiers, business premises, management control, auditing, etc.


Top projects and technological development, 1974-1977

The then PYP (SYP, Merita, etc.) employed us with its large and demanding banking projects. Thanks to them, we were able to rent a spacious office space on Boulevard 1. Sistem then planned his first real super job for GTS Finnjet’s Finnlines Oy with the offices of Antti Nurmesniemi and Vuokko and Totti Laakso. We got a new powerful copier, IBM delivered a new ball typewriter to the secretary, all the designers had calculators to do the sizing, and small calculators as soon as they hit the market. Camera equipment and plan photography were developed and in 1976 accounting was transferred to a computer.

The operations gradually became consultant – whatever we meant in 1976 – and we decided to approach the Association of Finnish Consulting Firms (SKOL) with a membership application. We were immediately welcomed and SKOL reorganized its division – SIS – Interior Design was added. We did great banking, schools and hospitals. Arto Kukkasniemi‘s team won the first prizes in the Design-80 competition for their stereo and TV equipment. We also received our first assignments abroad. Our turnover had exceeded the mark of one million marks, which we considered to be an almost incredible achievement. Our staff already approached 30 designers. The dreams started to come true and we found that we had succeeded, we had been raising the activities of interior architects to the level of consultants.


The recession is threatening, years 1977-1983

Little by little, rumors began to be heard about the downturn. We still had a lot of projects, we had invested in our professional skills and we worked almost around the clock. After all, the recession did not affect us at first, until Pekka Perjo told us about his decision to leave the System for financial reasons. Arto Kukkasniemi and Yrjö Wegelius bought the shares. The operation of the system was expensive to maintain and the staff seemed to be overstaffed.

Many of our staff members decided to reorganize their work and studies. The number of staff fell to its original level for a moment. We moved from Erottaja to Unioninkatu 45 in the autumn of 1977, our operations continued and the Finnish economy began to recover in 1978-79. Finnlines Oy decided to make Ms Finlandia suitable for Mediterranean cruise use, and Sistem Oy and Vuokko Laakso’s office were allowed to design a completely new interior design concept in Finland. Immediately after that, Ms Viking Saga’s and Song’s new construction projects started at Wärtsilä’s Turku shipyard together with the offices of Pekka Perjo and Antti Nurmesniemi. Immediately afterwards, the design of the new building for MS Viking Sally started in Germany together with Perjo, Okki Niiniranta and Eric Johann.


We noticed that in order to smooth out the sharp fluctuations in the Finnish economy, it would also be worthwhile to have export operations. Contacts with furniture exporters and Finnish construction projects abroad led to several small and promising projects. These projects taught Sistemi the basics of exporting, different cultural backgrounds, the importance of language skills, understanding commercial facts, etc. It was pointless to try to export unless the know-how was top notch and things were perfectly fine. Similarly, we found that Sistem’s price level, which has often been criticized as expensive, was quite competitive. Suddenly, in the fall of 1979, many export projects started almost simultaneously. Together with Wärtsilä’s Canadian subsidiary, we designed a Canadian rail passenger ship in northeastern Canada. Many years of cooperation began with the Swedish furniture factory NKR in the Middle East. Asko Oy and Hartela Oy also employed us abroad. The real masterpiece was Ms Al Mansour at Wärtsilä’s Turku shipyard for the Iraqi state, together with a London-Iraqi office.

Our operations were in full swing again. The first computer was acquired for the systems in the fall of 1982 and it revolutionized many cumbersome office routines. We got a new copier with a rudimentary zoom-in option, a new, expensive Nokia NMT-450 was purchased for Arto Kukkasniemi’s car, a subtitle machine, a GBC tape binding machine, a common telex subscription and a door phone were delivered to the office. In fact, we had once again reached the limits of our capacity and there were already 16 designers in cramped spaces.


Great items, years 1983-1988

In 1983, Sistem moved to Katajanokka to Luotsikatu 9. We again had spacious rooms almost four meters high, two fireplaces and a small balcony. The pace of work intensified further. We did huge amounts of bank interiors for all banking conglomerates (Syp, Kop, Op, Psp etc). Export projects also pulled well: Hotel Astoria in Leningrad together with Lars Gestranius. For Turku Shipyard, Ms Kronprins Harald together with Hans Gabriel Finne, Caribbean cruiser Ms Seaward together with Robert Tillberg, several cargo ship crew facilities for the Mexican shipping company TMM in England and France. There was enough work in Finland as well: we designed a large number of different train equipment for VR, we did schools, hospitals, etc. Helsinki’s Strand Inter-Continental was a big domestic destination. The work was not easy at all – different parties had very different perceptions of what Helsinki’s first luxury hotel would look like. Finally, Michelin Guide stated, “Modern decor, modern art collection!” The workload had increased again and our projects were mostly demanding special projects of which we were very proud. The crazy years of the 80’s had begun and spun Finns at a rapid pace. Sistem’s 25 designers were again on the move – we could no longer fit in our Luotsikatu office.


Crazy years, 1988-1992

In the rainy December 1988, Sistem moved to Iso Roobertinkatu 20-22 A, where we had princely space. We were ready for the overheating years in Finland. We designed the Hotel Grand Marina together with Lars Gestranius, we made two small cruise ships for the Rauma-Repola shipyard, the Delfin Clipper and the Delfin Caravelle. In Finland, we did hotels, banks, offices, product development, etc. Thirty people sat really cramped, turnover exceeded FIM 6 million but still the expenditure side seemed to swell too much. PCs had been acquired for the office’s four secretaries in charge of the office. We had our own Autocad equipment for the design and also bought a few PCs. There were printers for printing, a large A-0 printer and a Seiko multi-color printer. Finland’s first 3D-Studio program was also acquired for the systems.

Once again, the signs of a recession were clearly visible. There was a lot of work in progress and new projects in the systems. Then, surprisingly, the work did not start and the projects were canceled. At a Board meeting in the autumn of 1991, Yrjö Wegelius spoke about his deteriorating work situation, and in the spring of 1992, Arto Kukkasniemi bought his shares and decided to continue operating Sistem alone with smaller staff.


Sistem cad-time, years 1992-2001

On the Roobertinkatu side there was a long unified roof terrace balcony for the evening sun. We decided to believe in the future. Once again, Sistem survived well – although for a while we were almost a family company when Arto Kukkasniemi, Riitta Kukkasniemi, Ola Kukkasniemi, Sari Kukkasniemi and Eila Kuula formed a mini-system in the winter of 1994. Sistem survived quite well with major projects in the early 90’s . The renovation of Tallinn’s large Olympia Hotel, Canon, Digital, AEL, Vantaa Airport, President Boris Yeltsin’s ship at the Turku shipyard and Örebro Hospital in Sweden kept us busy. The rush began again in 1995 when we designed the Arctia hotels in Marski, Rosendahl and Kalastajatorppa. We created a new headquarters for Alko, Teboil and DHL, and began redesigning the demanding premises in the Metsäliitto Group in Tapiola. All the while, computers were being improved and more hardware and software were being purchased, and we were able to design our first items in real time with other designers. Traditional photocopies, Transille drawing and pencil drawing declined and then came to an end – Sistem was also in cad time.


Over the years, a large number of interior designers and other professionals at SIO have worked at Sistem – for longer and shorter periods. Very soon, after the screen, a qualified designer in the systems has had the opportunity to make direct contact with the customer and has been able to implement his ideas and pave the way for his own career. Quite a few designers have also gained rich export project experience. Thanks to further training, excursions and work assignments, many designers have been able to see how design feels in other parts of the world as well.

In the summer of 2001, on June 13, Arto Kukkasniemi decided to retire, and the old Sistemi residents Leena Lintunen and Kaisa Eriksson and Anni Sund redeemed the shares of Oy Sistem. Riitta and Arto Kukkasniemi have had the pleasure of influencing Sistem’s positive development from time to time in the background. Sistem turned 30 on July 1, 2002.


In Helsinki 20.02.2004
Arto Kukkasniemi