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The Story of Astialiisa

For over 15 years Tiina Westerlund has been selling vintage Finnish design. She tells us how her dream of owning a delightfully different dishware shop began.

Shopkeeper Tiina & decoration shelf

Astialiisa’s store is located in an old stone building in the Töölö district of Helsinki. Astialiisa houses Finland’s most diverse collection of Finnish vintage dishes. Our products include Arabia, Iittala, Nuutajärvi and Muurla dishes. In addition we have related Finnish design products from Moomin and Marimekko. Our oldest dishes are over 100-years-old, and therefore as old as the Republic of Finland. If you appreciate Finnish design and Nordic style, you will find the perfect presents, souvenirs, as well as style inspiration for your own home from our store and the Astialiisa Online webshop. Astialiisa is my own little dream-come-true and it’s story all began with family:

From our family to your family

Astialiisa, literally means Dish Lisa. The name was inspired by my mother Alli Liisa, who loved the happy chatter of friends and family over dinner. My mother always made an effort to lay the table beautifully for Sunday Lunch, with her best Arabia dishes and Iittala glasses. She did it so artfully, with candles, napkins, flowers, and colours all arranged to fit the mood of the occasion or season. A beautifully laid table with traditional home-cooked food radiated warmth, motherly love and affection. The whole family would gather around the dinner table to spend time together, and all other worries and chores could be put aside.

I am the second youngest of five daughters. As a child, I loved being in the kitchen. When we were going to have a party, I was always “mom's little helper”. I would help in the preparing of treats for the feast, setting the table and decorating our home. Even now decoration and beautiful table setting ideas are an important part of my approach: our store and social media @astialiisa is full of inspirational images and ideas for creating the right mood.

“How wonderful it was to prepare an enormous feast that we knew would be so much fun and where all the right people would join in together.”

– Finn Family Moomintroll

When in 2005 I began dreaming of starting up my own business, it was my mother who supported and encouraged me. Around the same time, she began to show the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease, which made me reflect on the preciousness of family and memories. I realized that some things are truly worth keeping and treasuring. It is often dishes that carry the most precious memories that aren’t recorded in the family photo albums: the dishes of my childhood home make my heart flutter. I also inherited a love of beauty from my mother. Although I’ve been running Astialiisa for over 15 years now, I still sometimes find myself mesmerised just looking at the shapes and decorations of the dishes, and the beauty of their small details.

For me, the definition of happiness in life comes from family and friends. Moments shared together by the coffee and dinner table are the most precious in life. This is why I think that table settings and dishes have an important role to play - they anchor and guide us to the things which are important in life, and help us to create safe and cosy, carefree and homely or grand and celebratory atmospheres. A guest or family member sitting down to a beautifully laid table is made to feel special, welcomed and loved.

The everyday can be beautiful, and dishes inspiring

I live in Viikki, a beautiful and green park-like district of Helsinki. I live with my husband and favourite photographer, Esa, two cockatiel parrots Kuikku and Töpsö, and a dog called Latte, who is a Kleinspitz, a smaller cousin of the Finnish Spitz. My two sons are all grown up, but luckily have moved only a few kilometers away from home.

Shopkeeper Tiina in folk costume 2

Our evenings and weekends are spent watching movies, going dancing (we love tango), and of course spending lots of time in nature walking. Our favourite walks with Latte are in the nearby Viikki Arboretum, a tree collection with 400 species, or the nature reserve islands along the Vanhankaupunginlahti bay. I associate the values and design of Finnish dishes with those of nature. I find their clean lines and beauty calming and revitalising. And I greatly respect and treasure them both for this.

My mornings always begin with coffee from a Moomin mug. I have this little ritual of picking out a different Moomin mug depending on my mood, but when my husband makes the coffee, he always hands me the pink Moomin Love mug and uses the Moominpappa mug himself.

"Wine, I am bound to say, is unnecessary, but a small drop nevertheless would not be unwelcome.”

― Muskrat, Comet in Moominland

For everyday use I crave simplicity, so I lay the table with Teema and Kilta dishes and mix&match different colours. For special occasions, like when my boys come home for dinner or I just want to treat myself a little, I will bring out my Arabia Harlekin dishes. I also love to use lots of different vintage drinking glasses and feel how the colour, thickness or shape of the glass can even affect the way my drink tastes. A little touch of luxury feels good and brightens one’s day.

At work I literally have hundreds of cups to choose from, and I admittedly love testing them. Vintage dishes are like history books, they emit the individual feel, style, materials, and quality, as well as touch of the artists of their respective decades. They inspire me, evoke memories, and create good vibes, which my customers sense too.

How to share the magic of Finnish design and the atmosphere of Astialiisa to everyone?

My sons, Jaakko and Simo, have been helping out at Astialiisa from the very beginning. As a mother I was particularly proud, when in 2017 Simo joined me as a co-owner, and Astialiisa officially became a family business. Simo completed his studies in IT, and when he joined the business he began to build a webshop for Astialiisa, something that we had been dreaming of for a long time. The webshop was made in english and japanese, as we wanted to reach all vintage lovers and serve our customers that cannot visit the Astialiisa Shop in Helsinki.

“You must go on a long journey before you can really find out how wonderful home is”

– Snufkin, Comet In Moominland

People get excited by the opportunity to experience Astialiisa’s atmosphere of a real Finnish home, to take a peep into the dish cupboards, and sense the whole multitude that Finnish ceramics and glass design can offer. We wanted to give these customers a chance to find really the best quality Finnish vintage design, the kind that simply can’t be found elsewhere. We’ve also put together a wealth of information about the history and background of these designs from original sources, and explain the stories of these dishes, their designers and brands, as well as Finnish ways of using them.

A journey into the world of dishes

When I was creating the Astialiisa dish collection back in 2005, I met collector Birgitta Vuohio, who introduced me to her collection containing hundreds of Arabia cups. We decided to launch Astialiisa with an Arabia Coffee Cup exhibition showcasing this collection. Building this exhibition I noticed how the cups inspired my imagination and the child in me to make stories for each cup. The exhibition also delighted our customers, who loved to see just how wonderfully expansive Arabia’s production has been.

Astialiisa Shop from outside

Arranging exhibitions has continued as one of our traditions at Astialiisa, and we continue to arrange exhibitions once or twice a year to showcase different aspects of Finnish design history. Through these exhibitions I have had the pleasure of collaborating with collectors, as well as design museums and researchers, and to learn from the best people in the industry. Ever since the first exhibition I have contributed to book publications, articles, TV and radio programmes, both in Finland and internationally, and I often give out expert advice on Finnish vintage dishes. Astialiisa’s comprehensive reference library is also available for anyone to use in the store.

“Someone who eats pancakes and jam can't be so awfully dangerous. You can talk to him.”

― Finn Family Moomintroll

Astialiisa has been featured in countless international travel guides, as one of Helsinki’s shopping destinations for vintage lovers and authentic souvenirs. On an average day, I’m delighted by visits from my regular customers and well as travellers from far-away places. I especially can’t help but smile at the delight of little customers, whose eyes sparkle at the sight of the many Moomins. My window cleaner tells me, that he always has to wash the window in front of the Moomin display twice, because it’s covered in tiny fingerprints and little nose indents from faces pressed close against the window.

Dishes are meant to delight the eye and spread happiness. So I’m always personally delighted when my customers find a dish that feels just right for them, or as a gift for someone back home. If you find something for your home from Astialiisa Online, I would love to see how you lay the table with them. Please share your photos with me with the tag #Astialiisa on Instagram, Facebook, or Pinterest.

I love getting to know new people. Perhaps we’ve already met in the store? If not, I hope we can stay in touch through the online shop. Here I share some of my expertise and am delighted to answer any questions through email. I will be writing handy tips & guides in our new Tiina’s Tips section in the near future. These will include tips on purchasing and taking care of vintage dishes, and inspiration from Finnish Design. If you have any questions for me, please send us a message through the contact form or by email.

Shopkeeper Tiina in folk costume 1

Whenever you visit Helsinki, you’ll be warmly welcome to Astialiisa.

moi moi and hope to see you soon,

Tiina

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