Forest design inspiration and riverbank jogs in Southern Finland

Tuukka Halonen, designer at Pilke Lights, shares a personal guide to the town of Salo — highlighting how the deep Finnish forests and forceful rivers enhance creativity.
March 08, 2023

Who are you?

— After studying at the Lahti Design Institute and the Royal College of Art in London, I worked as a designer for Habitat home furnishing retailer. The people I worked with were brilliant, and we still keep in touch, but I wanted to do my own thing and ended up setting up my own design studio. I now live with my family in Halikko, 5 km from Salo, in southern Finland. We renovated a farmhouse, surrounded by forest and a river running through it, and I and my partner love it. Our daughter, not so much. Maybe once she gets a moped, it will be OK. My workshop is now in an old barn building across the yard, I think they had horses where I now make my designs. I designed the first lights for my own brand, Pilke, in 2009. They were shown in an exhibition in Helsinki and people immediately showed interest in them. We then found a really good manufacturer in Salo, which was handy, and this lighting range, including new models, has kept me busy these last few years. I have also been doing some lecturing at the Estonian Academy of Arts — it’s a good way to get out of my studio and see what future talents are up to.

Pendant 95 from Pilke’s Signature line.
Photography: Visit Finland

For someone who hasn’t been to Salo, how’d you describe it?

— It’s a stereotypical Finnish small town. One main street, market square, town hall, and the river running through. Beautiful small wooden buildings and not-so-nice 70s concrete ones. Right outside of town, there are big supermarkets like flat boxes in fields. Actually, am I now describing a small American town? Salo is a mix of industrial and agricultural Finland. Hi-tech companies are surrounded by endless forests and crop fields. Half an hour’s drive to Turku and one and a half to Helsinki. And we need to talk about Nokia — Salo’s pride and grief. Salo has seen a few industrial shocks; the first in the 60s when the textile industry was leaving for Portugal. In the 70s, TV and radio production was big until then lost due to imports. Mobira, in the 80s, grew to become Nokia and for a while, Salo was called Piilaakso — Finland’s Silicon Valley. It all ended in 2010 with a factory closure and mass unemployment. But, just like before, new innovations have taken place of the old and there are now lots of new tech companies based in Salo.

My favourite thing that makes me proud of Salo: 

— When we were teenagers, there was a saying that Salo has two great things — the first one was the kebab shops and the second was the highway to get out of here. Now, at the age of 53, I see it differently. It’s a human size town, everything is nearby and getting anything done is easy. The network of people here really makes the difference — if you have any problems, ’somebody’ knows someone who can help. 

My favourite weekend routine: 

— The morning coffee sitting in the hammock in the early summer. There’s a view of the forest and a wall of sound from birds singing and it’s just amazing. After a long winter, the summer always manages to surprise. Heating up the sauna is another Saturday thing, and so is having an outdoor bath. We often drive to our summer cottage and swim in the sea. I did set up a hammock there too…

My favourite cultural spot:

Salo Veturitalli, an old train yard building converted into an art museum. They’ve had some great exhibitions there over the years.

Salo Veturitalli

My favourite place for a creative or business meeting:

— I don’t have any, I need to find one — Covid brought us Zoom meetings and I absolutely hate them.

My favourite breakfast place:

Kuiro cafe has been there for ages and has great cakes. Need I say more? And there is a lively market in the summer months, which gets super busy with all kinds of activities. There’s even a children’s flea market.

My favourite excursion or city escape:

— In Kiila village, half an hour and a short ferry trip away from Salo, Westers Garden is an idyllic cafe and garden and the couple running the place is brilliant. There’s also a little public beach nearby.

My favourite local entrepreneur or creative I want to promote:

— Laura Naukkarinen, aka LauNau, and her husband Antti Tolvi are brilliant artists doing their own things, and always manage to surprise. Also Sampa Sarparanta, a painter and musician — I absolutely love his paintings and lyrics taking stance on our society and way of living.

My favourite route for a run or walk: 

— Our forest has some steep river banks. It’s good for training and running there is also a good way to check if a storm has damaged any trees. I sometimes get a good scare when a deer jumps in front of me!

My favourite place for dining out:

Terho in Mathildedal, a beautiful village by the sea near Salo, is great for summer eve drinks and to eat, and sometimes, there are bands playing too.


My favourite space for great design:  

— Local second-hand shops. There are quite a few, I often end up finding some obscure items from the past and sometimes nice antiques. I have a soft spot for old cast iron mechanics, the heavy ones that last forever.  

My favourite example of tech innovation in Salo: 

— I am curious to see the green tech development in coming years. In Salo, we have manufacturers developing electric car batteries, solar power, and LED technologies. 

My favourite thing at home: 

— We have a bright green tiled stove in our living room, high as the room with beautiful décor. It’s now 111 yrs old, it was quite a job to repair it but works well and keeps us warm. A log fire is just the best on cold winter evenings.