Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Marimekko. Its personal...

If you are like us, your journey with  Marimekko has been a long one and perhaps that is why the opening of Marimekko's new Flatiron District store feels  like a New York homecoming worthy of celebration. Sure, there was the little upstairs Marimekko showroom hidden away above Madison Avenue for many years, but that always had the feeling of a Bird of Paradise being kept in a canary's cage. How could the full impact of the inspired and colorful patterns by such great textile designers as Maija Isola, Fujiwo Ishimoto, Sanna Annukka, Maija Louekari and Theresa Moorhouse be seen and appreciated in such a small space?

Rhonda and I are thrilled that Marimekko has opened its New York flagship at last bringing to New York the same experience as their stores in Europe.  With Occupy Wall Street in full swing. and an October chill in the air, the timing of the store's opening was an injection of colorful fresh air to the weary 99% and the equally jittery 1% .   Marimekko's upbeat and cheery design is truly for everybody!

We have been treading the Marimekko path for a while now, sometimes running, sometimes scuffling but always finding our way along their road.  We have loved incorporating these fabrics and products into our lives and those of our clients.  Much has been written about the company's brilliant founder Armi Ratia .  Truth be told, we would not have been exposed, while growing up, to great Scandinavian design such as Marimekko if it were not for the taste makers of another iconic company called Design Research.

Design Research began in the 1950's in Boston and opened it's legendary Harvard Sqaure store in 1969.  It was the brilliant vision of one couple for whom "thinking design" was all important.    To learn all about it you can get the Design Research Book  called "Design Research: The Store that Brought Modern Living to American Homes".

It s a terrific story.  Ben Thompson (above) and his wife Jane Thompson were, respectively, an architect and an urban designer and planner who were best known for their restorations of waterfront properties in cities here and abroad.  Marimekko was one of the scandinavian companies that they became passionate about bringing to America and they used their store Design Research to bring their curated selections to the public.

The Design Research store was at the time the chic " go to"  destinaton for anyone interested in fresh, modern living.

I have recollections of Marimekko coming to Westport, CT when I was in  kindergarten and first grade. We were lucky enough to live in a town with artistic and design oriented folks at a time when there was alot of unique personality to our downtown.  In short, the perfect demographic for a Design Research store. I remember going into DR and loving the patterns, especially the giant stretched canvases.  I also remember my Mom and her friends wearing the Marimekko dresses to the beach, to work, to cocktail parties, to the theater, to the mailbox - well, just about everywhere.

As an adult, every trip I made to Sweden I would make a pilgrimage to Marimekko Stockholm.  Rhonda would as well and inevitably we would bring back to the States suitcases full of fabric and clothing for friends and clients.   In 2006 we had the opportunity to become Marimekko dealers and kept a showroom at our Eleish van Breems store filled exclusively with the latest Marimekko collections.  What always struck us is how everyone we met at our store had a special, deeply personal relationship with Marimekko.  For some it was the backdrop of their college years, for others it was the dress they wore on their honeymoon or the fabric they used to decorate their first child's nursery. It was the pillow in the living room in the house they grew up in.  The memories they recalled were always happy and they themselves were so very happy to see Marimekko again at our store!

Like so many people, Marimekko reminds me of my childhood.  Sure it was 1969 and grownups were droning on about oil, men on the moon,Vietnam and Richard Nixon.  I didn't care about any of that!  All I knew was that the Remarkable Bookstore was at its hay day and my Marimekko clad mother would let me visit with Heathcliff  the bookstore's cat, who was always to be found sunning in the Philosophy Section - whatever that meant.  After the bookstore we'd go for a root beer float at the Ice Cream Parlor or for a perfect char-grilled burger at Chubby Lanes.

Sometimes we would meet my glamorous "Grandmommy"  for lunch at Chez Pierre
where everyone smoked at lunch.  Always! 

Once in a great while, if they could not get a babysitter, I would get to go with my parents to the White Barn Theater. And there were always children's matinees at the Westport Country Playhouse. I resolved that a life in the theater was for me.

It was a time of passions.  I had 4 hamsters, 2 mice, 2 rabbits, a cat and 2 little antique dollhouses that I decorated obsessively.  I collected china animals that I would buy at Kleins and The Carosel. I studied ballet with Joanne de Berg.  I announced to my parents at age 6 1/2  that I wished to"quit the ballet" to ride ponies bareback through the woods with my friend Vicky.  That idea, surprisingly, went nowhere fast. But that same year a boy I loved kissed my cheek on the playground on the last day of school! 

Martha was still on Wall Street...

 ....and our neighbors had just made a movie.

It was a happy time.  It was my Marimekko.

What was yours?  We'd love to know!

Photo Credits:  1. Marimekko, 2. Tuuli Fabric, Marimekko, 3. Converse Sneaker by Marimekko
4 -7.  Design Research, 8. Eleish van Breems, 9. Dan Woog's 06880, 10. Ebay, 11. New York Public Library, 12. New York Magazine, 13. My Scrapbook,  14. Satter Photography and Mom  Dress by Lanz of Salsbury.


  1. My love of design was nurtured by trips to Harvard Square and Design Research in the 60's. Even though I now prefer antiques, I still have my Dansk ice bucket by Jens Quistgaard and a wooden rocking reindeer purchased at DR. I gave away my Marimeko fabrics, Rya rugs and Eames chairs but I still appreciate their beauty. Thanks for the lovely tribute to DR and Marimeko.

  2. I absolutely adore Marimekko home decor products. I love the bloom flower print (same as your first photo) and often purchase various items in the print to accent every room in my house. Enjoyed this post a lot, with a little travelling back into history. Too bad Harvard Square is not the same anymore.

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