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Kalevala and Klaus K
A Design Story of Epic Proportions
History, heritage and design are essential parts of Klaus K Hotel’s DNA. That the hotel derives its main design inspiration from Finland’s national epic, the Kalevala, published in 1835 by Elias Lönnrot, is not just an empty branding exercise. It is the unavoidable truth of who and what Klaus K and its team are. It is in their bones.
Klaus K hotel is a combination of two architecturally important buildings. The older one facing Erottaja Street was built in 1882 and designed by architect Frans Sjöström, one of the leading representatives of neo-renaissance architecture.
The newer building facing Bulevardi Street was built in 1912 and designed by architect Lars Sonck. He was one of the most important architects of the national-romantic movement, a Finnish form of Art Nouveau that looked to Finland’s mythic past while embracing radical new techniques.
Both architects are responsible for several landmark buildings in Finland.
Why Klaus Kurki?
Guest house activity in the by-then-famous buildings started in 1924 but the first actual hotel opened in 1938. It was called Klaus Kurki. No official records remain of why that name was chosen, but Mia Cederberg-Skvorc, the current co-owner of the hotel, suspects that her family (already then owners of the buildings) may have been inspired by the nationalistic ideals prevalent in the country.
She also says that they may have been influenced by the 1938 premiere of the Finnish film “The Death of Elina” in which the tragic main male character is Klaus Kurki.
Klaus Kurki was then, and is today, no stranger to Finns. The film was based on a 14th-century folk ballad, recorded in the Kanteletar, published in 1840 by Elias Lönnrot, the man behind collecting and publishing The Kalevala as well.
Klaus Kurki is introduced in the Kanteletar in “The death of Elina,” which is a classic tragedy — a story of passion, betrayal, lies and envy.
In short. Klaus Kurki is a proud land warlord misled by desire and passion. A jealous servant girl tricks him into burning down his own house and in it, his beautiful, young wife Elina and his own son! When Klaus Kurki realizes his terrible deed, he takes his own life.
The reader senses that Klaus Kurki is not really a bad man, yet he does all these evil things out of passion. He could be the leading man in a Greek tragedy, yet he is also very Finnish.
Kanteletar was published by Elias Lönnrot in 1840
Transformation to Klaus K
When Mia and husband Marc Skvorc, both veterans of international luxury hotels, returned to Helsinki to create the city’s first and only Design Hotel™ in these buildings, it was only natural that they dipped into the well of tradition to find the core of the next transformation.
Mia represents the fourth consecutive generation of her family involved with this site. Mia and Marc knew the refurbished hotel had to be about more than branding. It had to respect and carry the heritage of the site. It had to be a true reiteration of what was already there but in a fresh, modern and stylish way.
They knew they wanted to preserve and restore the good bones of not just the physical buildings but of the traditions and tales within.
They also knew that the design had to be based on storytelling and so commissioned Stylt Trampoli AB, international master hospitality design storytellers, to realize their vision.
Together, they dug deeper into Finnish folklore and into Lönnrot’s Kalevala in particular as they found it to be the perfect expression of the contrasts and drama they were looking for.
What is Kalevala?
The Kalevala is the national epic of Finland and one of the most significant works of Finnish literature. It is a somewhat mad, grandiose and incredibly long ballad, consisting of 50 poems.
It is the result of Elias Lönnrot’s (1802–1884) lifelong work. As a medical doctor and teacher, he traveled the country extensively, especially in the eastern regions, and collected the folklore; oral traditions and stories passed from generation to generation as songs. The first version was published in 1835.
Elias Lönnrot (1802–1884)
Like the historic, epic stories and folklore of most nations, Kalevala is a riot of drama. It is full of tragedy, myths, spells, transformations, comings and goings between here and thereafter, heroes, sorcerers, sages, mystics, shamans and healers.
It is a tale of strong, dark emotions — passion, envy, desire and betrayal. It is also about contradictions: monotonous yet shocking, magical yet practical, scary yet beautiful, full of life yet so full of death, dark but also illuminated with light. In short, it is full of life.
It also expresses the very essence of Finland. In emotions: Melancholy, shy, proud, romantic, rebellious. In contrasts: Young (as a country) and old (as a nation), lightness and darkness, design and rustic. In nature: Clean, sparse, harsh, dramatic, quiet, and magical.
These contrasts and the stories of the Kalevala guided the design of the entire hotel. Most of the furnishings, millwork and art were custom-designed for Klaus K. Following the 15 million Euro refurbishment, Klaus K Design Hotel™ opened in 2005.
Where is Kalevala visible?
Everywhere at Klaus K, the guest will find subtle and not-so-subtle references to the Finnish national epic and to Finnish history. Here are just a few examples.
The LIVINGROOM slider menu and the carpet in the hallways between the guest rooms tell the main creation story from the Kalevala. They explain how the world and the universe were created from seven eggs.
The entrance doorposts of Klaus K are made of the famous Vironlahti Granite, Finnish bedrock dating back to thousands of years B.C. The words Klaus Kurki were carved into the stone in 1938. The same granite was used for the columns of St. Isaac’s Cathedral and the Alexander Monolith in St. Petersburg.
In many places throughout the hotel, guests will notice the egg shape. In Kalevala, Ilmatar (the Air Virgin) descends to the waters, becomes pregnant from the wind and turns into Water Mother. A goldeneye makes her nest and lays its eggs on her knee — six eggs of gold and one of iron. The eggs break and the world; the earth, the sky, the sun, the moon and the stars and the clouds are formed from their pieces.
The white wood made reception desk of Klaus K is shaped like an egg and depicts a bird’s nest as well with its fantastic, massive ceiling light fixture. In the Ahjo Bar & Club, there is also a large wall artwork depicting the Genesis according to Kalevala.
One is a large pike mosaic on the LIVINGROOM wall. The pike and many other fish play important roles in the Kalevala. For example, a pike is in essence the origin of all music, as Kalevala’s main strong man, Väinämöinen, makes the first-ever kantele instrument of pikes jawbone. Väinämöinen was the only person able to play the harp-like kantele and its music gave him great powers so that he could mesmerize his audience.
Ahjo Bar & Club reflects the contrast between day and night, light and dark, good and evil. Ahjo means “forge” in Finnish and it is central in the Kalevala. Ahjo is the core of the fire where Ilmarinen the Blacksmith forges the Sampo that is a magical mill that produces flour, salt and money.
The hotel’s four room categories are named after strong Kalevala emotions: Passion, Mystical, Desire and Envy. Every room has a piece of art displaying a quote from the Kalevala describing the specific mood.
The mood and colours of the room décor are derived from the paintings of Finland’s national artist, Akseli Gallen-Kallela (1865-1931). He was a pioneer of the Finnish national style of art and the most important figure in its development. His works depicting the events of the Kalevala have affected the Finnish self-view more than any other visual art.
When exiting the elevators on the floors, guests are guided on each floor to their rooms by animals depicted in Kalevala’s adventures: Song bird, magpie, swan, eagle, horse, moose, reindeer, bear, wolf and bee.
Even Toscanini, the third restaurant of Klaus K and basically a Tuscan trattoria, has a connection to the Kalevala. Artist Gallen-Kallela joined a Finnish artistic colony in Florence in the spring of 1898. There they hung out in bars and cafés, discussing the fresco technique and picking up the new movement in the art world – symbolism.
The mood of symbolism, the colors and the drama affected Gallen-Kallela and his Kalevala paintings, and through them the entire Finnish nation’s view of its own past.
Gallen-Kallela also painted Kalevala-themed ceiling frescoes for the central dome of the Finnish pavilion at the 1900 World’s Fair in Paris. In addition, he laid the foundation of Finnish Design by designing the furniture and textiles for the pavilion’s Iris Room. In 1928, Gallen-Kallela painted similar Kalevala frescoes on the vaulted ceiling of the Finnish National Museum in Helsinki, where they can still be viewed today. They are: Sammon taonta (The Forging of the Sampo), Sammon puolustus (The Defence of the Sampo), Ilmarinen kyntää kyisen pellon (Ilmarinen Ploughs a Field of Vipers) and Suuri hauki (The Great Pike).
Design is alive
Design and history are a living part of daily life at Klaus K. Each Klaus K front-of-house team member wears a large, stylized brass star pin, custom-created for the hotel by the Helsinki jeweler Oz. The rest of the team wears the star printed on their uniforms.
Guests will also see the same star on many Klaus K print pieces. It was, in essence, “designed by” Akseli Gallen-Kallela, as it appears in several of Gallen-Kallela’s Kalevala paintings.
Every month, Klaus K hosts design and arts-related events: Fashion shows, themed events, vernissages, art exhibits, unveilings, brand launches, corporate fundraisers.
Klaus K Hotel is also part of the World Design Capital Helsinki 2012 initiative as an official Signature Hotel working closely with the organization.
Design is at home at Klaus K.
For a great, condensed explanation of the Kalevala epic, please see the “Kalevala Guide”booklet at the Klaus K Market. Situated in the lobby.