Collector Iivari Viilomaa on his greatest flea market finds

Iivari Viilomaa has nearly 700 design items at home. This 27-year-old collector visits flea markets and recycling centres almost every day looking for glassware by Finnish designers. His collections are now on display at the Design Museum of Helsinki. The Collectors and Collections exhibition addresses collecting as a phenomenon through selected collectors. 

Iivari Viilomaa has nearly 700 design items at home. This 27-year-old collector visits flea markets and recycling centres almost every day looking for glassware by Finnish designers. His collections are now on display at the Design Museum of Helsinki. The Collectors and Collections exhibition addresses collecting as a phenomenon through selected collectors. 


You’ve been doing this for five years, and your flea market finds have received plenty of attention on social media. How did you get started with collecting?

I don’t think there is a particular moment when my enthusiasm ignited. There have been many factors. My mother has worked at the Finnish Glass Museum all my life, so glass has always been a part of my life. Moreover, she has helped me a lot regarding the collection. My partner also collects Moomin mugs. When the collector’s items were gaining more interest in the media, I started to look through my parents cupboards. Following the news and programmes on the topic, my enthusiasm grew.

I’m sure this requires a certain character, to have the energy to keep browsing through second-hand stores and flea markets. Collecting brings along the joy of discovery. Fishing is one of my hobbies too, and it’s a bit similar. It requires patience and luck. You never know what you’ll get.

I’m a cabinetmaker by profession, so I studied design during my school years. That is where I learned the history of design, too.

Which object was your first find?

I don’t remember anymore, but my mother gave me my first items as Christmas presents. She had found Saara Hopea’s liqueur glasses somewhere. I also remember one of my first purchases: a chair with linen webbing designed by Alvar Aalto. A customer left it in the carpentry shop where I worked long time ago, and I was able to buy it from the carpenter.  

What got you interested in vintage glassware?

Nuutajärvi has always been the number one for me. I’m interested in the clean design and colours of Nuutajärvi. It’s easy to start collecting glass because there is plenty of everyday glassware on the market. I can’t say what exactly got me started, but there was something about glass that attracted me. Then I became completely obsessed. 

At the moment, I have around 700 items at home. Most of them are drinking glasses and jugs, for these have always been of interest to me. There are so many different styles, and they involve more variety compared to vases, for example.

Kaj Franck glassware
The Collectors and Collections exhibition at Design Museum includes Kaj Franck’s mouth-blown tumblers from 1953, Aino Aalto’s Bölgeblick carafe and bowl from 1932, and Saara Hopea’s spice jars from 1931, all from Iivari Viilomaa’s collection. Photos: Paavo Lehtonen.

Which are your favourite objects in your collection?

Some of my favourites include Saara Hopea’s spice jars. They come in two sizes, and they are made of clear glass with coloured glass caps. Their design is attractive, and they are rather hard to find. However, I’ve managed to find quite a few different ones.

Regarding furniture, Aalto’s E60 stools have always been an important part of my collection. Particularly the old ones from the 1930s and 1950s. Being a carpenter, I’m interested in their design. Alvar Aalto patented the L-leg method together with Otto Korhonen. It’s a unique, yet simple and practical product. At the moment, I have seven or eight stools all found at flea markets. The most expensive item only cost tens of euros. I haven’t paid much for them, but touring so many places, I run into them every once in a while. They’ve often been repainted, or they look worn, but I think it’s good to show the age and patina. One just needs to learn the methods and materials in order to figure out how old the pieces are.

I’ve also always been interested in Gunnel Nyman’s work, although she’s not my main interest. I buy her work whenever I find it, and my collection includes some rare objects. Glassware in particular. I found one fixed-mould vase – flawless and signed – in Iceland in an antique shop for 22 euros while visiting with my girlfriend. It’s of special importance because we got engaged during that trip.

Tapio Wirkkala's glass art piece Ice Fishing Hole by Iittala
Tapio Wirkkala’s “Ice Fishing Hole” glass art piece made by Iittala is part of Design Museum’s collections. Photo: Rauno Träskelin.

What tips do you have for a collector just getting started?

I think it’s important to study the techniques, colour schemes and designs of different factories and designers as early as possible. The more information you’ve got, the easier it is to find the collector’s items. Even if you don’t recognize the object, its production method and design reveal a lot. When buying, it’s important to check that the glass is clean and intact. Moldy glass can be a problem. It appears when moisture has been trapped inside the glass for a long time and it starts seeping into the pores. The glass loses its brightness and the mold is impossible to remove.

Collecting requires plenty of patience and browsing. I visit flea markets up to seven times a week. There are many places to stop by during my commute from Fiskars to Helsinki. I’ve found most of my treasures at flea markets. The turnover rate of items is faster in larger cities. The recycling centres are the best places. People donate a lot of things, and one can find hidden gems in them. There are many good places in the metropolitan area, but during work days in particular, I visit the recycling centres of Espoo. The centres in both Nihtisilta and Suomenoja are good, but you never know where the good stuff lands.

Live markets, where people sell their own stuff, are good too. You will want to show up early.

You can find objects on the internet, too, but you need to be really quick there. That’s why I don’t do that very often. However, joining the collectors’ groups on Facebook is a good way to learn about the collectibles. You don’t necessarily need to go to a library to study because you can learn a lot just by following the discussions where people showcase and sell their items.  

Arabia vases with Fennia and Kaleva decoration
The Collectors and Collections exhibition includes items from Liisa and John Herweg’s collection. The couple have been collecting Finnish Design for almost 40 years. They have sought to collect all possible models and colour versions of the Fennia, Kaleva, Aura and Saima decoration patterns for tableware. Photo: Rauno Träskelin.

Start by checking these out: 

Design buying and selling
“This group is focused on more valuable design. Members include some of the most knowledgeable people in Finland.”

Nordic design flea market
“A good group for buying and selling with lots of items.”

Arabia flea market
“A group for buying, selling and identifying dishware by Arabia and other Finnish brands.”  

Glass collector’s blog
“A good, reliable source of information for class collectors. Actively updated information about upcoming events.”  


Take a look at Iivari’s flea market finds on Instagram



Collectors and Collections exhibition at Design Museum until 15 March 2020