Famous furniture from the Kutvonen factory
Today, Suonenjoki is known for strawberries, but for several generations, its trademark was stylish furniture made of birch, which was exported not only to Finland, but all over the world. Wood processing was founded by a lively sawmill industry, which continues in Iisvesi to this day.
Located along good waterways, Suonenjoki (formerly Suonnejoki) grew at the beginning of the 20th century into one of the most flourishing centers of steam sawing in Northern Savo. The Savo railway enabled larger-scale wood processing, and Suonenjoki attracted the attention of industrialists. The Savo chair factory was built in Kirkkoniemi in 1909, the main product of which was a turned chair. Another Julius Kutvonen started as an errand boy at the chair factory. The determined son of a farmer went to get a carpentry in Kuopio and Helsinki, but on the eve of the 1918 unrest, he thought it wise to return to his home region. Julius Kutvonen had a dream : he wanted to make stylish furniture that required time and handwork, for which you could ask for a high price. Doubts and lack of capital did not prevent him from starting work.
Matti Laukkanen’s celebratory poem (in Finnish) for the Kutvonen furniture factory’s 25th anniversary in 1943 describes the beginning of the operation as follows:
Siellä mies on mielityössä,
Poika puuhassa “pyhässä”,
Lyöp lautoja läjähän,
Romppehiksi rustailevi. (…)
Koneita ei hällä ollut,
Sähköä ei saatavissa.
Käsivoimana vain vasara,
Pettu polttoainehena. (…)
The word luxory furniture didn’t fit Kutvonen’s mouth, instead he modestly called his furniture as scrap. The rambling way of the dialect of Savo people first slowed down the marketing, but when Kutvonen figured out to raise the price and the high quality of the products became known, the business started. The target group was well-to-do people in cities. The sale of style furniture was particularly large in Ostrobothnia.
Downhill and uphill
When completed, Kutvonen’s residential and commercial building was the most modern in Suonenjoki. The house designed by Gunnar Stenius was completed on the corner of Asemakatu in 1933. In the begining the Opilion furniture showroom was located there in Kutvonen’s building.
In 1924, it was time for Kutvonen to expand its factory in Harakkaniemi. The number of machines increased, but the work was very manual. Each carpenter specialized in a certain work phase, carpentry, decorative carving, grinding or rattan weaving. Professional skills were passed on with the master-competition principle. In 1929, the model book included decorative Biedermeier, Rococo and Baroque styles, but for the first time also modern straight-line models.
The fires were a death blow to many local wood companies. Kutvonen furniture factory burned to the ground in 1934, but a new, more fire-safe building was built within three years. Over the wars, Kutvosen persevered by producing e.g. horse cart platforms, skis and grenade boxes. Stylish furniture would have been an investment, but there was a shortage of materials.
The factory was at its best in the 1950s, when reconstruction accelerated the demand for furniture. Practical all-wood kitchen furniture was the most popular product. For example, kitchen chairs were made in sets of 250 pieces. In 1948, a new factory building was completed, which was the largest industrial building in the church village. Also on a Finnish scale, the Kutvonen furniture factory was one of the leading companies in the field.
After Nordic clean lines took over the industry in the furniture market as well, the Kutvonen furniture factory began production of architects’ creations. Birger Hahl designed several warp birch furniture for Kutvonen in the 1920s and 40s. In the 1980s, Kutvonen produced Eliel Saarinen’s classic furniture. The most special job in the factory’s history was the furnishing of Saddam Hussein’s luxury cruiser built in Finland in 1980. Carpenters used to working with birch got their hands on a new type of wood, African bubinga.
During its 70 years of operation, the Kutvonen furniture factory employed hundreds of professionals. The Kutvonen factory continued to be owned by Tauno Korhonen for a few years in the 70s. The operation ended in 1988, but some of the employees continued to restore and manufacture furniture in their own companies.
Source (also pictures): Timo Särkkä, Pekka Korhonen and Jarmo Sutinen: Romppeita Suonenjoelta – stages of Julius Kutvonen’s furniture factory. Suonenjoki-Seura ry. Otavan Kirjapaino oy, Keuruu 2020.
Link: Kutvonen’s furniture models in the National Library of Finland: https://digi.kansalliskirjasto.fi/pienpainate/binding/345470?page=1