Isku Oy could be described as the seat of Finnish furniture manufacturing. The family-run com-pany is one of the largest furniture manufacturers in Scandinavia and has provided furniture for many of Finland’s schools, offices, private homes and auditoria – including 3,600 chairs for Sibelius Hall in Lahti.

Established in 1928 in a factory under the family house, Isku employs 1,941 people and last year had net sales of e209.8m. It has agents in Sweden, Russia, the UK, France and the Baltics and exports account for 30% of sales.

Isku’s manufacturing facility, which occupies a 30ha site in the southern Finnish town of Lahti, is a truly integrated process covering the milling of logs through to production of fully finished furniture. In addition, Isku – parent company of Puhos – has Finland’s largest furniture board component manufacturing capacity.

Quality control

Product development director Raimo Räsänen says there are strict quality standards for logs.

“There is a strong quality requirement,” he says. “We use only the lower part of the tree so there is a lower number of knots. Every log is checked before it goes to the sawmill.” The target is for 90% of logs brought onto site to be used.

Although Isku has experimented with alder, birch is the mainstay of production, largely because of the ease of supply. To maintain the whiteness of the wood, the logs are air dried for a year before being kiln dried. “Keeping the birch white is a speciality,” says Mr Räsänen.

Another aspect of which Isku is proud is its respect to the environment at every stage of production. The majority of waste is used to power the plant and last year 98.5% of waste was recycled – a steady improvement from 93.5% in 1997. In addition, when delivering new furniture, Isku will take away the customer’s old furniture and recycle it.

“We take into account recycling and energy recovery at the end of the life cycle,” says development manager Kari Soljamo. “All the raw materials we use can be recycled.”

Solvent emissions

Isku has also responded to the EU directive to reduce VOC emissions and is one of only two Finnish furniture companies using water-based UV lacquers. Over the past five years, the company has reduced its solvent emissions by 50%, says Mr Räsänen.

Isku is also one of a small number of the country’s furniture companies to have its own testing facilities. The furniture is tested in two phases – during development and again before the product goes to market – to EN and ISO standards.

Designed for life

Isku also has the environment in mind during the design phase so that a long life is designed into the chairs, tables and desks: school furniture is designed to have a life span of 30 years.

“Design work starts from the goal of meeting the demands of the modern environment – it must be efficient, practical and ergonomic. It is designed to last,” says Mr Räsänen.

There are 20 master carpenters who produce the prototypes by hand and, in the case of one chair design for Sibelius Hall, 20 prototypes were created before the final decision was made.

“Sibelius Hall is a good example of what Isku is doing in terms of design,” says Mr Räsänen.

In total, Isku provided 3,600 chairs for the entire venue, including 1,300 for the concert hall.

The concert hall is well known for its acoustics and, to achieve such qualities, the architect imposed a strict brief – including the stipulation that the upholstery must be seamless.

In addition, every chair in the concert hall has different measurements so that the lines of the chairs would look the same, despite the curve of the rows.