Haddadin Design

Almost every morn, the @haddadindesign Instagram account displays a new, gorgeously crafted image where iconic items of Nordic furniture blend—apparently effortlessly—with the natural and urban Finnish landscape. Who is behind these sophisticated creations? Where do the unique pieces come from, and where do they go?

Hello, Shadi. Please tell a bit about yourself.

I’m Shadi Haddadin. I’m half Finnish, half Jordanian. My father was from Jordan and my mother from Finland. I was born and raised in Jordan, but used to come here for the summers, as a kid. During the 90s I was working in our shop in Kallio and another one in Korkeavuorenkatu. Then in ’99 I came for my army service which took place during the winter, that was painful. But I survived it, and I’ve been living permanently here since then.

Jordanian and Finnish. How did you parents meet?

They met in Germany, while studying at the same university. My father was doing his PhD, and my mother her Master’s.

You come from smart stock.

Yeah, they’re smart. I’m not sure about myself, though! But yeah, they met in Germany, got married. My eldest brother was also born there. Then they moved to Finland, where my second brother was born. Then they moved to Jordan in the sixties, where my sister and I were born. My mother moved back to Finland after my father passed away some years ago.

Shadi Haddadin / Alvar Aalto chair A36/401 for Artek, c. 1950s / Armchairs by Gio Ponti model no. 803. Asko model no. 1410, c. Late 1950s

I also came to Finland in ’99. Many changes since then.

Oh, yeah. It’s amazing how fast things moved in a few years. It was a good change, in my opinion.

Did you experience any culture shock when you came here from Jordan?

I had been coming to Finland since I was a kid, so not really. To me, the only difficult aspect was the weather. Coming from warm and sunny into dark and cold was tough, and still is. The cold doesn’t bother me anymore, but the darkness does. In November, before Christmas, that’s when it gets you. But now, when summer starts, I wouldn’t change Finland for anything in the world. It’s such a beautiful country in the summer: the lakes, the sea, the green, the midnight sun…

And religion-wise? Muslim country vs Lutheran country?

To me it’s more like a cultural thing, not about beliefs. I actually come from an old Christian family, my great-grandfather was an Orthodox priest. And my mother is Lutheran, so I used to go with her to the Lutheran church in Jordan to listen to all the guilt trips, and with my father to the Orthodox church to look at all the fancy gold. In Jordan the church is Greek Orthodox, but we don’t have it here so you follow the Russian Orthodox church (I got married at the Uspenski Cathedral here in Helsinki). But I don’t go to church anyway.

Is there anything you believe in?

I believe in the goodness of the universe. I wouldn’t call myself agnostic, I know there is a God, but what is it? I just try to live in the moment, in the goodness of the moment and the goodness of people. I believe if you do that, you’ll be fine.

Paavo Tynell A1965, Taito, 1950s / Ceiling lamp model 1355, nickeled brass and opal glass, Oy Taito Ab, c. 1930s / A1965, Taito, 1950s

How did Haddadin Design begin?

My older brother came here in ’91 and opened a second-hand shop in Kallio. The business back then consisted in us buying clearances, which is to clear a place up completely after someone passes away. Back then there was no Internet, no online selling, so relatives just called us or came bringing pictures of the place. So our job was to empty whole apartments, take everything away. Today it’s more organized, sorted and recycled, but back then everything would go to the same garbage.

Then I had to go to Jordan for a few years when my father was ill. My brother stayed here alone, so the company was put on hold. After my father passed away I came back and started again with a specific focus on design. Now we’re getting more and more into Nordic design specifically.

It seems you’re having a lot of fun.

I love it, I cannot imagine doing anything else. And the money is pretty good too. I wouldn’t want to be on a business that doesn’t turn a profit.

Why the focus on Scandinavian design?

People are looking for it, they demand it. At first we used to focus on rococo antiques, that kind of thing. But we don’t bother anymore, nobody wants that. People want Nordic, clean, stylish design. Everything seems to be going in that direction, not only regarding furniture but in ideas too, which I think is great. The whole universe is a majestic design. If nature has a billion-year design for something that sits very comfortably with itself then it’s worth emulating, and Finnish design has done that. Tapio Wirkkala, for example, took inspiration from nature to design his plates and knives.

Then there’s the aspect of conscious consuming; instead of buying cheap new stuff from IKEA, it’s better to invest in quality furniture that will last for your children and their children, which reduces the footprint a lot. I recently got a chair that was made in the 40s. It was saved in the 60s from an attic in Kallio, then some old gentleman and his daughter inherited it and she re-upholstered it three times! Then she sold it and I bought it, and I’m going to re-upholster it again. Things like this are high quality, made to last, you don’t just use them and throw them away. Nowadays things are meant to break up so you need to buy more, which is nonsense.

Recently I was at a toy store, and the current quality of toys was sad. They felt completely generic, devoid of personality. I used to collect British Matchbox cars when I was a kid, and each and every one felt like something unique—you could feel a real person had crafted a small artwork.

I used to play with those too! I remember building ramps, and they would jump and fly and this and that! If you try that with today’s cars they won’t last you more than a day.

I hope we go back to those standards one day.

Me too. I appreciate handmade stuff.

Alvar Aalto stools, 1930s / Rare modular cabinet by Carin Bryggman, ST-Huonekalut, c. 1950s / Alvar Aalto coat rack 109 for Artek, 1950s

Regarding art and design, do you have any training?

I actually… I can’t say I’m an artist, but I always wanted to become one. But in our family, especially my father’s side of the family… Let’s say I come from a family where almost everybody is a doctor or an engineer. I had a dream of becoming an artist, go to Italy, or Russia. But I was a good kid, I listened to my father, and I studied. So the closest I got to design was architectural engineering, at the university in Jordan. A lot of civil engineering involved, calculations and dynamics… It was not for me. I did very well in the design part, I was at the top of my class. But in the structure, I flunked it every single time. So in ’95 I just quit and came to Finland to work with my brother. That summer I called my father and said “how about I stay here, working instead of studying?” He booked me a ticket back to Jordan and applied to the University for me. His PhD was in agriculture, so he got me into Agricultural Economics. I went back and graduated.

You actually did that.

In our family it was not an option, I had to. Of course I’ve never done anything remotely related to agriculture, I don’t even know where my degree is! But I did what I had to do. I graduated and came back to Finland to do the army training. And after that I’ve been doing this.

Art and design were calling you.

I was always thinking about art. At some point I was drawing cartoons, I was sharing them on Facebook and they were well received. After the terrorist attack on Brussels, I drew the boy of the Manneken Pis statue peeing on the head of a terrorist. People started to share my cartoon, and I got contacted by a museum, asking if they could use it, and I said yes. There was also a contest there and I didn’t win, but they liked what I did and even printed it on a postcard. All of that gives me a nice feeling, a sense of… what could have been. I guess I could go back into art, or photography.

Eero Aarnio Swan lamp, 2007 / Matti Martikka stool, 1960s / Josef Frank tea trolley for Svenskt Tenn, c. 1950s

Your photos are what drove me to contact you. What do you shoot with?

Just my phone. I don’t own a camera.

All of this is done with your phone?

Yeah, I can do everything with the phone, so it’s easy. If I had a camera, I would have to move all the files into the computer, edit them… it would be a pain. I enjoy creating stories for the items, almost every one has some tale behind it. I can’t do that with every one of them, but I try as much as I can. I showcase the items in an interesting way so people become interested.

How did you become acquainted with Scandinavian design?

I read a lot about it. I started reading books on design in the 90s.

What is this “book” concept you speak of?

(laughs) My kids don’t understand it either. They think “if there’s no Google available, where can you search for stuff?” You turn to… books. And it’s not like you open a random book and you find a reference and photos of the object you’re interested in. You have to go through a hundred objects before you get to the one, and in the process you learn. Do that for a period of twenty years and you will learn a lot. The internet speeds things up but also kills our braincells regarding exploration. You do find the information, but only what you were looking for.

We have a very good library and I still collect books related to design. I don’t like new books, you know, about somebody’s ideas about something. I like books that were written when the things were done, with first-hand data. I do have a lot of them, and I browse them almost daily. And still, every time I open a known book I find new things. I also go quite often to the library when I need something I don’t own, so it’s a continuous learning process. Every day learning something new.

You became a sort of historian though all this.

My memory is very selective, so I wouldn’t be a good historian; I remember things I need to remember. I’m interested in knowing other things, but as soon as I don’t need them anymore, I know I will forget them. And I’m not here to memorize information and pass it on. Historians want to remember so they can be living encyclopedias, ask a question, hear the answer. In my case, if someone asks me for something I might not necessarily remember it, but I can help by directing them to where they could find that information.

Paavo Tynell 5066 table lamps. Ab Taito Oy, c. 1940-50s / Model 5061 for Idman, c. 1950s / Model 5068. Brass, birch and linen shade. Taito, 1950s

Is there competition in the trade?

There is, and it gets ugly sometimes. Obviously, the more items you get, the less the other guy gets. Most dealers are willing to collaborate and become friends, but there are some who avoid me. When I returned to Finland and re-started the business, I came back energized. Newcomers didn’t know we had been in the business for twenty years already, so they were puzzled by how fast we were setting things up.

What’s the process for finding and identifying items?

That’s a question I get a lot from newcomers. Some items are easy, but others you won’t find online, so I tell them I find them in books. About the chair I was talking about before, I didn’t know exactly what it was until I found two images, not online, but in two books: the Architectural Magazine (1948) and the Designer’s Book—which is actually not a book, but a thesis done by a lady at the University of Helsinki. I was browsing the net and I saw that the chair had been on offer for three days, and I bought it right away. Then there are auctions, events, a lot of market places where you need to be. And of course flea markets, other shops, and so on. Finally, people offer items directly.

You’re constantly on the move, like a hunter.

Yeah. I drive a lot. Different cities, places… I thought I knew Helsinki, but the places you see when you do this! Many times I’m driving and I see a location and I know I want to take a shot there, I’m just waiting for the right item. Many times I also take pictures but I don’t use them. I wanted to shoot a shade lamp with an umbrella in front the Kappeli restaurant in Esplanadi. I’d thought the building was early 1900s but it turns out it was built in 1867, so it’s Victorian. I may not use the picture in the end, but thanks to that I learnt something new.

Paavo Tynell Model K 10-10 (9629), Idman, c. 1950s / Model 9609 with original wood shade, Oy Taito Ab, 1940s / Model 5068. Oy Taito Ab, c 1940s

Your photos are art pieces in themselves. Always a coherent internal structure and beautiful, poetic design.

Ah, thanks. I’m very bad at receiving praise. But I heard the other day that when someone gives you a compliment it’s okay to “borrow” it, because then you can “lend” it to someone else. So every time somebody says something nice to me, I try to say something nice to ten other people to brighten their day.

About design, the best thing that ever happened to me was this art teacher at school. From him I didn’t learn drawing, or watercolors or oils. I learnt about perspective and how to apply it. I literally can visualize the environment we are in right now, perspectively correct. I could draw it in different shades, just by figuring out where the light is coming from. So the skill that teacher taught me, I use in my photography today. Proportions are also important, I’m always thinking where items should be in the composition. Sometimes they must go in the middle, sometimes off-center, according to the situation and context.

The blurred background is done optically?

Yes, it’s amazing. But it does not always work, especially if there’s no clear contrast. Sometimes I need to take more than fifty shots to get what I want.

Is this your main job?

We have other investments but yes, this is my main job. My brother Faris takes care of the numbers; he’s the financial guru, and I’m the artist. I don’t like math and numbers, like I mentioned. It was always the subject I flunked when I was studying architecture, and I needed it for other subjects in the engineering department. I couldn’t take certain subjects until I finished those, and at one point I got so late that I would stay in the uni for nine years to make it through. I always tell my daughters about the importance of math. “But where are we gonna use it, dad?” Everything is math! It’s everywhere.

Any negative aspects of the business?

Every morning I am very thankful, especially on bright days like these—not so much on dark, rainy days—but thankful that I can make a living with my hobby and my passion. But yeah, there are some crappy parts. The long drives. The fact that people see the pretty pictures but they don’t see the twenty years we have been emptying attics; the dirt, and a lot of things that many people are not willing to do. It’s a lot of work, and there’s a ton of paperwork; Finland is very meticulous with what you buy, what you sell, what your expenses are, it drives me crazy. Not complaining, but you asked! (laughs) I always wake up early to take the shot. Some days I don’t have the motivation, but I still do it.

Björn Weckström Lapponia necklace, 1971 / Tern (Räyskä) by Oiva Toikka / Large & rare size egg by Birger Kaipiainen, c. 1970s

Who are your customers?

We sell mostly abroad: Paris, London, New York. Where Finnish design is best appreciated. For some reason, Finns don’t seem to value their own design enough to pay for it, until you take it away. Then they start pointing fingers and complaining. I’ve seen old buildings that have been empty for the last forty, fifty years, and Paavo Tynell lamps thrown into the garbage! One of the most iconic hotels here had a renovation in the 90s, and these amazing lamps were about to be thrown away, but somebody saved them. Then, when they tried to sell them abroad, the crying started: “you can’t sell that abroad! It’s Finnish design!” The same thing happens with lots of Finnish contemporary artists; they’re not appreciated locally, nobody cares. But try to take one painting out and sell it for good money and it’s an outrage.

We’ve been selling abroad for a long time. We know most of the auctions houses and we’ve had long relationships, because we have the items and the credibility. I go twice a year to Paris, and I have carried heavy chairs under the Eiffel tower to take photos. I like to get away a couple of times per year, be on the road, just drive and forget everything for a while. If I’m here in Finland I’m working, it’s difficult to stop. I may go to the cottage, but I’m still waiting to find something… If I’m abroad, I just enjoy it more.

Where are you going with this?

When I took the first pictures (two lamps, I still remember) and put them on Instagram three years ago, I didn’t know it would take me down this road. It’s amazing and I love it. I can’t imagine where will I be in three, four years, or ten, it could be a totally different place. For now we are building a business for my children and my brother’s children. But I’m on a path that’s quite open. I go where the universe is taking me, so I try to flow with it. There’s always a door that opens to you, and you don’t know where it leads.

This is Haddadin Design’s website, Instagram account, and Facebook page.