Blurring Boundaries

Finnish designer Mirkku Kullberg revives a historic building in Helsinki to craft a luxury boutique that offers a glimpse into a storied past while fostering a feeling of modern wellness.

Goodbye, grand hotel. Now luxury is less about delivering visual frills and more about instilling a true sense of wellbeing. That’s why cross-disciplinary Finnish designer Mirkku Kullberg sought to shake up tired expectations of the full-service experience when starting work on Hotel St. George in Helsinki, Finland, two years ago.

Kullberg—whose career includes roles as the ceo of furniture company Artek and as head of the Home Department at Vitra—took cues from the concept of transformation to craft the Nordic hotel’s fresh new interiors, blending touchpoints from alchemy and science to culture and enlightenment. That contemporary interpretation of yesteryear’s luxury hotel draws inspiration from the building’s layered history.

Hotel St. George | Mirkku Kullberg | Design Hotels

Hotel St. George. Designed by Mirkku Kullberg. All photos: Courtesy of Design Hotels

Part of the Design Hotels portfolio, the property is housed within a seven-story building that was originally designed by high-profile Finnish architect Onni Tarjanne (best known for creating the Finnish National Theater) and completed in 1840. The structure first served as a newspaper printing house and later became home to the Finnish Literature Society. As part of the hotel project, the building was connected to an adjacent five-story structure, creating a hotel complex that encompasses three F&B venues, a spa, more than 150 individually designed accommodations, a series of public spaces and an extensive art program.

That art collection of 300-plus pieces, which project participants say rivals many of the capital city’s galleries, is central to the idea that creativity plays into the evolving definition of luxury. A sculpture by Chinese artist Ai Weiwei takes center stage at the hotel’s entrance in the form of a floating polycephalic dragon. Dubbed “Tianwu,” that massive piece is crafted from bamboo and clothes in white silk.

Hotel St. George | Mirkku Kullberg | Design Hotels

As Helsinki often experiences long periods of darkness, with its shortest days lasting less than six hours, the designers played up the region’s coveted natural light within the guestrooms to strengthen the sense of wellness, especially for travelers transitioning between time zones. Alternating hues of mint green, pearl gray and delicate brown soften the interiors of the 148 rooms and five suites while framing their Finnish FF&E, abstract art and herringbone parquet flooring. Restraint in the form of scaled-back furnishings give guests the physical and mental space to relax. 

Hotel St. George | Mirkku Kullberg | Design Hotels

The suites reference the country, the capital and the building’s heritage more explicitly. For example, the fourth-floor corner Finlandia suite celebrates the country’s 2017 centenary with hand-woven Georgian vintage carpets and works representing classic themes from Finland’s history, nature and architecture. The sixth-floor Coupole suite’s tower and rooftop showcase some of the most notable aspects of the structure’s architecture.

Hotel St. George | Mirkku Kullberg | Design Hotels

On the ground floor and basement level, public spaces nod to Nordic style. Helmed by Turkish celebrity chef Mehmet Gürs, Restaurant Andrea, explores the link between Nordic and Mediterranean flavors in a space lined with wall-mounted sofas and wooden chairs. Meanwhile, George Bakery, a subterranean grocery store, is home to the first-ever Monocle shop in the Nordic countries.

Linking the hotel’s two wings under a glass-roofed inner courtyard that recalls 18th-century interior gardens, Wintergarden is a theatrical-yet-contemporary space that houses a bar and a dining concept from restaurateur Antto Melasniemi. Designed to underscore the hotel’s commitment to sensory experiences and art, the space is adorned with a tapestry-like wallpaper designed by Klaus Haapaniemi called “Lightning In Tiger Woods” and dominated by “Learning to Fly,” a sculpture commissioned from Finnish artist Pekka Jylhä Playing.

Hotel St. George | Mirkku Kullberg | Design Hotels

Rounding out the property’s holistic approach to hospitality, St. George Care spa pays homage to the country’s philosophies and resources through its fitness, massage and treatment offerings. Its two saunas—one traditional and one steam room—recalls the country’s sauna culture, while a swimming pool, a cold plunge pool surrounded by oscillating mosaic tiles, and an all-white relaxation area further emphasize the hotel’s wellness mission.

Hotel St. George | Mirkku Kullberg | Design Hotels

From light-filled areas that bring the outdoors inside to the elevated art program, Kullberg’s fresh aesthetic for Hotel St. George intentionally blurs the boundaries of creativity and privacy, wellbeing and serenity to give guests the sense of calm that synonymous with today’s high-end escape.