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New art hotel welcomes summer travellers to Helsinki

On the outside corner of the house, a lizard-like metal sculpture with a long tongue and a circular lamp between its paws.

A new kind of hotel has opened in Jätkäsaari, Helsinki, where guests sleep, eat and relax amidst art. Architect and journalist Tarja Nurmi stayed at Hotel AX and spoke to guests, staff, manager, and designer Stefan Lindfors.

The new district of Jätkäsaari in Helsinki is nearing completion. The neighbourhood is starting to have a nice range of services that are part of a good modern district, especially at street level. Known for its passenger traffic to Estonia, the area is also attracting tourists; therefore hotels are in demand.

In June 2022, a brand new hotel called AX opened at Välimerenkatu 18. Next to the hotel is a stop on tram line 9’s route from the Pasila railway station to the port terminal, which means accessing the hotel from the Tallinn ferry is as easy as accessing it from the centre of Helsinki.Additionally, the Ruoholahti metro station is about half a kilometre away on foot.

Hotel AX stands out from the rest of the buildings on the block thanks to the metal façade developed by the architectural firm Sarc. This façade, separate from the actual exterior wall, functions like an external light curtain. Behind it, all the hotel rooms on the street side have large square windows. The top two floors have been left without the veil of steel, and the rooms have a completely unobstructed view of the outside through almost wall-sized windows. 

The façade of Hotel AX, covered by a metal curtain. photo: Tarja Nurmi

On the courtyard side of the large residential block, the exterior is white and the windows are narrower, almost floor to ceiling. The illuminated main façade of the building on the street corner is guaranteed to attract the attention of casual passers-by in the evenings.

Sarc, under the direction of Ari Ahonen, has designed an airy and comfortable, tall entrance floor for the hotel, with a reception area, a restaurant and a café. The lobby is connected to the block courtyard at the back by a glass door and large windows. The courtyard garden has its own small terrace, which will soon bloom to its full glory.

The entrance to the hotel can be found at the corner of the street, and the second entrance is in the middle of the long façade. The intention and hope is that the hotel lobby will also serve as a meeting place for the city's residents to drop in for a coffee, a meal or a drink.

Different from the rest - and therefore Lindfors

The well-known Åland-born Finnish designer Stefan Lindfors joined the development of the idea and concept of the hotel three years ago. Lindfors holds an extensive background in travelling and hotel design, and has for example designed the Mercer in Manhattan, which was made into a small but exclusive attraction in the SoHo area of the city. Lindfors designed a large-scale lighting fixture for The Mercer's elevator lobby, and spared no expense.

Stefan Lindfors' work can also be seen in the hotel lobby. photo: Hotel AX
One of Lindfors' large sculptures hangs from the ceiling of the lobby. photo: Tarja Nurmi

Despite the smaller budget, Lindfors has included a couple of real eye-catchers here too. Above the hotel's main entrance, visitors are greeted by a stingray covered in shiny pieces of metal, with a funny tongue and a spherical lamp. A large long-tongued 'orc' floats on the ceiling of the high lobby bar, sure to delight many. Large sculptures give the hotel  playfulness and identity.

The real speciality of the hotel is the art, which includes design, glass art and paintings, without forgetting textiles. 

The rooms themselves are compact in size but feel airy. The 173 rooms don't include suites or so-called luxury departments. On the seventh floor, there is a series of rooms designed by different artists, which can be recognised by the different signs on the doors. 

All the other rooms have works by different artists on the wall behind the plush double bed, with a small picture of each artist on the door of each room. The rooms are designed by the Finnish interior design company Vallila. Lindfors has designed his own tiles for the bathrooms, which can also be found in the ground floor toilets. There the tiles are blue for women and red for men.

A rusted steel spiral staircase leads from the lobby to the ground floor, which is two storeys high. The etched text on the staircase is visible as you turn it and is best read from  the breakfast room on the lower level. The perforations make nice shadows as you ascend and descend the stairs.

Art is present all over the hotel, including the corridors. photo: Hotel AX

The ground floor breakfast spaces are dark in colour, but they also receive overhead light from the street frontage. The rooms can be used for different purposes at other times and can be divided into their own sections. The breakfast setting is beautiful, with a nice touch of colour. The chairs, for example, are Ilmari Tapiovaara's Finnish classics. The lobby, in turn, has a few of Alvar Aalto's famous armchairs.

And, the art!

The art concept includes works by established artists as well as classics by leading Finnish designers. Much of the design, such as the tall bookcases and bar shelves, are by Lindfors, as are the textiles for many of the chairs and other, perhaps even fun, interior elements.

What makes the concept special is that younger artists can also exhibit their work in certain areas of the hotel. Works can also be bought, if the visitor is inspired by something. The hotel charges a relatively small commission compared to private galleries, but the works must be on display for a certain period of time. By making room for new ones, the idea that the art hotel lives and transforms as it ages also works. One can always come back for more without having seen everything.

The beautifully flowing, thick light curtain earns a special mention, as it also wraps around the other long wall of the rooms, so that the large TV screen can be hidden from view. This soothes the overall feel of the room and gives space for a large piece of artwork and exciting perspectives on the opposite wall.  

Every room is characterised by large artworks. photos: Hotel AX

Hotel AX is a welcome addition to the wide range of Finnish, ‘one size fits all’ chain hotels. Its architecture has not put all the cards on the table, so to speak, but instead focuses on the essentials. The hotel rooms are all functional and airy. They may not be suitable for working on a dissertation, and the occasional traveller will have to write their novel on a computer on their lap, as there are no desks or chairs in the rooms. Work spaces can be found in the lobby, or outside, weather permitting. 

Read more about the hotel, its designers and its art (opens in a new tab):