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Back to the Future

Helsinki's Savoy restaurant is restored to its 1930s-era splendor, with a few current updates to keep it wining and dining guests for years to come.

By Lauren Mang

Photographed by Anton Sucksdorff

Savoy restaurant Helsinki dining room with picture window, draperies, Artek pendant light, place settings, white tablecloth, round table, gray upholstered side chairs

Savoy's original dining chairs were restored with fresh fabrics in black and white, with soft brown accents. An Artek A201 pendant—designed by Alvar Aalto—hangs overhead.

After more than 80 years in operation, Helsinki’s Savoy restaurant has been refreshed.

Originally designed by Finnish husband-and-wife architects Alvar and Aino Aalto, and opened in the summer of 1937, the iconic eatery’s interiors featured bold fabrics, multiple species of wood finishes (mahogany, oak, pine, and elm), and lush plantings. It also showcased the couple’s love for welcoming and comfortable furniture (two years prior to the opening, the Aaltos had cofounded the iconic furniture company Artek). In 2019, after a series of small refurbishments that departed from the original design—and after decades of wear and tear became impossible to ignore any longer—Ilse Crawford of London interior design firm StudioIlse was commissioned to reenergize the more than 2,200-square-foot space.

Savoy restaurant Helsinki custom bar cabinet design by StudioIlse with bottles of liquor, grand piano, dark brown walls, floor lamp, gallery style art

StudioIlse designed a new bar cabinet for Savoy.

“Our work takes its cue from the original 1937 Aalto interior, taking the restaurant back to its original while refreshing it for today,” Crawford says. “Savoy needed a bit of repair and a bit of love, but it didn’t need reinventing.”

The restaurant’s six-week renovation included the restoration of all original structures, including timber paneling on the walls and ceiling, a painted brick wall near the banquettes, and doors and baseboards, as well as the banquettes and chairs, which were reupholstered in black and white with soft brown accents. On the indoor terrace, Crawford collaborated with Artek on a custom version of its Chair 611, fashioned in oak with a woven black-leather seat and backrest. Brass lights by Paavo Tynell line the wall, and inside the dining room are Artek A201 pendants—originally designed by Alvar Aalto—and his original brass Golden Bell Savoy lighting, which he created for the restaurant in 1937. A new wall-mounted version hangs in the cloakroom.


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