The Secret History Of: The Sarpaneva Pot

Scandinavian design is known chiefly for its ability to combine form and function without one losing out at the expense of the other. This Finnish casserole pot is a perfect example of that design sensibility.

Designed in 1960 by Timo Sarpaneva, the wooden handle can be used either to carry the pot or to lift off the lid for stirring. It is, apparently, meant to remind the user of sitting round a camp fire and using a stick to lift the lid and stir the food.

Sarpaneva was inspired by his blacksmith grandfather to create his modern version of an ancient cast-iron pot and it has become a design classic. It won the silver medal at the 1960 Milan Triennale and features in the V&A's collections.

He once said the idea was simply about rethinking a traditional object in a way that wasn't too novel and would make "a damn good reindeer stew in the process".

Enamelled cast iron ware is perfect for simmering stews over long periods and, because the enamel prevents flavours from sticking, it can be used for both meat and fish without residues of one tainting the other. It doesn't matter how burnt it gets; just leave it to soak and it will be as clean as when you bought it, whether you're cooking reindeer or, perhaps more likely, chicken.

Sarpaneva was one of the main personalities behind Finland's great reputation for design since the 1950s. He started out working in glass and branched out into porcelain and textiles. He trained as a graphic designer and Andy Warhol once said his fabrics were masterpieces that should be framed as paintings.

He won silver medal at the 1951 triennale for his tea cosy designed as a rooster and his career took off. His Suomi porcelain tableware is still in production and has a place at the Pompidou in Paris as an example of contemporary design. In the 1970s, Salvador Dali was among prominent artists invited to produce limited edition designs for these plates.

The Sarpaneva pot traditionally has a three-litre capacity but in honour of its 50th birthday, Iittala, which holds the licence, has issued a four-litre pot.

Tim Parker, Iittala's UK agent, says: "So many household items that were designed in the Sixties have ended up in museums, and while the term 'design classic' is often bandied about, this is one product that really deserves the title. It is just as appropriate in the modern kitchen as it was in the Sixties, although perhaps not so often for reindeer casserole."

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