Hui Zhu, who lives in Helsinki, is a 60-year-old collector who describes herself as a "Marimekko lunatic". There are almost 2,000 Marimekko mugs in her collection. And she’s on a mission. She’s determined to spread the happy, colorful message of the mugs on Instagram and at the tea parties she holds in her home on Sundays.
Born and raised in Shanghai, China, Hui has lived in Australia and traveled throughout the world's major cities. Ten years ago, she settled in Finland with her family.
“When I was abroad, I noticed that I didn't miss Shanghai, Sydney, or New York. I noticed that I missed Finland. The forest, the whispering birches, and the lakes make me happy,” she says.
We met Hui at her home in Ullanlinna in Helsinki. While drinking tea – from Marimekko mugs, of course – we talked about her collection, her most-treasured mugs, and why she always asks her guests to choose their favorite one from her colorful collection.
How did you become a Marimekko fan?
In 2009, I was on my first trip to Finland, and we visited a lakeside house in Jyväskylä belonging to my partner's cousin. It was snowy and dark outside. As I entered the living room, I saw these huge warm fiery red Unikko curtains. I had never seen anything like it!
I was lucky because the host loved Marimekko. I've seen a lot of boring homes, but this home, with its artful Marimekko pieces, caught my attention right away.
You collect Marimekko mugs. What attracts you to mugs? And what is your collecting philosophy?
I started gathering mugs when I moved to Finland in 2013, but I only started collecting on purpose maybe five years ago. I particularly love the mugs made in England in the 1990s, which show the vintage side of Marimekko. The design, atmosphere, and history of the mugs make me happy.
I currently have almost two thousand mugs in my collection. My goal is to collect all the mugs made in England. Something tells me that it's my job or initiation. I don't chase specific patterns; I buy the mugs I see and like. I believe that if I keep looking for a particular mug, I won't find it.
My way of collecting is casual but very consistent. I look for mugs almost every day at flea markets, vintage shops, and online stores.
What was the first mug in your collection?
As I remember, I bought the tea set that celebrated Unikko's 50th anniversary at a flea market or a recycling center. This is a rare model made in Finland. I love the red color of the mug and, of course, the Unikko print. In nature, flowers are delicate but, at the same time, very strong. They look vulnerable, but they really aren't.
Is there a mug in your collection that you particularly value?
Yes, a special mug illustrated with rustic rose motifs. First of all, I like its red and gold coloring. It’s a mug of the first Marimekko generation, which was made in England in the 1990s. Secondly, this is the most expensive mug I've ever bought. I bought it at the summer flea market in Helsinki.
Tell us a story about one of the Marimekko mugs in your collection.
I bought the black and white mug that celebrated the 21st century from Maija Louekari, who is one of Marimekko’s pattern designers. I'm a total fan of hers. Maija's husband, Kasper Strömman, who is quite a well-known and hilarious media persona here in Finland, delivered the mug to me. They asked for such a low price that I wanted to buy them a box of chocolates on top of the deal. Kasper and I took a selfie together.
You ask your guests to choose their favorite mug from your collection. What does this custom mean to you?
The choice of mug tells me something about the person's personality. It's like a game for me, a way to learn more about my guests. Sometimes I ask them to choose three mugs. It's even more interesting.
How do you use the mugs in your collection?
Every day I choose a mug according to my mood. I get out of bed, put the coffee on, and go and pick a mug. It’s a process that may take a lot of time. I always wonder which mug will be lucky to be chosen that day.
The cornerstones of Marimekko's philosophy are joy, optimism, and happiness. What thoughts does this evoke in you?
Marimekko's philosophy is almost exactly the same as mine. I'm often described with these words. I am happy, cheerful—just like Marimekko.
What are your three favorite places in Helsinki?
- Punavuoren Patina self-service flea market, where I sometimes have a table. I go to flea markets almost every day, and I have noticed that Punavuori Patina has the best price-quality ratio. I buy a lot of my vintage clothes there (besides Marimekko Pre-loved, of course).
- St. George's Bakery has the best scones in town. The portion is generous, and the delicious jam served with the scones is made onsite. I almost always drink tea in St. George, but I always bring my own mug with me.
- When I want to relax, I go to Löyly, a seaside sauna.