Spotlight on the collectible objets d'art of Ugandan-Finnish designer Lincoln Kayiwa

Functional Artifacts

By Rachel Miller

Lincoln Kayiwa is the creative force behind eponymous studio KAYIWA. Born in Kampala, Kayiwa moved to Helsinki to pursue a Master's degree from the Aalto University School of Arts, Design, and Architecture. Upon graduating, he set up his atelier, dedicated to crafting collectible design objects that draw from the rich traditions of both African and Nordic craft. If you haven't already had your eye on this rising talent, look this way! 


Rachel Miller: What made you want to become a designer?

Lincoln Kayiwa: Besides being born into an architectural family, there are a number of incidents that pushed me toward design. But I really got serious about becoming a designer while working on my Bachelor of Arts at Makerere University in Uganda. We had a visiting professor from Central Michigan University, David Stairs, who gave lectures on design history and introduced me to various iconic works, including the architecture of Alvar Aalto and graphic design from Paul Rand. I was especially intrigued by Philippe Starck’s Juicy Salif for Alessi and his POAA Dumbbells, which prove that good design can be both humorous and serious.

RM: How has your background and experiences abroad fed into your design approach?

LK: My Ugandan roots and Nordic life blend in a unique way. I borrow principles and aesthetic elements from the rich cultures and traditions of African and Nordic art, craft, and design to make bold, playful, yet fully functional artifacts.

RM: Wonderful! And what a truly unique combination. Could you expand on that?

LK: For example, in no particular order, the NZELA Table is a tribute to my late grandmother, Angela, whom I was very fond of. The table in our kitchen was a place where my extended family met. So I wanted to design a table that offers more room for various dishes and many people to celebrate. The Nordic influence on the NZELA design is, for instance, evidenced by the flat-pack concept. The table comprises three snap-fit elements, uses only gravity to stay together, and does not require any tools, fixtures, or fittings to assemble. It is also modular, so users can conjoin as many elements in whichever direction they desire. Additionally, De Stijl being one of the most formulated movements seemed like the perfect source of inspiration as symmetry, alignment, and modularity had a huge role to play usability-wise. Its principles would also directly complement the shape, structure, and visual appearance.

Another example is the arrangement of the letters in the AAKKOSET Shelf, which is inspired by the alphabet rhyme that I sang during my nursery school days back in Uganda.You can use it to hold books, CDs, and DVDs, or to paste post-it notes, or even as a room divider in your home or office. It is very stable, so ou do not  have to worry about children—or intoxicated adults—toppling it over.

RM: You have a unique vocabulary of shapes, colors, and materials. What inspires these choices?

LK: Anything really... The last collection paid tribute to Finland’s centenary, as granite is the national stone. I wanted to show by example that granite is not only meant for architecture or art but is, in my humble opinion, in many ways better than the overrated marble. Granite is one of the most durable naturally occurring stones, which makes it ideal for surfaces that see a great deal of use, such as countertops. In creating experimental, avant-garde objects for living, I combined traditional handcraft with mechanization using a selection of rare Finnish granite types that include Amadeus, Brown Hill, Moss Granite, and Lappia Green. Though granite is weighty, a key feature throughout the collection makes the pieces easy to move. Honed finger grooves are placed strategically to allow the user to grip objects and lift them off surfaces. The silhouettes throughout the granite collection are a play on geometry, proportion, and precision, with contrasts of various shades and types of polished and honed granite. 

RM: When do you feel most inspired? 

LK: Inspiration hits me at any moment and anywhere. It could be at the grocery store or while jogging. I am an early bird because mornings are when I am at my most efficient and when I can enjoy a bit of serenity. 

RM: What are you currently working on?

LK: Waste as raw material. Recycled waste contains a lower percentage of impurities and has a carbon footprint of about 85% less than the diminishing virgin, raw materials. On a large scale, this reduces the amount of the waste that would end up in landfills, incinerators, or nature. 

RM: Lastly, if you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring designer, what would it be?

LK: Forge your own path; make your own rules.


  • Interview By

    • Rachel Miller

      Rachel Miller

      Rachel is a California native whose passion for travel has led her on some pretty crazy adventures around the world. After living in Korea for three years, she decided on a whim to move to Germany. While she still has a wandering soul, Berlin has captured her heart, and she's decided to make this multicultural hub her permanent home. Most of her free time is spent playing beach volleyball, exploring the city's many arty scenes, and hunting down Berlin's best craft beer.