Priya Kallio is a talented self-taught designer-maker and woodworker and also a qualified medical doctor who decided to leave the hectic London life behind in search of a more tranquil, creative and community-focused existence in Cardiff. Inspired by the simplicity and functionality of Scandinavian design, Priya produces beautifully handcrafted utensils that enhance the rituals of our daily lives and enrich the intimate spaces they inhabit.
Radiating warmth and kindness, Priya welcomed us in her home with a big smile on her face, introduced us to her soon-to-be husband Seth and, showing us around her workspace, she opened up about how she started working with wood, why woodcarving feels almost like a therapy and how motherhood will enhance and reshape her creative endeavours.
For those who do not know you, who is Priya Kallio?
I’m a woodworker based in Cardiff, making everything from home utensils to more abstract pieces. I’m half-Indian and half-Finnish (hence the name), and grew up in Bedford.
What is your most vivid childhood memory?
My Baba (Indian grandfather) touching my head in prayer on a Sunday morning – I remember he would always give me a Cadbury’s Éclair afterwards…
Have you always been interested in design and making?
From a young age, I was always making something. Whether it was crafting bizarre inventions out of old cereal boxes or doing a bit of sewing, I’ve always enjoyed the process of bringing ideas to life. As a child, I spent many summers in Finland, so we were always surrounded by interesting design, and this has had a major impact on my work.
How did your career unfold up until the point where you are now?
I’ve actually got two careers – I’m a qualified doctor and practise as a GP for 3 days a week within a vibrant community in central Cardiff. Until recently, I had very little free time to pursue creativity. However, since moving to Wales last year, and reducing my hours to part-time, I’m now able to dedicate more hours to making. I’ve been working with wood for around a year now, and aside from my lovely sculpture class, I’m self-taught.
What influences your pieces?
I like the idea of spending time to craft useful objects. I think – as a society – we’ve become too reliant on the ubiquity of mass produced utensils that we forget it used to take hours to make a single wooden spoon.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
My father was an engineer, but was forced to retire on health grounds, and started to work with Indian art. However, he began his self-employed years as a picture framer. I learnt how to frame at an early age, and I think this still inspires me today. I love the methodical process – from sketching out the initial design to sanding down the finished product.
Tell us about your creative process and which step in the journey from idea to final product do you enjoy the most?
I start by sourcing wood, and it’s at this point I get my ideas. I’ll look at the grain, texture and colour – all these factors will influence my design.
I love the process of searching for wood. I use sustainable timber centres across South Wales and it’s always an adventure to find them. I do the journey on my own, and I get lost sometimes but it doesn’t matter. I also enjoy the fact that most of the workers are surprised when they see me.
The physical process of carving is important. It’s calming – I’m able to recharge my batteries – almost like therapy. But then again, a tough knot in the wood can be pretty frustrating.
Where do you source your materials from?
Recently, I’ve been fortunate enough to receive a lot of donated wood from friends. But from time to time, I’ll pop to RESEICLO or ISCA Hardwoods in Newport, or if I fancy a road trip, I’ll make the journey to Wentwood Timber Centre, near Caldicot. I make sure all my wood is sustainably sourced from Wales.
What is your favourite type of wood?
That’s an easy one – spalted beech. I love the beautiful dark patterns that weave their way around the grains. Using any wood that’s gone through the spalting process (discolouration caused by fungi) creates completely unique products as no pattern is ever the same.
What is it about wood that fascinates you the most?
It’s resilient, long-lasting but natural. I love the unpredictable grains, the interesting textures, the softness, and the hardness. I think wood has a warmth that other materials lack.
What is your favourite tool?
That would have to be my trusty Finnish Puukko knife. It’s just a classic and carries so much symbolism in Finland. If someone said you could only have one tool, it would definitely be this one.
Where does your interest in sustainability come from?
For me, the whole idea of producing useful objects is to not destroy other useful objects in the process. So it’s really important that all my wood is sustainable – and that replacement trees are replanted to justify my usage.
How did you find your previous studio at The Printhaus and what did you like about this creative space?
Shortly after moving to Cardiff, I went to a Christmas market at the Printhaus, and was blown away by all the creativity under one roof. On the off chance, I asked whether there was any space and luckily, something had just come up. The guys definitely took a gamble as I was just starting out and didn’t have much to show for myself, but I’ve grown a lot in this space. Everyone is so friendly, sociable and really supportive.
How do you engage with the local community of designers, makers and other creatives?
The Printhaus has such a strong sense of community, so it’s just a case of talking to my fellow residents – I’ve learnt so much from them. I’ve also recently done one of my first markets, and this was a great way to engage with the local community. I try to attend the monthly Creative Mornings meet-ups in Cardiff too – we’ve got a fantastic artistic community in the city – and everyone’s so friendly.
What does Cardiff offer you as a designer and maker?
It’s a small city, which suits me. I used to live in London, and found the immense size often quite suffocating, rather than inspiring. Cardiff is still a capital city so there’s plenty going on – but it definitely feels like you can take the time to appreciate everything. I also love the history of the city, and its strong sense of cultural identity.
What are some of your favourite places to hang out in Cardiff?
I love meeting friends in my local Danish bakery, Brød, in Pontcanna, or grabbing a pizza at The Dough Thrower, Victoria Park. There’s also a great Portuguese bakery in Splott, Nata & Co, which has premises elsewhere in the city. If I need a bit of headspace, I love running in Pontcanna Fields and cycling up and down the Taff Trail.
What other disciplines are you interested in or involved with?
I attend a weekly sculpture class with Alun Hemming, over at the lovely Howardian Centre in Penylan, so I’m starting to experiment with a whole host of other materials like concrete. I also really enjoy sewing, and have previously worked with ceramics, which is something I’d like to dedicate more time to in the future.
What was the last piece of homeware you bought?
At one of the recent Pontcanna pop-up markets, I bought a beautiful small pot from Isabella Ceramics. I’ve been following her work a while now, and was really happy to finally buy one of her pieces.
What was the best advice you have ever been given?
Someone once told me not to let your career define you. I’m really proud to be a doctor but I also love my creative work. It’s really important to give yourself another outlet to your chosen career, whether it be sport, a musical instrument or even woodworking!
What is your favourite dish?
Now you’re talking! Dahl Makhani – a seriously tasty lentil dish from India – made by my Finnish mum.
What are your dreams and ambitions for the future?
I want to keep pushing myself creatively – producing more interesting objects and honing my craft. I’m definitely going to attend more creative markets – I love sharing my work with the wider public. In my sculptural practice, I’m really interested in exploring how medicine and art could be brought together, so this is certainly one for the future. I’m also learning Welsh – having just sat my Mynediad (entry) exam.
Thank you, Priya for your hospitality and for sharing your wonderful story with us.