Smoke Sauna to Smart Heaters

From Smoke Sauna to Smart Heaters: The Modernization of Sauna Culture with HUUM

HUUM, the Estonian company taking sauna heaters to steamy new heights, is redefining the sauna experience by artfully blending traditional Estonian sauna craftsmanship with modern design and technology.  In the enchanting city of Tallinn, Jasper at Secret Saunas caught up with Tuuli Tolmats-Aia, HUUM’s visionary CEO, who passionately shared their mission, From Smoke Sauna to Smart Heaters: to infuse centuries-old Estonian sauna wisdom into the new sauna frontier of the US market.

Saunas appear to be having something of a renaissance today, with the desire to get a frequent dose of the ancient tradition skyrocketing in recent years. The coverage is wall-to-wall, with health gurus and influencers alike touting the health benefits of sauna bathing. New variations have emerged, such as sauna blankets, steam tents, and infrared saunas, all jostling for space on the market and competing over who can provide the most convenient sauna possible. 

In Soviet Estonia, Tuuli Tolmats-Aia didn’t grow up with such conveniences. Despite it being the founding place of saunas some 5,000 years ago, HUUM’s CEO recalls the lengths people had to go to secure one: “People had to build their own sauna or get the village sauna expert to come to your home.”. At other points, Tuuli would go to vast public saunas with hundreds of other women. In spite of the political troubles outside, inside was a haven—a place to relax and socialize. “It was a celebration, ” she said. Tuuli isn’t the only one at HUUM with a strong connection to the Estonian sauna tradition. Although only founded in 2013, the brand has a much longer history in its founder, Siim Nellis, who traces his roots back over 3 generations of sauna builders. “For most of their history, saunas were just a pile of rocks that were heated up.” Tuuli tells us that it wasn’t until later that saunas became actual rooms with tiled walls. Siim’s grandfather was an expert sauna builder, creating these traditional saunas, or smoke saunas, as they are known. When Siims father took the mantle, he began experimenting with metal wood-burning sauna heaters, piled high with a mound of stones. These stones allowed for the vital Leil (Estonian) or Loyly (Finnish)—the long-lasting, soft steam that Finns and Estonians have considered the center of the sauna for centuries. For us in the States, steam is not a convention, as it is in Estonia and Finland. In many gym saunas, you can often read signs that say “Do not throw water on the rocks,” or, in the case of solo home sauna devices, many don’t even have rocks and steam as an option. 

Today, HUUM is taking on the challenge of marrying tradition with modernity to offer the best sauna experience possible. Much like the traditionally built saunas of Siims grandfather’s era, HUUM sauna heaters have been masterfully crafted with steam in mind. Their award winning HUUM DROP model was inspired by a single water droplet and combines traditional functionality and aesthetics. The DROP’s unique shape encourages users to experiment with the humidity in the sauna, and despite its compact size, the model is designed to hold an impressive 55kg of stones, replicating the long-lasting steam of the ancient smoke-saunas. 

Yet, HUUM is dancing a very fine balance of honoring the traditional sauna experience while embracing modern technology. Their state-of-the-art UKU controllers now allow sauna lovers both convenience and control. With Wifi connectivity that allows the heater to be set to the perfect temperature with just a few swipes on the app.

Perhaps it’s that American consumer culture has become too dependent on the idea of convenience, but there seems to be something wanting in the way Nordic sauna culture has translated across the Atlantic. For instance, we may have a sauna minutes from the switch of a button, but we’re still not the wiser when it comes to the fundamentals of what makes a sauna. “Many people have a lot of bad experiences with saunas. They are too dry or too hot, the ventilation doesn’t work properly, and the air quality is poor; they are just suffering,” Tuuli tells us. While this may be sacrilege to a nation where saunas (in Tumuli’s words) “are like food,” not all of us in the US have grown up with saunas and are taught about the space-to-heater ratio, ventilation, or steam levels. While these factors may be key to providing a good sauna experience, the lack of understanding around them results in many people being put off saunas entirely. Furthermore, for those of us who do enjoy the heat, become content with a lower standard of sauna. However, Hum wants more for us. 

In Tuuli’s eyes, saunas are a “space for all my senses… perfect sound, light, steam, smell, the feel of the wood.”The brand’s dreams for their customers involve more than solving questions of engineering and physics, but a provocation for designing a multisensorial event. 

As daunting as the task may sound, HUUM’s product creation is devilishly simple: take the knowledge of a centuries-old tradition, infuse it with the convenience of the modern era, and place it in a beautiful product. HUUM has taken the sauna heater from just a stove to a piece of design worth admiring, and now they are taking the sauna from a wooden box to sensory overture.  

Tuuli adds, “I’m so glad there are so many others in this space who are trying to make a difference.” Even so, we have much to learn from the Estonian brand’s attempts to perfect the sauna fit for the modern day.  

Read the full interview between Jasper & Tuuli

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