Jan 20, 2017

Pieces of history - meeting with architect Lappo

While anxiously waiting for Monday, we thought it might be interesting to focus a bit to the early days of our home. Therefore, if you are curious about the very beginning, please revisit a very special blog post from the past. 

About two years ago we were honored to invite professor emeritus Osmo Lappo, the architect of our home, for a visit. Lappo, born in 1927, is one of the central figures of modern concrete architecture in Finland. Among his most recognised work is the Vekarajärvi barracks in Kouvola, Finland, which was built between 1966-1975 and is a great representative of the concrete brutalism era emphasising construction materials and techniques. The Vekarajärvi barracks have received a recognition of an important architectural and environmental site both by Docomomo and the Finland National Board of Antiquities. More generally, Lappo's work includes a wide variety of residential, commercial and public buildings. 

Architect Lappo

For our pleasant delight, professor Lappo arrived with several original photos by photographer Simo Rista form 1960's brilliantly illustrating the early days of our home. Browsing through the photos with Lappo's guidance took us right back to the very early days of the project, when Loviisa Agnisbäck, the owner of Ängskulla estate sold the land to Väinö E. Koskinen. Koskinen was the owner of a construction company responsible for building Niittykumpu region for the City of Espoo.

Koskinen had originally met Lappo in 1950's when they were working together in another project in Helsinki. As their earlier collaboration had been very successful, Koskinen invited Lappo to be the lead architect also in the Niittykumpu project.

View from backyard (photo by Simo Rista)

At that time, Danish architecture had a significant influence also in Finland - for example, many buildings were made of brick and had an atrium terrace. Lappo, as well, was following the prevailing trends of the 1960's, and was to include these elements in his design.

Back to the sixties (photo by Simo Rista)

It was not only our residence Lappo and Koskinen were working on in Niittykumpu, but actually the entire region including several different apartment buildings. To add variability and prevent buildings looking too similar, after the initial drafts Lappo assigned different project architects from his studio to work with each building. This was an approach he adopted while working in Viljo Revell's office during the early years of his career.

Plan for Niittykumpu region (original photos by Simo Rista)

A crucial consideration was the quality of the site where the foundations of buildings were to be laid. Basically, the buildings were located to areas where conditions were favourable. Also, for some apartments the chosen design reflects the site conditions - in one of the buildings, namely the "Pillar Building", has no basement and the ground floor is replaced by a string of massive pillars, as the site was too soft to support these structures.

There were already some houses on one side of Niittykumpu which needed to be taken into account when considering the areal set up. Therefore, the goal was to complement the existing infrastructure and surrounding nature as well as possible, which had a big influence on certain decisions. 

South view to Niittykumpu (photo by Simo Rista)

The construction process of our apartment building was quite fast. The design was completed during summer 1963, construction work started immediately and the apartments were ready in 1964. According to Lappo, very few changes were made during the process, as the plans were comprehensive and thus followed quite faithfully. At that time, Koskinen's company did not have the supporting infrastructure or cranes to build by using prefabricated elements, so all the work was conducted on site manually.

First, as soon as the design fundamentals were locked, the team started by building models to be able to work with the details, including e.g. the atrium terrace. The models were also useful when Koskinen was discussing with potential buyers. 

Original model, back view (photo by Simo Rista)
Original model, side view (photo by Simo Rista)

On top of the hill, the street and rock limited the shape of the building resulting in a serrated form in front. As a result, the back of the building followed the same serrated pattern, also complementing the surrounding nature as well as the existing small buildings further down the hill very well.

Protected front entrance (photo by Simo Rista)

Serrated form from the back (photo by Simo Rista)

The original windows were made of regular window glass units. Each window was also divided in three parts to enable efficient cleaning from both sides. The outside window glass could be opened to clean the inner surfaces, but the glass inside was fixed to the frame to prevent the escape of warm air. A few of the ten apartments still have the original window set up, but in our apartment the glass has been replaced by contiguous double-glazed insulated glass units, which no longer need to open for cleaning.

Discussing windows (original photos by Simo Rista)

None of the atrium terraces were covered, as the decision was left for the future owners to do what they wanted - first to decide whether they wanted a roof or not, and then the design of the roof. Also, originally all units were drawn with a second door in the living room leading to the atrium terrace. However, as the buyers were able to make changes during construction, it may have not been built to all apartments.

 Original windows (photo by Simo Rista)

In general, the upper level in all units was quite similar. More buyer specific adaptations were made downstairs, resulting in more variability between the units. Back in 1960's, Finnish tax regulations made it beneficial to limit the actual living area of an apartment to 119.5 m2. This meant the downstairs ceiling height and window size were limited, and in official plans the space was named an area for e.g. arts and crafts or storage. Some buyers added a cold room, and consequently the waste heat from cooling the cold room was captured to contribute to downstairs heating. Half of downstairs are was left unbuild, as at that time it would have been very expensive to do the mining and blasting work required.

Downstairs model (photo by Simo Rista)

Lappo's team was also responsible for the kitchen design, and the cabinets and other structures were manufactured by Turenki Sugar Factory carpenters (a contact of Koskinen). At that time, there were only a few kitchen manufacturers and thus existing contacts who were not necessarily specialised in kitchen manufacturing were used.

Kitchen area back then (photo by Simo Rista)

After a few hours of great discussion and revision of piles of pictures and plans it was time to say goodbye. For us, it was really a true honor and beyond pleasure to meet professor Lappo in person and discuss his work, our home, which clearly plays a very significant role in our lives right now. We really appreciate he so kindly took the time to meet us. It is not very often you get an opportunity to dig a bit deeper to historical details, and especially with the guidance of the architect himself. 

Architect Osmo Lappo

  1. Interview with Osmo Lappo (November 23, 2014)
  2. Osmo Lappo introduction by the Museum of Finnish Architecture (January 25, 2015) 
  3. Niittykumpu by Osmo Lappo, Sanna Lahti 2003, Master's Thesis, Helsinki University of Technology
  4. All original pictures by Simo Rista 1963-1964 published with a permission of Osmo Lappo, who owns the rights to the photos. Please do not copy or use without permission. 

Jan 19, 2017

Most Beautiful Home in Finland?

Why did we go on a crazy renovation frenzy last summer?

Bit surprisingly, sometimes during Spring 2016 we got committed to a Finnish TV show called Suomen Kaunein Koti (the Most Beautiful Home in Finland). Inevitably, this lead to an assessment of all the unfinished projects we wanted to complete before "going live". As the list grew quite long, not everything got finalised but having a crystal clear deadline definitely speeded up things a lot.

Guess how it look around here today?

In Suomen Kaunein Koti, the most beautiful home is selected among 30 homes. First, in each episode focusing on different category, a group of judges selects their favourite out of three homes. After 10 episodes, the Finns get to choose the winner by voting among the top 10 homes.

Filming took place last summer, and since then we have been waiting. We only knew that the show would most likely air sometimes during the first half of 2017, but nothing else. No idea how our interviews went, did we succeed in telling our story the way we have felt and experienced it. No idea of the outcome, did the judges enjoy visiting our home. And quite honestly, only vaguely remembering how everything here looked like back then, as we were pretty exhausted after such an intensive summer.

So, the wait is finally over. The season started on January 9th. Next week, on Monday January 23rd, our home will be competing against all the other beautiful Finnish homes (channel MTV3 at 20 pm). If you have access to Finnish TV, tune in and please let us know how did you like it!

The game is on. May the most beautiful home win!

Relax. What's so great about TV anyway?

Jan 2, 2017


As if there would not be enough to do with completing the world before the Holidays, also DIY spirit seems to magically strengthen during that time. In the beginning of December 2016, Minna got and idea to make a himmeli (FI), a traditional mobile decoration made of straws. So a few nights before Christmas, Minna and her cousin Anu had a small himmeli workshop. Neither with prior experience on working with delicate straws, a relatively straightforward model was chosen to start with - Ostrobothian (Pohjalaanen) Himmeli, from Eija Koski's book Himmeli (highly recommended, if you master Finnish).

Instructions for Ostrobothian himmeli (by Eija Koski)

In addition to great instructions and a lot of enthusiasm, a pile of straws cut to measure, long needles, some soft bamboo string, mulled wine and chocolate were the key components of this project.

Materials and mulled wine

The first minutes felt slightly challenging but in the end, it was easier (and faster) than expected. Yes, some invisible tape was needed to fix a few glitches here and there, but surprisingly it was not too complicated. The trickiest step was to combine six diamonds together to create the basic shape. 

Six diamonds

Careful, careful!

It was a great night! Craftwork, good company and very satisfactory end result. A perfect way to switch off from daily routines. Altogether four Ostrobothnians were made. Kindly enough, Anu donated one of hers to complete the series of three, which now hangs from the living room ceiling.

Three Ostrobothians

Inspired by the initial success, the Himmeli team has already agreed on the next project. Also, the downstairs guest room has an empty corner which is just screaming to host a himmeli...

Dec 24, 2016

Merry Christmas!

It's been a crazy year. We had no idea that things can get so mad with kids, work and home. The blog has been rather quiet, even if our project has taken a giant leap forward. But if you need to choose between some precious hours of sleep and writing, the choice is easy.

But we made it. In one piece and relatively sane. Now, it is time to relax and do nothing. Just like Urho, the dog who knows the art of relaxing much better than any of us humans. And then, energy for fun things will return. 

Wishing you all Merry Christmas & Energetic New Year!!

Photo by Nani Annette & Alice Pittacolo

And as the tradition is - for our Finnish readers:

Sofin, Einon & Urhon jouluruno

Taas joulu on tullut, katseet piparipurkkiin
suuntaa kolmikko tämä, vaikka tontut ne urkkii.
Isin kanssa me pian mennään noutamaan kuusi
toiveissa luistimet, sukset, lumilapio uusi.

Sofi on jo niin iso, ihan kohta jo viisi
sujuu aakkoset, lorut ja se Frozenin biisi.
Kiehtoo seinällä kiipeily, prinsessaleikit
räpyläuinti sekä korut ja meikit.

Pieni Eikka on tiukkaakin tiukempi jätkä
niin vahva on tahto vaik on mitaltaan pätkä.
Kun vuosi on mittariin kertynyt lisää
alkaa muistuttaa hän yhä enemmän isää.

Remppaa tehtiin taas täysillä kevät ja kesä
nyt alkaa jo kunnossa olla tää pesä.
Vihdoin malttavat aikuiset hetken vaan olla
niin ei kiristy pinna tai kuormitu polla.

Kohta laskeutuu kaikille jouluinen rauha
vaik ois siivoukset kesken, puuttuis kuusesta nauha. 
Ei haittaa, on tärkeintä vain että relaat
ja parhaita juttuja mielessä kelaat!

Iloista joulua & onnea uudelle vuodelle toivottavat,
Minna, Pekka, Sofi, Eino & Urho

Nov 13, 2016

Red Zipper

At some point when the downstairs was still a mess, we wondered how much time we'd actually spend there when finished. After all, the living room upstairs is perfectly functional, and it is not really we needed more space.

But then, Zipper arrived. We had contemplated several options in terms of couch based on quite a few criteria. First and foremost, only bright red would do. Also, it needed to endure two termites and a dachshund, and have enough room for the five of us - and definitely be a corner sofa to assume a prominent role in the room. Finally, we were looking for a very relaxed look and feel.

Eventually, the answer (i.e. a couch that met our requests) was found much closer than expected, just literally around the corner. Annaleena Hämäläinen, who is the creative director of Hakola, a Finnish furniture company, also happens to be our neighbour. She listened to our wishes and presented a perfect solution - a Red Zipper by Hakola. 

Don't you dare waking me up!

We will be return to the Red Zipper soon, when showing you more of our favourite room in the entire apartment. Funny to even think we were doubting if this room would be used. Now we are wondering how we ever survived without it...

Nov 12, 2016

Front terrace

Up until last July, the entrance to our home has not been very inviting. Once we stopped piling renovation junk on the terrace, it got a bit better. Just a bit though. On the scale from disaster to perfection, we were definitely way closer to the former.

Perhaps the biggest problem was with the old tiles. They were ugly, completely misaligned, very difficult to clean and had no decline for water to drain away (actually the level of the terrace was lower than the highest step).

Old terrace slates

Our first thought was just to reuse the old tiles. However, few more tiles would have been needed and finding similar ones both in terms of size and design proved unsuccessful. In the end, the only sensible option was to replace them all. So one by one, in one day, Pekka carried away 50 tiles each weighing about 60 kg. After that, he was able to start working with the foundation. First, organic matter was removed. Then the foundation was levelled with stone ash and pressed tightly.

Preparing the foundation

Digging worms?

At the same time we went back and forth on deciding which tiles to choose. After some consideration we finally set our minds with the Tosca by Rudus. Somehow it was modest but modern,  and allowed creativity in terms of terrace assembly.

Terrace slate map

Then the assembly work begun. First Pekka stretched a couple of lines across the terrace area to indicate correct level and decline. After that he laid the tiles one by one according to the map he made before.

In comparison to the natural slate he had been working on the backyard, using square or rectangle tiles really was a walk in the park. Also Urho was happy. Sunbathing on a sandy surface was not quite appropriate for his high standards. Cool tiles would be much nicer.

Could someone bring my sunglasses?

When all the tiles were in place, Pekka seamed them first with light sand (as it is a bit more inexpensive) and finalized with black seaming sand to achieve a more defined look.

First layer of seam

Second layer of seam

Four days later we had a new entrance. The visual improvement is of course tremendous, but it is also very nice that the water can actually flow to the direction it should be flowing - away from the walls of the building.

Tosca by Rudus

And what does Urho think? Well, if you are to do some watching out for unwanted visitors, be the true guardian of your realm, you need to do it with style. Who cares about watchtowers, low and levelled works perfectly for a long and lazy sausage in duty. Approved.

On duty

Oct 21, 2016

Leather hand rail

It was a ridiculously late summer night a couple of months ago when we finished the hand rail of the staircase. This final part of the project was not expected to be that challenging, but it required four hands and allowed no interruptions. Thus, we needed to wait until the children were temporarily removed from the equation. And then the fun started, around 11 pm. 

First, the cut leather pieces were stained in a mixture of alcohol and leather dye just by dipping the leather into the mixture, followed by a quick squeeze just to get rid of the excess dye. We did not aim for the staining to be even, this way the end result would be visually more interesting. 

Fresh out of the dye bucket

A thin layer of urethane glue was applied on top of the hand rail. The wet leather was stretched tightly around the rail to give it a nice, tight fit. Admittedly, wrapping long leather pieces neatly around the handrail without making a complete mess of a white wall right next to it proved to be nearly impossible. But in the end we managed quite all right, causing just minor damage (nothing that a bit of white paint could not fix). One of us chose to wear gloves...

Half way up

...and the other one did not. It took weeks for the urethane glue fixed dye to wear off.

Gloves are for sissies!!

About four hours later the entire hand rail was covered. Some couples spend their "no-children" quality time having a romantic dinner or going to movies, but these hours spent in the staircase were the closest we got to couple time this summer. But hey, it was certainly worth it. And there is some magic in finishing a project at wee hours.

What do you think?

A couple of days later when the urethane glue had dried Pekka applied a layer of beeswax for protection. Now everyone who comes for a visit is advised to hold the rail all the way down, to wear it out as much as possible. The more the better, so you are all welcome - our stair case needs your contribution!

Inviting human touch