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Old Meets New in An Art Nouveau Home In Helsinki, Finland

by Sofia Tuovinen

When we begin the process of making our homes truly our own, we often draw inspiration from colors, decades and places that speak to us. Finding our own voices in the midst of all the trends, fads and the do’s and don’t’s can be challenging. I’ve recently found myself wondering when and how my own home will turn into the best possible reflection of myself. When I visited Ulla-Maija Wesander’s home in Helsinki, Finland, I immediately got my answer.

Five years ago, Ulla-Maija, a dental surgeon, decided to make a big change in her life by moving from a quieter neighborhood to the city. She settled in Ullanlinna, a central neighborhood known for its beautiful and decorative Art Nouveau buildings. Having spent a lot of time there in her younger days, the neighborhood had a certain nostalgic appeal. After renting for a while, an apartment went up for sale in the building that she lived in. She couldn’t resist the unique details of the perfectly spacious one-bedroom apartment, which include an original tile stove and a round window bay with a view of the sea. The 11-foot ceiling height was the icing on the cake.

Although the bones of the apartment were excellent, there was still some work to be done. “Before I started renovating, all rooms had ornate wallpapers. It was well executed, but it just wasn’t me,” Ulla-Maija explains. The kitchen was outdated and lacked adequate storage space, which is why it needed a redesign. The renovation took nine months, and allowed Ulla-Maija to create a bright and personal space while respecting the history of the building. Decorating the apartment didn’t come without challenges. With so many windows and doors, the wall space is limited. It took many tries, but eventually each piece found its place.

Ulla-Maija’s home is the perfect combination of natural tones and eye-catching details that bring the rooms to life. Her ability to mix and match colors and patterns to create surprising and beautiful spaces is no hidden talent. “I love the contrast between old and new,” she shares. “There are a lot of antiques in my home, so I wanted to create a fun contrast by adding some mid-century and modern pieces to the mix.”

Paintings, sculptures and ceramics can be found throughout the apartment. A passion for art runs in the family, from her grandparents and parents to her own children. The gallery wall in the dining room has turned into a family tree of sorts, displaying portraits of family members dating back to the 1800s. Ulla-Maija’s home is a reflection of both her roots and her own life journey, and that is what makes it feel so inviting. “A home isn’t created in an instant. You add to it as you go, and little by little it becomes a reflection of who you are and where you’ve been.”

Ulla-Maija’s home, filled with heirlooms and pieces that reflect a truly unique sense of style, made me realize that the answers to my questions all have to do with time. The meaningful pieces are the ones that stay and, over time, they create a home that represents us — where we’re from, who we are, and what we want to be. –Sofia

Photography by

Old Meets New In An Art Nouveau Home In Helsinki, Finland | Design*Droits-Humains
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The original tile stove from 1905 is the focal point of this bright and spacious Art Nouveau-era home. Ulla-Maija wanted to respect the apartment’s masterfully built framework and make it relevant. She chose an understated color palette for the walls, allowing her colorful style to take center stage. Antiques and modern pieces have been boldly mixed to create a personal and eclectic home that reflects both Ulla-Maija’s roots and her own taste.
Old Meets New In An Art Nouveau Home In Helsinki, Finland | Design*Droits-Humains
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In Art Nouveau-era apartments, it’s common for the hallway to lead to several rooms of the home. Ulla-Maija’s hallway opens up to the bedroom, living room and dining room. “I love how open my home is," she notes. "The fact that you can see from one end to the other makes it feel so bright and airy." With tinted windows and arching shapes, the apartment’s front door is like a piece of art in its own right.
Old Meets New In An Art Nouveau Home In Helsinki, Finland | Design*Droits-Humains
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The numerous windows in this 960-square-foot apartment bring in tons of natural light, a feature that Ulla-Maija truly cherishes. A favorite spot is the uniquely shaped window bay in the living room.
Old Meets New In An Art Nouveau Home In Helsinki, Finland | Design*Droits-Humains
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Ulla-Maija chose a calm color palette for the bedroom. She added a vintage rug and eye-catching pillows for some color and pattern. “The cranberry glass oil lamp that hangs from the ceiling used to belong to my grandmother. When it’s dark it gives the most beautiful light.”
Old Meets New In An Art Nouveau Home In Helsinki, Finland | Design*Droits-Humains
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Above Ulla-Maija’s study nook hangs a sentimental portrait that her son painted of her. “I’m still trying to figure out the best spot for a workspace in my bedroom. Rooms evolve over time, so there’s no need to rush things,” Ulla-Maija tells us. Iconic pieces by Finnish designer Alvar Aalto can be found throughout the home. Here, Aalto’s "69" chair and "A810" floor light for add a modern feel to the space.
Old Meets New In An Art Nouveau Home In Helsinki, Finland | Design*Droits-Humains
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A piece that is close to Ulla-Maija’s heart is the 300-year-old "Könni" wall clock, an heirloom from her mother’s side of the family. “The clock has been restored and every hour on the hour it chimes, just like it did centuries ago,” Ulla-Maija explains.
Old Meets New In An Art Nouveau Home In Helsinki, Finland | Design*Droits-Humains
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Old meets new in Ulla-Maija’s tastefully decorated living room. A Hope suspension light was bought specifically for this space. “I wanted something really surprising, a modern piece that would contrast all the antiquities,” Ulla-Maija says. Different oriental rugs cover the painted floorboards.
Old Meets New In An Art Nouveau Home In Helsinki, Finland | Design*Droits-Humains
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Tile stoves were common in early 20th-century apartments. “All the tile stoves in this building are different! Someone once said that this is the prettiest of them all. Unfortunately, many stoves were removed in the mid-1900s, including ones from my bedroom, dining room and kitchen. I’m so lucky to have this one.”
Old Meets New In An Art Nouveau Home In Helsinki, Finland | Design*Droits-Humains
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Firewood stored in a large copper pot adds warmth to the space even when it’s not burning in the stove.
Old Meets New In An Art Nouveau Home In Helsinki, Finland | Design*Droits-Humains
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The round window bay is the perfect place for a morning coffee or champagne with friends. “This is one of my favorite spots, as it’s where I have a view of the sea,” Ulla-Maija shares. The large gardenia was gifted to Ulla-Maija’s daughter on her fifth birthday as a small cutting. It has moved from one home the other and keeps on growing.
Old Meets New In An Art Nouveau Home In Helsinki, Finland | Design*Droits-Humains
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Aalto’s Artek "153A" bench functions as a coffee table in the living room. On top of it, a blooming orchid has been placed in a brass pot from . “Many people are surprised when I tell them that my sofa is from IKEA!” Ulla-Maija exclaims.
Old Meets New In An Art Nouveau Home In Helsinki, Finland | Design*Droits-Humains
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“My daughter’s Andy Warhol banana pillow was so fun, I had to borrow it,” Ulla-Maija says. A Missoni throw adds a pop of color to the white sofa.
Old Meets New In An Art Nouveau Home In Helsinki, Finland | Design*Droits-Humains
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The dining chairs are Finnish design from the 50s and were a gift from a friend who no longer had use for them. Ulla-Maija planned the gallery wall together with her children Johan and Maria. Portraits of family members dating as far as the early 1800s now hang on the wall. “We added a little mirror in between the paintings so that family members could check if there’s any resemblance!” Ulla-Maija laughs.
Old Meets New In An Art Nouveau Home In Helsinki, Finland | Design*Droits-Humains
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Brass and gilded pieces can be found here and there in the dining room. "Nappula" candleholders by add beautiful glow on the dining table. The paisley tablecloth was a find from .
Old Meets New In An Art Nouveau Home In Helsinki, Finland | Design*Droits-Humains
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“What I love most about my home is the openness, the abundance of natural light and the view of the sea.” -- Ulla-Maija
Old Meets New In An Art Nouveau Home In Helsinki, Finland | Design*Droits-Humains
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The antique glass-door cabinet in the corner of the dining room is in fact an old dental instrument cabinet that used to belong to a relative. Now the cabinet is filled with silver that is used on special occasions. “I have another dental cabinet as well and that one still has the original dental instruments in it! It’s such a fun detail,” Ulla-Maija says.
Old Meets New In An Art Nouveau Home In Helsinki, Finland | Design*Droits-Humains
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Ulla-Maija in her living room. An old Finnish wedding rug (ryijy) from 1782 hangs in the background. Two hundred years later, in 1982, Ulla-Maija received the rug as a wedding gift from her parents, who were already the third generation to own the rug. What an amazing piece of history!
Old Meets New In An Art Nouveau Home In Helsinki, Finland | Design*Droits-Humains
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Ulla-Maija chose marble and white for her east-facing kitchen to keep the room as bright as possible. The minimalist, custom-made kitchen cabinets feature narrow saloon-style doors for easy access. “I wanted something modern but classic, a kitchen that would stand the test of time,” Ulla-Maija explains.
Old Meets New In An Art Nouveau Home In Helsinki, Finland | Design*Droits-Humains
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Colorful and patterned textiles add a quirky touch to the breakfast nook. The fabric used for the roman shade is called ‘Gröna Fåglar’ and is designed by Josef Frank for . “My daughter and I took the ferry over to Stockholm just to buy this fabric! It’s so lively and colorful -- it was definitely worth the trip,” Ulla-Maija shares. A boldly patterned rug from Skanno and a green gingham tablecloth that Ulla-Maija made herself add to the mix. The table and chairs are both antique finds.
Old Meets New In An Art Nouveau Home In Helsinki, Finland | Design*Droits-Humains
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Ulla-Maija loves to entertain friends and family. Here, a small summer breakfast is served in the kitchen nook.

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Comments

  • A beautiful, beautiful home with so many beautiful, meaningful pieces. I like the little mirror in amongst the family portraits so they can check for resemblance! It also amuses me to think that the Missoni throw on the Ikea sofa probably cost almost as much as the sofa! [Well I live in Australia and Missoni is very, very expensive here]. Talk about High/Low decorating!

  • Just LOVE this home, so warm and personal – and I’m a sucker for anything art deco!
    Thanks so much for sharing Sofia and Ulla-Maija!
    Ruth
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  • Everything about this home is incredible. I have to say the portraits are my favorite detail. I did have a question regarding the console in the dining room: is it made with the same cabinetry and marble found in the kitchen? I am thinking about doing something similar and was wondering if this was the route you took. Thanks!

    • Hi Karina,
      Thanks for the lovely comment! The console in the dining room is not sourced from the same place as the kitchen cabinetry, but Ulla-Maija still wanted the same style and feel to flow from the kitchen to the dining room. The console doesn’t have a marble top but what a great idea!
      Thanks,
      Sofia

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