Rosita and Matias had never owned or renovated a house, or even an apartment for that matter. They bought half of a 100-year-old schoolhouse and learned to do it all themselves.
Upholsterer Rosita Haapasaari, 33, and chef Matias Andersson, 35, as well as their cat Nurru. The home is around 90m2 and located in the old Ristimäki school building near Turku. The school has been named Toukolaakso as it was the childhood home of artist Touko Laaksonen, also known as Tom of Finland. Laaksonen’s parents were teachers at the school. The over 100-year-old building has been split into two residences. The space is also home to Rosita’s business, Verhoomo Kotosalla.
A SMALL WOODEN HOUSE to be renovated near the centre of Turku. That was what Rosita Haapasaari and Matias Andersson dreamt about while living in a rented apartment in a stone building. Plans changed when they started to play with the idea of buying a house with a designer couple in their group of friends, Saana Sipilä and Olli Sallinen.
Olli’s parents had moved out of the former Ristimäki schoolhouse, located on the River Aura in Turku, and the building was left empty. At the beginning, no one seriously thought that they would buy the building together.
“The idea felt like a unique and exciting opportunity but also very unrealistic. We had never renovated a house or even an apartment. We’d been living in a rented apartment. Little by little, we started to feel like we could make the house a home for ourselves,” Rosita says.
Five years ago, the friends visited the building for the first time with the intention to buy it. Rosita remembers that the scale of the rooms with their high ceilings felt unreal.
“We were especially impressed with both its history and original surface materials, as well as the exceptional number of fireplaces. Old schoolhouses are often renovated on a large scale over the years, but this building had luckily been saved from any major renovations.”
“We were especially impressed with both its history and original surface materials, as well as the exceptional number of fireplaces.”
They mulled over the decision to purchase the building for quite a while. The friends got to know the building and inspected it for a couple of years before the sale was finalized in August 2015.
Many people warned them against it. Many thought undertaking a renovation with their friends was just a risk too great.
“The refurbishment of a duplex this size requires patience and adaptability, but Saana and Olli have similar visions of the major ideas to ours, so we haven’t run into any major problems.”
Rosita and Matias cancelled their lease and moved to the apartment in the middle of renovations, getting straight into demolition work.
“People often say that you should live in a house for at least a year before you start any renovations. We didn’t wait quite that long, but we’ve been moving forward slowly, getting to know the building at the same time. Living in the middle of renovations has affected our choices and solutions. Our ideas have changed with time.”
“People often say that you should live in a house for at least a year before you start any renovations. We didn’t wait quite that long, but we’ve been moving forward slowly, getting to know the building at the same time.”
In the beginning, the bedroom functioned as the apartment, while the kitchen, living room and washroom were being renovated. There was no running water and just one radiator for heat.
“We lived here for eight months without a kitchen or a washroom. Rosita’s mother lives next to us, so we would bathe and cook there.”
Matias worked in the week on the ship, while Rosita lived in the dark and cold house by herself.
“Life was very primitive. I remember creeping around the dark house with a flashlight to heat up a microwave meal. I hadn’t yet become accustomed to being alone in such a large house, but I wasn’t scared.”
Rosita and Matias have done most of the renovation work themselves, which has taught them a lot. The couple studied wooden house renovations and traditional building in books and online. Rosita also went to a course on refurbishing windows.
The work has been made easier by the fact that there is a lot of original elements left in the house: the tile ovens, pearl panel ceilings, the bedroom’s backing paper ceiling, the doors, windows and baseboards are all from a hundred years ago. Underneath the vinyl flooring they found the original wood floor.
The couple shares the same taste in interiors. They like the aesthetic of old houses. “We only disagree on band posters and whether or not CDs should be on display,” Rosita laughs.
Nearly nothing new has been purchased for the home. The arching lines of the 1930s and 1950s furniture, particularly the chairs, are a great passion for Rosita. The poor condition of the furniture is no barrier to buying them, as the upholsterer is skilled in refurbishing.
“When you have a lot of space, it’s easy to get too much furniture. The space has brought its own challenges to designing the interior. Placing furniture in a large and high space has been surprisingly difficult.”
Influences for the home interior have also come from architectural sites, like Alvar Aalto’s buildings.
“We like that not everything is flawless and that some of the old tiles have different shades in them, for example.”
“Back in the day, time was spent on small details, like the handles on doors and windows. Handiwork is visible in them. We like that not everything is flawless and that some of the old tiles have different shades in them, for example.
The harmonious colour scheme has come from a traditional colour map. The choice of Cole & Son’s wallpapers was inspired by the house's original wallpapers.
“The backing paper on the walls was changed, because the old ones were too blistered. We found gorgeous wallpapers on the walls, but couldn’t keep them. We’ve saved pieces of wallpaper with the intention to make a wallpaper book. On the living room wall, we left a piece of bullfinch border.”
Now, with three years of renovations behind them, they still have lots to do. The main room is still unfinished, but the exterior paint job is almost done and the basement renovation should be completed by next summer.
Above all, the renovation has taught them patience. It would be a lot easier to put in new baseboards, doors and windows than it is to refurbish the old ones, but then again they wouldn’t have the feel of an old house.
“In any case, you shouldn’t and don’t need to do everything yourself from scratch. Some people even make their own paint. Excessive piety means your house will never be finished.”
“In any case, you shouldn’t and don’t need to do everything yourself from scratch. Excessive piety means your house will never be finished.”
Occasionally they’ve been hit with major renovation fatigue. When that happened, they decided to take a break. At the worst moments, Rosita has thought that it would be easier to move to an apartment building without any worries about renovations.
“But the reality is that we would not be able to move to an apartment without anything that needs to get done. This may not be our home for the rest of our lives. Our dream is a functionalist house from the 1930s or 1940s, where we could realize other kinds of interior dreams than we can in this hundred-year-old wooden house. But now this feels like home and we are in no rush,” Rosita and Matias say.
Text: Anu Välilä Images: Suvi Kesäläinen
The story was originally published in Avotakka's issue 11/2018. You can follow the progress of the renovations at Toukolaakso at www.toukolaakso.fi.