Vuokko and Antti Nurmesniemi’s studio home in Helsinki still fascinates with its timelessness and modern use of space

People have been admiring the timeless quality of Vuokko and Antti Nurmesniemi’s home for close to fifty years. The atelier home, located on the seashore but hidden from view, encapsulates the couple’s lifestyle devoted to design and friends.

House Nurmesniemi in Helsinki
The interior is a vibrant, timeless combination of white finishes and wood. The three-storey building is cleverly divided by function.

ENJOYING A HOTEL breakfast in the city of Lahti back in 1974, Vuokko and Antti Nurmesniemi unexpectedly saw a sale ad in the newspaper for the plot of their dreams in the Kulosaari district of Helsinki.

They knew the site, as they’d admired it many times from the balcony of Antti’s office in a nearby building, dreaming of one day designing and building their own house on the narrow, unbuilt and overgrown piece of land by the sea.

Studio Home Nurmesniemi
The Studio Home Nurmesniemi in the Kulosaari district of Helsinki is hidden behind pine trees when viewed from the sea.

With no time to waste, Antti arranged to meet the owner of the plot, and the deeds were signed shortly after. Antti had been imagining the floor plan and façade of his future home for years, and the plot of land finally made it possible to put those ideas into motion.

The couple wanted the house to include both their private home and Antti’s interior design office.

Already ten years earlier, while designing the family’s summer cottage in the Porvoo archipelago, Antti had been attracted by placing the cottage as hidden as possible from the eyes of passers-by. He followed the same idea when designing the Kulosaari house.

Wooden stairs in the Nurmesniemi House
Unobstructed sea views open up from the entrance. Wooden blinds protect the eyes from the bright rays of the sun glistening on the waves. Antti designed the steel and leather stools in 1964.
White tile floors in the Nurmesniemi house
White tiled flooring continues throughout the bottom and middle floors and across the low wall and staircase. The floors form a single, open space, yet the bottom floor has a private, intimate feel.
Antti chairs by Antti Nurmesniemi
The dining table, Antti chairs and 004 armchair upholstered in black-and-white Vuokko fabric are examples of Antti’s minimalist design work. Glass objects by Oiva Toikka and a Japanese-style lamp designed by Antti on the table.
Lentävä lautanen cast iron pot 3,5 L
On the middle floor, the kitchen is located three steps below the rest of the spaces. It can be accessed both from the dining area and hallway. Cast iron pots designed by Antti for Wärtsilä on the grill.
Studio Home Nurmesniemi
Different levels create peaceful nooks in the open space.

THE COUPLE WANTED the house to be as low as possible, so it would be camouflaged behind the cliff at the front of the plot. The house was built on three levels half a floor apart with the bottom storey partially underground.

In those days, it was permitted to build just a few meters from the shoreline. The couple planted pine trees along the coast to provide shelter, the trees now towering tall thanks to the coastal climate. On the street-facing side, leafy maples shield the plot.

The Nurmesniemi couple was able to move to their new home in Kulosaari in 1975.

With its unique structure, Antti created a scale model to show the builders how the house was to be built. Twelve steel columns were erected on a concrete foundation, and a steel structure supporting a flat roof was then placed on top of the columns. The exterior was covered with pine cladding.

Eero Paloheimo, an engineer, was responsible for the technical structures of the building. Despite the special structure, the 350-square-metre building only took nine months to complete. The Nurmesniemi studio home was completed in 1975.

Striped Vuokko fabric and cushions
Cushions in red-and-white stripy Vuokko fabric are on the sofa and floor.
A green sofa in the Nurmesniemi home
The interior has become layered over the passing years. Interesting books on design, architecture and art spill from the bookshelves, forming piles on the floors and tables.
A bookshelf in the Nurmesniemi home
The large living room bookshelf hides another one of the same size behind, also filled with books. Antti designed the green sofa for Vilka.
Metal construction in the Nurmesniemi house
The white metal construction on the ceiling adds drama to the otherwise calm and collected space. Varnished floorboards add warmth on the top floor. Armchair 004 from 1980 upholstered in stripy Vuokko fabric.
A lamp design by Antti Nurmesniemi
The modernist floor lamp is a prototype from 1952.

ANTTI’S OFFICE had a floor space of just over a hundred square meters. During the heyday in the 1970s and 1980s, his firm had many employees and often also foreign interns. Work tended to spill over to the couple’s home, too. The home and the office both have their own entrances from the yard, and archive room is located between them.

As an exception to the 1970s in general, the entire 250-square-metre home forms a single, open space apart from the bedroom, toilet, and bathroom. Keeping the number of walls to a minimum in favor of an open-plan space was Vuokko’s idea, which Antti was eager to include in his final plans.

The home forms an open, unified space, walls are kept to a minimum and the storeys blend into each other.

The bottom floor comprises a sauna, swimming pool and spacious lounging area including a guest area. The middle floor includes the entrance, kitchen, and dining room with sea views. Separated by low walls, the kitchen is located a few steps down in the middle of the space. The top floor houses a library, large living room, workspace, and the couple’s bedroom.

Vuokko and Antti enjoyed entertaining and hosting dinner parties in their house, which was the perfect venue for it. Guests could gather in the single, large space, which still offered separate levels and nooks for mingling in smaller groups.

Living room decor at House Nurmesniemi
There is a combination of glass objects designed by Vuokko for Nuutajärvi and lamps and furniture designed by Antti in the upstairs living room.
Studio Home Nurmesniemi
The top floor is enveloped by low, wooden surfaces, perfect for displaying souvenirs from travels and works by the couple’s designer and artist friends.
A wooden miniature plane by Antti Nurmesniemi
Antti used to belong to a miniature plane club in his youth, designing and building several planes at the time.
Ceramics by Vuokko Nurmesniemi
Beautiful ceramic objects accumulated over the decades on the windowsill of the downstairs “sauna cave”. Vuokko studied ceramics at the Art University, never losing her passion for the craft.
Sauna Stool by Antti Nurmesniemi
Antti designed the horseshoe-shaped stool for the sauna at Hotel Palace in Helsinki – it’s among his most famous designs. He designed the 001 steel and rattan armchair for German Tecta in 1978.
Exterior of the Nurmesniemi House in Helsinki
The sea-facing facade is punctuated by large windows and horizontal pine cladding.

VUOKKO AND ANTTI Nurmesniemi were not only prize-winning designers but renowned for tirelessly promoting Finnish design for decades.

Already upon its completion, their house was something of a legend, and the soul and beauty of the building continue to impress today. It was also a prime example of how a house can be built and decorated individually. The furniture and lamps designed by Antti, as well as Vuokko’s fabrics and ceramic objects are an important part of the atmosphere of the unique studio home.

The Antti + Vuokko Nurmesniemi exhibition is open at Design Museum in Helsinki, Finland from 28 October 2022 to 9 April 2023. Read more about the exhibition >

Antti and Vuokko Nurmesniemi
Antti and Vuokko Nurmesniemi in their living room in the 1980s. Image: Antti Nurmesniemi’s archive.

Antti Nurmesniemi

  • Antti Nurmesniemi (1927–2003) was a pioneer of industrial design in Finland.
  • He studied in the Institute of Industrial Arts and Crafts in 1947–1950. He did not only design products but was also actively involved in the development of the design sector.
  • In 1956, he founded his own interior design agency, Studio Nurmesniemi, that employed many of his colleagues over the years. The first industrial design project by Nurmesniemi was the Pehtoori coffee pot he designed for Wärtsilä in 1957.
  • Antti Nurmesniemi was awarded the prestigious Pro Finlandia medal in 1964.

Vuokko Nurmesniemi

  • Vuokko Nurmesniemi, née Eskolin (b.1930) is an internationally renowned and distinguished designer, textile designer and ceramic artist.
  • She first studied ceramics at the Institute of Industrial Arts and Crafts, but Armi Ratia encouraged her to get into fashion design.
  • She worked as a fashion designer at Marimekko from 1953 to 1960. The Jokapoika shirt (1956) has been in production for over 60 years.
  • In 1964, she founded her own brand, Vuokko.
  • Vuokko Nurmesniemi was awarded the honorary title of Academian of Art in 2007, and she is a honorary doctor of the University of Arts and Design Helsinki.

See also:

Asun Homes Vol 5 bookazine >
Designs by Vuokko Nurmesniemi >

Text: Jutta Ylä-Mononen Images: Sameli Rantanen Video: Pyry Rantanen

This story was originally published in the Asun magazine’s issue 40.

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