Modern colors on an old canvas – Step inside Salah and Iiris’s beautiful apartment in Turku

Stunning artwork and playful splashes of color add the finishing touch to the atmosphere of the 1920s apartment decorated by Iiris and Salah. Take a peek inside with Design Stories!

Two people in the kitchen
The piece on the back wall of the kitchen is painted by Iiris. Iiris and Salah like the fact that there are no upper cabinets in the kitchen.


Artist and founder of Art By Iiris Rothberg, Iiris Rothberg, 21, and entrepreneur Salah Al Bahrani, 24, who is also working in sales. The home is a two-bedroom apartment in a building completed in 1924 in Puolalanmäki, Turku, Finland. The floorspace of the apartment is 60 m².

Exterior of an apartment building in Turku, Finland
Iiris and Salah’s home is located in Puolalanmäki, Turku. In the past, the building also housed a central kitchen serving the residents.

THERE ARE MANY tall and impressive residential buildings on the Puolalanmäki hill in Turku, and one of the most imposing ones is the seven-story Museomäki, designed by architect Alexander Nyström in 1924. The building is made even more interesting by the material used in its construction: reinforced concrete slabs, developed by factory owner and inventor Juho Tapani and patented in 1912.

Image of a kitchen with a balcony
The owner of the apartment renovated the kitchen. Iiris and Salah are happy that the owner did not settle for the most common materials and colors but, instead, made the kitchen both functional and aesthetic.
Image of a kitchen with an artwork on a wall
Iiris uses acrylic paints in her artwork. “Sometimes I work long and hard on a painting but don’t like the result. The painting in the kitchen is our favorite.”
ferm LIVING Pond mirror
The dining table is ideally located in front of the bay window. The mix-and-match quality is what Iiris and Salah like the most about the chairs. The chandelier is one of Salah’s flea market finds. The Pond mirror is by ferm LIVING.
String Furniture Museum side table
The cozy second-hand sofa is the only piece of furniture that Iiris and Salah brought along with them from the previous home. The orange Museum side table is by String Furniture.

ANOTHER FACT that makes the building special is that there used to be a central kitchen downstairs, preparing meals for the residents. The kitchen was in use until as late as 2010.

Salah Al Bahrani knocks on the back wall of the kitchen and explains that this apartment was also equipped with a dumbwaiter bringing the ordered meals up and taking the dirty dishes down. The shaft is still there, somewhere within the wall structure.

In the Nordic countries, central kitchens became more popular in the early 1900s, and the phenomenon was based on an ideal of collective living. In the 1910s and 20s, dozens of houses with a central kitchen were built not only in Turku but also in Tampere and Helsinki.

Salah and Iiris live in a rental. An old building was an absolute requirement when they were looking for a home.

These are just the kinds of things that Salah and Iiris Rothberg love; peculiar features of an old house and signs of life lived. Salah and Iiris have been living on rent in the two-bedroom apartment since January last year.

“Especially for me, the age of the house was a deal-breaker. I just couldn’t move into a new building. We had applied for a few rental apartments, but when we came upon this one, we were really happy that we’d lucked out with those. In this apartment, everything feels wonderful, even hearing the wind howl when it’s storming,” says Iiris.

A view trough a two-bedroom apartment
The layout of the two-bedroom home is traditional in the sense that it creates beautiful, sweeping views through the apartment.
Old windowsills
The benefits of old buildings often include wide and deep windowsills. In Iiris and Salah’s bedroom, the windowsill serves as a nightstand.
The bedroom glows in yellow thanks to Filipsborg’s traditional K31-50 wallpaper. The orange Nessino table lamp is by Artemide. The Magis chair is painted green.

THE OWNER HAD refurbished the apartment by renovating the kitchen, replacing the flooring and refreshing the walls with new paint and wallpaper. In other words, the apartment was ready for them to move in.

The couple was also excited about the living-room bay window and the balcony next to the kitchen. The kitchen may have originally been used as a bedroom, since a small windowless nook, which is now part of a larger space, used to be the kitchen.

The way natural light flows from room to room still leaves them both in awe.

“The evening sun starts shining in at around four or five, and at around eight, our whole home is flooded with bright, orange light. Finally, the light reaches the kitchen and the large painting on the back wall. That’s when it’s particularly beautiful here,” describes Iiris.

The painting is made by Iiris. She has been working as a full-time artist for about a year, because it allows her to make the most of her creativity.

There are also paintings by Iiris in the living room and bedroom, and many of the pieces feature individual words and even complete sentences. The markings give the viewer an idea of what the almost abstract paintings are about or what they might symbolize. At times, however, the words have ended up in the paintings on a whim.

“Our lessor told us that we could make a thousand holes in the walls if we wanted. We’ve not quite reached that number yet,” says Salah.

Hanna Anonen Cocktail pendant
All rooms have the same herringbone parquet. The uniform flooring provides the perfect backdrop for the decor made up of furniture in different styles. The Cocktail pendant in the hallway was designed by Hanna Anonen.
&Tradition Flowerpot table lamp
The painting hanging in the hallway is called Hung Up. Iiris feels that she got it right at the first try. The Flowerpot table lamp was designed by Verner Panton.
Vitra Panton chairs
The floor lamp in the corner of the kitchen is by Finnish, Tampere-based Habico and made in the 1970s–80s. The Panton chairs are by Vitra.

THE INTERIOR COLORS have been chosen almost as intuitively as Iiris creates her paintings, and most of the color comes from vibrant furniture and eye-catching decorative items.

At Iiris’s childhood home, there was a lot of turquoise, pink and yellow, and she saw no need to deviate from that familiar color palette here. That’s why even the dining chairs are all of different shapes and colors.

Iiris and Salah have a very similar taste in interior decoration. It is reflected in new hand-picked design items as well as retro and vintage gems that Iiris and Salah mostly get online.

“What our furniture has in common is playfulness and the fact that the atmosphere it creates is much more important than, say, style.”

“The white wool rug in the living room is from the online flea market. It’s like new, because its previous owners only had the heart to use it once a year, at Christmas. At other times, they kept it rolled up in storage,” says Iiris.

Some of the furniture has been painted or refurbished a little, which only gives them more character. As an example of this, Iiris shows a plastic chair by Magis. The chair used to be red before Iiris’s grandfather painted it green.

“What our furniture has in common is playfulness and the fact that the atmosphere it creates is much more important than, say, style. We often pitch prospective items to each other,” says Salah.

A small balcony
The balcony at the back of the house is perfect for two people having coffee. The screen provides privacy.

Salah was also the first to spot the living-room pendant which – with its cascading strings of glass pearls – is perfectly in line with the trendy style of granny chic.

“I was sure that Iiris would like the pendant, but I just wasn’t feeling it. For a moment, I even thought about not telling her about the find.”

Naturally, Salah ended up telling Iiris about the pendant, and he was right, she fell in love with it at first sight. In terms of style, it provides an interesting deviation from the other objects in the home. And yet, as if by miracle, it all goes perfectly together.

The couple has the same approach to clothing as to interior decoration, as Iiris owns numerous vintage pieces and Salah is a partner in Kromi, which sells vintage outfits.

Iiris and Salah dream of high-ceiling rooms and a wall on which Iiris could hang an enormous painting, made by herself, of course.

Get inspired

Nessino table lamp
Flower vase
String Furniture
Museum side table
Pond mirror
Flowerpot table lamp
Sobremesa vase
Panton chair
Bistro Metal chair

See also:

New arrivals at Finnish Design Shop >

Text: Kari-Otso Nevaluoma Images: Suvi Elo

The story was previously published in Avotakka magazine 3/2024.

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