Guaranteed Tapiovaara quality – This apartment in Helsinki was designed down to the smallest details

The apartment designed by Ilmari Tapiovaara in the 1950s is a well-preserved gem with a timeless allure. Take a peek at this charming home in Helsinki with Design Stories!

An apartment in Helsinki designed by Ilmari Tapiovaara in the 1950's.
The upward-undulating living room ceiling rises above the bedroom on the upper floor. The graceful, cane-covered bannister and its elements create some privacy. The shallow bowl is by Åsa Hellman.

A BUTTON IN THE apartment’s hallway allows you to order the lift from downstairs to the landing outside the front door. The door phone next to it is another painstakingly designed original feature in the entrance.

The top-floor apartment in the Punavuori area of Helsinki beckons with one treasure after the next. The kitchen and dining room are dominated by a mix of dark cabinets and wall panelling. Approaching the living room, one is met with a sculptural fireplace ensemble with integrated steps leading upstairs as well as an upwards-undulating wooden ceiling with concealed lighting and bedroom cabinets. The metal, cane-covered bannisters are the crowning stroke.

A view of St. John’s Church, Helsinki
The living room windows offer rooftop views, the steeples of St. John’s Church in the distance.
An apartment in Helsinki designed by Ilmari Tapiovaara
Ilmari Tapiovaara ingeniously designed and tailormade many of the apartment’s details. The stairs leading upstairs are hidden behind the front of the fireplace.
A detail of a leather-coated handrail
The natural tones of brick, wood and cane create a restrained, stylish softness. Tapiovaara was a master of details and materials.
Artemide  Tolomeo Mega floor lamp 42 cm, aluminium - parchment
Contemporary design with a focus on subdued quality continues in furnishings acquired as need and situation have dictated. The Tolomeo Mega floor lamp is by Artemide.
Tile wall and an open fireplace
The open fireplace, stairs behind the tile wall and other unique details were designed 70 years ago and they still look relevant even today.

The bespoke apartment designed by interior architect Ilmari Tapiovaara (1914­–1999) was built in the 1950s. The commissioner had partly reserved the two-floor apartment for himself, hiring renowned Ilmari Tapiovaara to take care of the design.

He turned the space into an impressive, dignified yet comfortable contemporary home. It was both open and private, and could be used as an official residence. Many esteemed guests have been entertained in the premises, including former Finnish president Urho Kekkonen, who is known to have bathed in the sauna.

Ilmari Tapiovaara turned the space into an impressive, dignified yet comfortable contemporary home.

Artek Aalto armchair 45, birch - black webbing
The living room ceiling undulates towards the sleeping area. It conceals cabinets and lighting. The fixed desk with its drawers is part of the bannister framework. The Aalto chair 45 is an Artek classic.
Vintage table lamp
The full-height sleeping area adjoins the living room. The table lamp is a vintage find.
A detail of a cane-covered bannister
The light, cane-covered bannister creates some privacy.

The kitchen and dining area reflect the lifestyle of the period; the adjoining rooms form a single, large space when the sliding doors are open, but function as single rooms when the doors are closed. At the time, food for dinner parties was prepared out of sight and served through a hatch that was skilfully embedded in the partition wall.

The high living room ceiling continues above the upper-floor sleeping area.

The kitchen, dining room and small room on the side of the yard are low and compact. As a contrast, the living room is spacious and filled with light, ceiling height reaching above the upper-floor sleeping area. Breathtaking views over Helsinki rooftops further increase the sense of space.

Flos  Ariette 2 wall light, medium
The combined dining room and kitchen on the side of the yard is in its original form. Sliding doors can be pulled in front of the bar designed by Tapiovaara. The Ariette wall lamp by Flos is a Tobia Scarpa classic from 1973.
Two extra-tall version of the Lukki stools
An extra-tall version of the Lukki stools was designed for the home.
Extra-tall Lukki stools by Ilmari Tapiovaara
The dining space is panelled almost in its entirety. Glass doors lead onto a French balcony. The delicate, extra-tall Lukki stools are anchored in the base of the counter.
Sliding door in the kitchen
The fittings between the kitchen and dining area are original, whereas the fittings and appliances along the back wall were renewed in connection to pipe repairs in the building.
Ulla Procopé's hand-painted Valencia series
The timeless 50s gem is a backdrop for relaxed everyday life. Tapiovaara's storage solutions provide space for tableware such as Ulla Procopé's hand-painted Valencia series.

The current, third owner bought the unique apartment just over twenty years ago, although ended up moving abroad for a lengthy period of time soon after. The decision to buy was quick, and although the highly individual features of the home made it alluring, many elements became revealed only much later; some of Tapiovaara’s details had been concealed behind boarding, but had fortunately been preserved.

Some of the details designed for the apartment have only been revealed in recent years.

A Finnish sauna interior designed by Ilmari Tapiovaara.
An apartment with its own sauna was a rare luxury in the 1950s. The owner was able to retain the sauna designed by Tapiovaara more or less in its original form despite pipe repairs in the building. Even former president Urho Kekkonen has bathed here.
White mosaic tiles in a bathroom.
New mosaic tiles reflect the original look, although now in white instead of turquoise.
Detail of a wooden sauna door handle.
The bespoke apartment was designed from the bigger picture right down to the smallest details. Sauna door handle in detail.

The designer’s masterful spatial perception and awareness of materials and nuances are reflected in the wealth of materials used. The apartment features a vast variety of surface structures, and the dimensions and relation of lathing, brick and tiling to adjacent textures have been chosen carefully. The finished result can be described as variably rhythmic. The apartment is an exceptionally well-preserved example of its period, but still a comfortable, relaxed home that doesn’t feel like a museum.

“The place was so powerful that I didn’t want to bring in anything extra. I even stored away many of the artworks I’d bought, as I didn’t want to disturb the unique spirit of the space,” the owner explains.

Designer Ilmari Tapiovaara
Ilmari Tapiovaara (1914–1999) was a renowned Finnish interior architect and designer.

Modern no matter the time

DOWN-TO EARTH PIRKKA, sturdy Domus and intriguing Lukki. Ilmari Tapiovaara is undoubtedly one of the most beloved Finnish designers, and his designs feel modern no matter the time.

Tapiovaara’s approachable shapes and practical solutions took him from the employ of Keravan Puuteollisuus to Asko-Avenius and from Le Corbusier to Mies van der Rohe. In 1950, Tapiovaara established a design studio with his wife Annikki in the vicinity of Helsinki Railway Square.

The son of a forester, Tapiovaara was an advocate of equality and thought that high-quality objects should be made available to everyone regardless of their economic status. What Tapiovaara learned about industrial serial production and related technological innovations supported his efforts aiming at simple production and, consequently, reasonable pricing.

Tapiovaara’s best-known products include various chairs. Even though he compiled an extensive portfolio during his long career, different kinds of seats always remained close to Tapiovaara’s heart and made up the core of his work. Tapiovaara did, in fact, think of the chair as the key to the entire interior – the centerpiece around which to create the rest.

Get inspired

Lukki chair
Tolomeo Mega floor lamp
Aslak chair
Ariette wall lamp
Domus chair
Warm Nordic
Opal Shade pendant
Valencia plate
Aalto Chair 45

See also:

All Ilmari Tapiovaara's designs >
Asun Homes Vol 4 bookazine >

Text: Ulla Koskinen and Carolina Kommonen Images: Sameli Rantanen

This story was originally published in the Asun magazine's issue 22 and the Asun Homes bookazine's volume 4.

Previous story
Next story