The windows of the sheltered cabin give a magnificent view of the landscape in Houtskär, an island group in the Finnish Archipelago. Large ships pass by every now and then, their sound giving a rhythm to the flow of the day. The Kemell-Kutvonen family lives a tranquil life on the island during the summer, enjoying relaxed activities and the simplicity of the surroundings.
THE CAREFREE LIFE in the Archipelago Sea begins the moment the first ferry leaves the quay at Parainen. It takes three ferry journeys to reach the Houtskär island. From there, it’s a short trip by car and then by boat to reach the family’s own little island. Travel to the outer reaches of the Finnish Archipelago is like a rite of passage, breaking free from the routines of everyday working life. The many stages of the journey give time to ease into the leisurely way of life on the island.
The journey to the island cabin may be long and winding, but for its owners a place in this uniquely beautiful archipelago is a dream come true. For Minna Kemell-Kutvonen and her husband Pekka, having their own island or a place on the shore in the outer Finnish Archipelago has been a dream for as long as they can remember.
“When our children were small and life was always so busy, I would occasionally escape it all by daydreaming about an island home and looking for locations in the archipelago that were for sale. That was the first time I came across this place in the Houtskär islands,” says Minna.
But at that time, the dream went no further than that. About ten years ago, however, a couple she was friends with said they had found a great location for a cabin in the Houtskär area and asked if Minna and her family would be interested in sharing a large island plot with them. It turned out to be the same dream location she had come across before.
Everything doesn’t have to be done with a ‘right here, right now’ attitude; things can be allowed to take their own sweet time.
Slowly but surely, the family’s dream began to come true. The newcomers wanted to explore their newfound island retreat and gradually get the feel of life there. Their time there during the first few years was spent hiking, living in very basic conditions. A pier was built on the island, and a small, simple cabin was built from prefabricated elements on the rock in a spot where it was protected from the weather and wind. Pekka built a sauna and washroom a few square meters in size from plywood.
“There was a fantastic view from the kitchen, within the shelter of the rock. Every time I cooked, I could enjoy the magnificent sea landscape,” Minna says.
Things have come a long way since those early days. Now, their summer island home is a handsome black cabin with patios, sheltered by the surrounding trees. Those first years on the island influenced the shape the building would take and its location, as the family began to truly appreciate the majestic forces of nature. The merciless winds of the archipelago were also a powerful reminder of nature’s dominance over humankind.
Built inside the tree line, the cabin was originally designed to be rectangular. However, the more time the family spent on the island the more they realized that this shape would not provide any outdoor space with shelter from the wind. The plans were refined with Minna’s sister, the architect Leena Kemell.
Built on a spot dictated by the massive rocks, the building was divided into two parts. The living and dining room are in the larger part, and the bedrooms for the parents and their three children are in the other. Nestled in the sheltered inner corner between the two parts of the building is a patio facing the forest. The family often have their meals and relax there. The other patio, facing the sea, is much more exposed to the wind.
Here you’ll find all the elements of summer living at its best.
The simple but luxurious and largely self-built summer home still provides a welcome shelter from the weather when they return from outdoor activities, which now occupy most of their time on the island. All the changes to the rocky and forested areas surrounding the cabin were made with respect for the environment, with as little impact as possible. The building blends in harmoniously with the surrounding terrain. The landscape itself is in effect part of the home, as there are excellent views from indoors. The windows are also positioned to provide a clear view through the house in many places.
The island’s rugged and refined palette and materials and the minimalist building are nicely contrasted with the abundance of colorful Marimekko textiles used in the interior decor. According to Minna, who is the design and product development director for home products and prints at Marimekko, the fabrics create a bright atmosphere even in the midst of winter. Textiles are used in the home in a relaxed way. Different patterns are combined randomly, with an experimental touch.
Life on the island has always been played by ear, trying new things and testing ideas.
Text: Ulla Koskinen Photos: Sameli Rantanen
This story was first published in Asun magazine's issue 19.