Sanna and Kai’s home is both retro and modern at the same time

In this Oulu-based apartment, the 2020s meet the 1970s in style. The apartment was renovated in a way that honors the past to bring out the best it has to offer and help everyday life run smoothly.

String System shelf in oak
The oak-veneer String System shelf goes perfectly with Timberwise’s oak parquet.


Sanna Ruuhonen, an entrepreneur in financial management and fashion retail, architect-developer Kai Ruuhonen and children Saana, 10, and Taito, 15. The home is a six-room apartment in a building completed in 1970, located in downtown Oulu, Finland. The floorspace of the apartment is 153 m².

Kai Ruuhonen and Sanna Ruuhonen
Kai and Sanna Ruuhonen enjoy the ease of living in an apartment. It has also inspired them to buy a summer cottage.

SANNA RUUHONEN PEEKS out through the double doors in the kitchen and steps onto the balcony to enjoy the sun. “In the summer, the balcony offers a lush view of the park, and in the winter, a view of the sea through leafless trees,” describes Sanna.

The central location in downtown Oulu is great, close to the famous Toripolliisi bronze statue and the historic market hall. Sanna’s husband Kai joins her on the balcony.

“Our last home was a detached house in the suburbs. We wanted to make everyday life easier by moving closer to Sanna’s workplace,” Kai says. It’s only a five-minute walk to Sanna’s clothing store called Rags. Kai’s work takes him all over Finland.

ferm Living Disc shade
The dark dining room, adorned with the Forest wallpaper by Cole & Son, provides a striking contrast to the light-colored living room. There are three Disc pendants by ferm LIVING hanging above the dining table.
Flowerpot pendants in the living room
The centerpiece of the living-room sofa set is a brass-famed coffee table from the 1970s. Verner Panton designed the Flowerpot pendants in the late 1960s. The Co lounge chairs are by Audo Copenhagen.
Herringbone parquet in the living room
The herringbone parquet replaced the old, shabby flooring. Now there is a new doorway to the hallway by the open fireplace.
Marimekko Urna olive
The living room bookshelf is a curated display of cherished design treasures, magazines, and art. The olive green Urna vase is the work of Carina Seth Andersson.

SANNA AND KAI BOUGHT the home in the fall of 2019. The apartment was in original condition. “We fell in love with the atmosphere, big windows, living-room fireplace and glass double doors in the kitchen,” says Sanna.

Sanna and Kai wanted to keep the 70s atmosphere, but the layout needed to be changed to meet the family’s needs. Kai was already drawing versions of the new layout before they had even put a bid on the apartment.

Since they are a family with children, the need for a functional hallway was glaring. The old hallway was dark and narrow, and the first thing you saw coming home was a wall covered in brown wallpaper.

The design was based on lessons learned while living in the previous home, and it was obvious that just getting labeled baskets above a coat rack or two shoe cabinets instead of one would not suffice to solve the problems. Major changes were required. The walk-in-closet adjoining the hallway was demolished, as the idea was to create an open, unified space for storing clothes and shoes.

“We fell in love with the atmosphere, big windows, living-room fireplace and glass double doors in the kitchen.”

In addition to improving the layout and lighting conditions, the change made it easier to access the living room.

“Originally, if you wanted to access the living room from the hallway, you had to go through the dining room or a doorway at the back of the space. Now the way is through the new hallway and toward the light,” describes Sanna.

The second entrance by the kitchen was closed permanently and replaced with a walk-in-closet/dressing room for the parents, with access to the master bedroom. The space was originally a separate studio apartment.

The couple managed to squeeze in a utility room by modifying two of the bedrooms. Now, instead of three same-sized bedrooms in a row, there are two bedrooms, a study and a utility room.

Sarpaneva pot an a stove
The dark tiles on the kitchen wall are a perfect match for the slatted ceiling. The tap in the sink is by Damixa.
Balcony in the kitchen
The balcony is accessed from the kitchen. On the ceiling in front of the door, there is a plexiglass light box made by Kai that serves as a skylight of sorts.

IN ADDITION TO the living room, there is also new herringbone parquet in the dining room and study. Instead of parquet, the floors of the hallway, dressing room and bedrooms are covered in carpet tiles, resembling carpeting popular in the 70s.

“We already had a modular-carpet flooring in one of the rooms in our previous home. Carpet tiles are easy to replace, if necessary,” says Sanna. “Carpet feels soft underfoot and muffles the sound of footsteps,” adds Kai.

The vertical blinds framing the wall of windows exude the same atmosphere of the 70s as the old windows glazed on site.

Marimekko Tiiliskivi bedding
Sanna and Kai’s bedroom has the look of a minimalist fell-side hotel. The Tiiliskivi bedding is by Marimekko.
Artek Aslak chair
The wallpaper in the study has an authentic 70s look. The sideboard used to belong to Sanna’s grandmother. The Aslak chair was designed by Ilmari Tapiovaara.
Orange PH 5 Mini pendant
Carpet tiles are easy to replace in case one the tiles on the floor in Saana’s room is damaged. The PH 5 Mini pendant is by Louis Poulsen.
Bathroom with oak cabinets
The oak sink base cabinet in the bathroom is made by Kai’s go-to-carpenter.

THE FEEL OF THE HOME comes from a combination of interesting furniture and strong colors. Warm wood tones on the walls and floors complement the white surfaces. The bright, light-colored living room flows into the dining room featuring a wall covered in forest-themed wallpaper.

“After the renovation, the space had green walls, but the atmosphere just didn’t feel right. The dark wallpaper solved the problem by giving the space structure and making it cozier,” says Sanna.

There are also dark tones in the kitchen behind the wall. The shape of the narrow, vertical tiles between the countertop and cabinets is reminiscent of the building’s time of construction.

“The color comes from the ash of Mount Etna, used as a material for the tiles,” elaborates Kai.

Warm wood tones on the walls and floors complement the white surfaces.

With carefully selected colors and materials, Sanna and Kai have created subtle hierarchies between the spaces. In the living room and bedrooms, the ceilings are white, giving the spaces a lofty feel, whereas in the kitchen, hallway and corridors, the ceilings are slatted and suspended. The grooved panel is a modern interpretation of the ceiling popular in the 1970s, with clear gaps between the boards.

In a little over three years, the apartment has become a home. Sanna sits down on the sofa in front of the living room window and takes a look around. “Even though our previous home was lovely in its own way, urban living really suits us.”

Get inspired

Louis Poulsen
PH 5 Mini pendant
Audo Copenhagen
Co lounge chair
String Furniture
String chest with drawers
Urna vase
Multi-Lite pendant
Aslak chair
Tiiliskivi duvet cover
Sarpaneva pot

Text and images: Heikki Rautio

The story was previously published in Avotakka magazine 1/2024.

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