Less is enough – Years in Japan and Poland have left its mark on a home in Helsinki

Mari and her familys home in Helsinki is decorated sparsely but with great care, including items like a Japanese wooden chair, Polish art and ikebana arrangements.

Flos Arco floor lamp
The sea is just beyond the trees. Originally from Raahe on the Finnish west coast, the sea is an important element to Mari. The Arco floor lamp by Flos peers out from the corner.


Teacher Mari Karppanen, 40, IT professional Aki Karppanen, 49, Anton, 10, Leon, 6, and miniature poodle Helmi. Their home is a 160-square-meter terraced house from 1960, in Kulosaari, Helsinki.

A home in Kulosaari, Helsinki
When in Japan, Mari got interested in pottery. The charming small items were created by her Japanese pottery teacher, given to her as a going-away present. The dog in her lap is called Helmi.

MARI KARPPANEN HAS A KNACK for creating a home out of practically nothing. Ten years ago, when Mari and her husband Aki moved from Finland to Japan, their home could be squeezed into suitcases. When it was time for the family of four to return to Finland, they bought a terraced home in Kulosaari, Helsinki, actually when they were still in Poland.

They moved into their Kulosaari home, renovated by Aki’s father, about three years ago. The walls of their light, calm home are adorned with Polish art, and the most important item is a wooden chair, representing simple and beautiful Japanese aesthetics.

Little by little, she has found a place for both recycled and inherited items, and carefully chosen new items. The broken color scheme and wood create warmth into their meticulously decorated home, where less is enough.

A garden in Helsinki
The living room has a door that opens to their back garden lined by woods. Mari dreams of a larger garden to fulfill her gardening dreams.
Vitra Plywood Group LCM lounge chair, ash - chrome
The living room is for socializing, and that’s why the TV is in the cellar. Aki made a sofa table out of a bamboo board and tiles. The LCM chairs by Vitra were bought at an auction. Mari bought the vintage serving trolley for her husband’s drinks, but then decided to keep it herself. The walnut chair, so important to her, is from Japan.

What does a home mean to you?
“Home is a base where you can wind down. Because of my husband’s work, we first spent four years in Tokyo, and then about three years in Poland. I can build a home anywhere rather quickly. Where the home is situated is not so important. After all, it’s the dear items you cherish and that have meaning that actually make an apartment a home.”

“Where the home is situated is not so important. It’s the dear items you cherish that actually make an apartment a home.”

What did you love about your home at first?
“I loved the view of the spacious living room that I first saw in the sales advertisement when I was looking for a home when we were still living in Poland. When I saw the pictures of an apartment full of natural light and radiating the 60s, I told my husband that this is the one. A video taken of the apartment by a good friend of mine sealed our decision to buy it. We didn’t actually see the place until we signed the papers.”

Are you particularly happy about something in your home?
“We did not yield to the temptation of doing something about the kitchen, although it seemed a bit small to begin with. However, expanding it would have required us to change the original layout. We didn’t like the idea of that, so we decided to first see how we manage with such a compact kitchen. It has turned out to be surprisingly functional. It’s got everything we need in our daily life.”

Johanna Gullichsen Nereus cushion cover
Aki made the bench in the room in the cellar, and also the desk next to it. The bird-themed painting by Japanese artist Mogu Takahashi is a gift from a friend. The small statue next to it by Anna Kozłowska-Łuc. The wooden table under the table is from a Japanese antique shop.
Sika-Design Ella mirror, small
Mari loves the versatility of the terraced house built in 1960. A spacious lobby is accessed through the curved opening. The rattan Ella mirror is by Sika-Design, and the Wire plant stand by Menu.
Louis Poulsen PH 5 pendant, white classic
The pieces of furniture stay pretty much in their usual places, except the oak dining table, which fits in this space also the other way round. Chairs around the table include Carl Hansen & Søn’s Wishbones. The PH 5 lamp by Louis Poulsen lights the dining table.
White kitchen
The white cabinets and mirror between the counter and cabinets create an impression of space in the small but otherwise efficient kitchen. The delicate ikebana arrangement is by Mari.

How do the years spent abroad show in your home?
“Our years abroad is visible in the form of items we brought and customs adopted. I’ve picked up the best stuff from each country. The Polish style of interior decoration was too rich and ornamental for my liking, but I was impressed by the art. The sculptures in our home and most of the painting are from Polish art galleries.

The years in Japan changed my perception of aesthetics and our home has become more and more minimalistic. I like to use the skills and carry on the customs I picked up in Japan. I like to set the table with non-matching dishes, and express my creativity with ikebana.”

“The years in Japan changed my perception of aesthetics and our home has become more and more minimalistic.”

What kind of interior decorator are you?
“Patient and uncompromising! I’ve been searching for a vintage sofa in auctions for a long time but haven’t yet found one with the right dimensions, so I’ll just keep on looking. I was already dreaming about a wooden dining table when in Japan, until I finally had one made in Poland for our home in Finland. I love to get lost in flea markets, so we do have some surprise items in the house, too. Although I’m an incurable aestheticist, I value the practical side of things and solutions that make my daily life easier, such as the coat rack in the hall, where my boys can easily toss their coats.”

Home in Helsinki
The antique cabinet in the upstairs hall is where Mari keeps her ikebana things. The painting by Tom Schamp was bought in Poland. The oriental rug repeats the colors of the cabinet and the teak skirting board.
Anna Kozłowska-Łuc, a Polish ceramic artist
The lamp by Svenskt Tenn is beautifully highlighted against the green background. A copy of Akseli Gallen-Kallela’s Boy and a Crow was Mari’s long-awaited dream come true, a gift from her mother. The bedside table, a wedding present, has a work by Anna Kozłowska-Łuc, a Polish ceramic artist.
Palaset Maxi Elephant moneybox, white
Leon’s room is a combination of things that have been inherited or bought at flea markets or abroad. The rattan chair and floor lamp are from Mari’s childhood. The bed on wheels is tailor-made. The simple wooden desk and chair are from Japan.
Anton's room
The entire family shares a love for music. Anton plays the guitar. The wall rug is Anton’s birthday present from Japan. The leather trunk is also from there.

What is your dearest item or piece of furniture?
“Items that have a link to a place, person or period of my life. When we moved to Finland, it was wonderful to open boxes containing items dear to us we had picked up abroad. I could never imagine giving up the chair I bought with my first salary in Japan. I can still feel the happiness when I went to get the simple wooden chair designed by Kiyoshi Sadogawa.”

How do your friends describe your home?
“Many are surprised by how few items we have. Moving from one country to another has inevitably reduced the amount of stuff we have. When we were living in Japan, I sought inspiration and spent time by browsing through interior decoration shops one area at a time. Considering that, I’d say we have surprisingly few items. And our house is also clean. Order in the house brings the kind of tranquility that I yearn.”

Get inspired

Louis Poulsen
PH 5 pendant lamp
Ella mirror
Johanna Gullichsen
Nereus cushion
LCM lounge chair
Arco floor lamp
Verso Design
Viilu birch basket
80 Years poster
Maxi Elephant moneybox

Text: Joanna Ekberg Images: Mikael Pettersson

This story was originally published in Avotakka's issue 5/2021.

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