written by:
photos by:
March 7, 2011
Originally published in Cheap and Chic

A pair of crafty designers on a serious budget show that though their apartment may be short on square footage, it’s long on charm.

Modern graphic dining room with black lacquered table and striped rug
Susanna Vento, pictured here with her daughter Varpu, is a Helsinki-based editor, stylist, and interior designer. Asked about her design approach in her own apartment, she says: “As an interior designer I choose new designs for my clients, but for my own home, I tend to prefer crafty or old stuff. If I buy something, I want to buy only things that stand the test of time. But even better is to buy nothing at all and do-it-yourself!”
Photo by 
1 / 16
Modern open-plan dining room with various chairs and striped rug
The family's activity centers around the open-plan dining room, which does triple-duty as a living room and kitchen. Susanna prefers a motley set of dining chairs over a coordinated set; that way guests can pick their favorite when they sit.
Photo by 
2 / 16
Modern dining area with striped rug and string lights on ceiling
The apartment has no couch; “We simply don’t need one—plus it would take up a lot of space,” says Susanna. A string of outdoor lights fosters a cozy atmosphere. “I tried them out once for a party and they looked so nice that I decided to keep them. The light is warm and inviting.”
Photo by 
3 / 16
DIY detailing on cabinet fronts
Since the couple knew they'd soon rip up the kitchen during a major pipe replacement and renovation, Susanna devised a cheap and easy way to prettify the nondescript cabinets in the meantime: she cut triangles out of black contact paper and affixed them to the cabinet fronts.
Photo by 
4 / 16
Modern graphic decorative objects
Susanna's skill as a stylist is evident in the apartment's many eye-catching arrangements of objects: here, a paper bird, a origami bowl, and a jar of striped paper straws.
Photo by 
5 / 16
Uten.Silo organizer by Vitra above a white-painted chair with blue-tipped legs
In the entryway, a plastic Uten.Silo organizer by Vitra shelters keys and other bits of potential clutter. A white-painted cafe chair suits the minimalist color scheme.
Photo by 
6 / 16
White-painted chair with blue-tipped legs and zig zag print rug
On the black-and-white palette, Susanna remarks: "It makes it easy to add accent colors, like petrol blue, and also makes the apartment’s architectural details—like the original doors and deep window ledges—more prominent."
Photo by 
7 / 16
Hallway view of master bedroom
A view back into the hallway from the master bedroom.
Photo by 
8 / 16
Baby tricycle in master bedroom
The master bedroom is a real continuation of the main living space; Varpu rides her tricycle through, and the whole family gathers on the bed to watch movies and cartoons on the television across the room.
Photo by 
9 / 16
Sanded light-reflecting light
It took Susanna several layers of sanding—and then finally tossing her water-based paint and selecting the proper oil-based formula—to get the floor as white as she'd envisioned. But she couldn't be happier with the result. “The apartment looks bigger when there are white surfaces for the light to bounce on,” she says.
Photo by 
10 / 16
Color and size coordinated open storage shelves
To keep her open storage neat, Susanna stacks and organizes her books and DVDs by size and by color.
Photo by 
11 / 16
Colorful postcard and magazine clipping wall art
Instead of splurging on expensive framed art, Susanna tapes postcards and images cut from magazines to the wall. They're bright, colorful, and easy to swap out as she likes.
Photo by 
12 / 16
Decorated wall in master bedroom
A wider look at the impromptu gallery wall.
Photo by 
13 / 16
Children’s room wall with colorful cotton flag banners
While she was pregnant and on maternity leave, Susanna tackled creative D.I.Y. projects to decorate Varpu's room, including stitching these festive cotton flag banners.
Photo by 
14 / 16
All-white bedroom window area
The flags and other bright accents bring a shot of color and fun to the serene, white-filled bedroom.
Photo by 
15 / 16
Children’s bedroom filled with plush cushion pillows
Varpu's bed is piled with a motley assortment of plush cushions: “I love pillows and can’t resist when I see a nice one. Children love them too.”

Don't miss a word of Dwell! Download our FREE app from iTunes, friend us on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter!

Photo by 
16 / 16
Modern graphic dining room with black lacquered table and striped rug
Susanna Vento, pictured here with her daughter Varpu, is a Helsinki-based editor, stylist, and interior designer. Asked about her design approach in her own apartment, she says: “As an interior designer I choose new designs for my clients, but for my own home, I tend to prefer crafty or old stuff. If I buy something, I want to buy only things that stand the test of time. But even better is to buy nothing at all and do-it-yourself!”

Last summer, Susanna and Jussi Vento purchased a two-bedroom, 660-square-foot apartment in Helsinki’s Punavuori district, where they live with their one-year-old daughter, Varpu. The building was “an unremarkable ’50s high-rise,” says Susanna, “but we liked the light in the apartment, the practical layout, and the original double doors between the rooms.”

The tiny abode was in desperate need of a makeover, but knowing that an expensive pipe replacement loomed, the couple had to be frugal in their interventions. Fortunately, both work in creative fields—Susanna is an interior designer, stylist, and editor, and Jussi is a graphic artist—and renovating with a tight budget was exactly their kind of challenge. “We come from families that love doing things with their hands, so it’s natural for us,” Susanna says. With less than $4,000 but plenty of DIY spirit, the couple turned a boring flat into a visually exciting home. Susanna shows us how.

Join the Discussion

Loading comments...

Latest Articles

dining room lighting
These renovations connect rustic, classic, and modern design in Italy.
February 10, 2016
12362509 211441865858796 1743381178 n1
Each week, we tap into Dwell's Instagram community to bring you the most viral design and architecture shots of the week.
February 10, 2016
modern outdoor garden room plastic polycarbonate
From colorful living rooms to a backyard retreat, Belgian designers reimagine vernacular forms and materials for the modern world.
February 10, 2016
Tel Aviv kitchen with custom dining table and Smeg fridge
Would you go for an out-of-the-box palette for your major appliances? See how these kitchens tackle the trend.
February 10, 2016
Exhibition view, of Klaus Wittkugel works at P! gallery, New York
On view through February 21 at New York's P! gallery, a new show explores the politics of Cold War-era graphic design with a show on Klaus Wittkugel—East Germany's most prolific graphic designer. Curator Prem Krishnamurthy walks us through the highlights.
February 10, 2016
Reclaimed cedar and gray-stucco home outside San Francisco.
The new kid on the block in a predominantly Eichler neighborhood, this Menlo Park home breaks the mold and divides into three pavilions connected by breezeways.
February 10, 2016
A third floor addition and whole-house renovation modernized a funky cottage on an unusual, triple-wide lot in San Francisco.
From modern interiors hidden within historic structures to unabashedly modern dwellings, these seven renovations take totally different approaches to San Francisco's historic building stock.
February 10, 2016
Delphi sofa from Erik Jørgensen and gyrofocus fireplace in living room of Villa Le Trident in the French Riviera, renovated by 4a Architekten.
The Aegean's all-white architecture famously helped inspire Le Corbusier; these five dwellings continue in that proud modern tradition (though not all are as minimalist).
February 10, 2016
San Francisco dining room with chandelier and Eames shell chairs
Brooklyn-based RBW's work—from diminutive sconces to large floor lamps—shape these five interiors.
February 09, 2016
Glass-fronted converted garage in Washington
These garages go behind parking cars and storing your drum sets.
February 09, 2016
Modern Texas home office with sliding walls, behr black chalkboard paint, concrete walls, and white oak flooring
From appropriated nooks to glass-encased rooms, each of these modern offices works a unique angle.
February 09, 2016
picnic-style table in renovated San Francisco house
From chandeliers to pendants, these designs make the dining room the most entertaining space in the house.
February 09, 2016
Midcentury house in Portland with iron colored facade and gold front door
From preserved masterworks to carefully updated time capsules, these homes have one thing in common (other than a healthy appreciation for everything Eames): the conviction that the '40s, '50s, and '60s were the most outstanding moments in American architecture.
February 09, 2016
Modern living room with furniture designed by Ludovica + Roberto Palomba
These oases by the sea, many done up in white, make stunning escapes.
February 08, 2016
A Philippe Starck standing lamp and an Eames chaise longue bracket the living room; two Lawrence Weiner prints hang behind a pair of Warren Platner chairs and a table purchased from a River Oaks estate sale; at far left of the room, a partial wall of new
Texas might have a big reputation, but these homes show the variety of shapes and sizes in the Lone Star State.
February 08, 2016
Montigo gas-burning fireplace in spacious living room.
Built atop the foundation of a flood-damaged home, this 3,000-square-foot Maryland home features vibrant furniture placed in front of stunning views of a nearby estuary.
February 08, 2016
Studio addition in Seattle
An architect couple sets out to transform a run-down property.
February 08, 2016
West Elm coffee table, custom Joybird sofa, and matching Jens Risom chairs in living room of Westchester renovation by Khanna Shultz.
Every Monday, @dwell and @designmilk invite fans and experts on Twitter to weigh in on trending topics in design.
February 08, 2016
modern lycabettus penthouse apartment living room vertical oak slats
For the modernists among us, these spare spaces are a dream come true.
February 08, 2016
The square fountain at the courtyard's center is a modern rendition of a very traditional feature in many Middle Eastern homes.
From a large gathering space for family or a tranquil sanctuary, these seven designs feature some very different takes on the ancient idea of a courtyard.
February 08, 2016
stdaluminum 021
Since windows and doors are such important aspects of your home, it’s always a good idea to take the time to evaluate how they fit within the lifestyle you want. Whether you’re in the middle of constructing a new home, or you’re considering replacing your current setup, there are multiple elements to consider when it comes time to make the final decisions. Milgard® Windows & Doors understands how vital these choices are to the well-being of your home and has developed ways to turn the process into a journey that can be just as enjoyable as it is fulfilling. Not sure where to start? We gathered some helpful insights from their team of experts to help us better understand what goes into the process of bringing your vision to life.
February 08, 2016
modern fire resistant green boulder loewen windows south facade triple planed low-e glass
These houses in Broncos Country prove modern design is alive in the Rocky Mountains.
February 08, 2016
french evolution paris daniel rozensztroch living area eames la chaise butterfly chair moroccan berber rug
A tastemaker brings his distinct vision to an industrial loft with a centuries-old pedigree.
February 07, 2016
senses touch products
The haptic impact can’t be underplayed. The tactility of a material—its temperature, its texture­—can make the difference between pleasure and discontent.
February 07, 2016
senses taste products
Ambience is a key ingredient to any meal—materials, textures, and mood all impart a certain flavor.
February 07, 2016
senses smell products
The nose knows: Though fleeting and immaterial, scent is the lifeblood of Proustian memories, both evoking and imprinting visceral associations.
February 06, 2016
design icon josef frank villa beer vienna
Josef Frank: Against Design, which runs through April 2016 at Vienna’s Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art, is a comprehensive study of the prolific architect, designer, and author.
February 06, 2016
senses sound products
From an alarm to a symphony, audio frequencies hold the power to elicit an emotional call-and-response.
February 06, 2016
Italian Apline home with double-height walls on one facade.
Every week, we highlight one amazing Dwell home that went viral on Pinterest. Follow Dwell's Pinterest account for more daily design inspiration.
February 05, 2016
A built-in sofa with Design Tex upholstery marks the boundary between the two-level addition and the bungalow. Leading up to the master bedroom, a perforated metal staircase, lit from above, casts a Sigmar Polke–like shadow grid on the concrete floor.
From a minimalist Walter Gropius design to a curving sculptural stair, these six stairways run the gamut.
February 05, 2016