This Home Will Make You Want to Build Your Own Sauna
The suburb of Oulunkylä, less than five miles north of central Helsinki, is home to a mixture of wooden villas, row houses, and concrete apartment buildings. On a sloping plot next to her parents’ home, Vilma and her husband, Juho, wanted to build a structure that could fit in with its surroundings but feel completely their own. Working with architect Tuomas Siitonen, the couple had a few requirements going into the project: The home needed to be made of wood, preserve the views from the house next door, and have a separate living space for Vilma’s grandmother.
For the exterior they chose Siberian larch, a dense wood that changes with time to a silvery-gray color. The dip in the center of the roof preserves the eastward vista for Vilma’s parents next door, while the back of the structure—which is attached but with a separate entrance—was designed as a live-alone apartment for Vilma’s grandmother.
The kitchen was one of Vilma and Juho’s major concerns when considering the interior design. With a shared passion for cooking, they wanted to maximize kitchen space while keeping the area open so they could chat with family or guests while preparing food.
The couple enlisted the help of Matti Salminen, a family friend and carpenter, to customize the space. Using a cultivated variety of birch with a wavy grain, Salminen created a consistent, organic surface with plenty of storage and countertop space. The island is a particularly clever way to make the most of a tight area: One side contains a built-in refrigerator and freezer; on the other, long shelves store glassware.
Across from the kitchen, floor-to-ceiling windows open up to an expansive terrace. As Siitonen explains, "The idea was to bring the greenness and garden into the house." In the warmer months, the terrace becomes a second living room: the family moves a table and chairs outside to enjoy the long, sunny days of the Finnish summer.
The loft-like space above the kitchen is a family room used mainly for playing music: piano, guitar, trombone, and drums. It also contains the house’s only television. Vilma wanted the main living space to inspire interaction, so the focal point of the living room below is a fireplace, rather than a media console. Similarly, the home’s three bedrooms are small but comfortable, providing a place for privacy while encouraging family members to interact together in the larger public spaces.
On Sunday evenings, the family usually heads downstairs to their sauna. For Finns, sauna ownership isn’t luxurious; it’s a deeply ingrained part of the culture. Situated on the ground floor of the house, the sauna has easy access to the front porch, which is ideal for taking jäähy—a break from the heat to get fresh air. The kiuas, the stove that heats the sauna, is electric and can be set on a timer, making it easy to warm when Vilma and Juho want to unwind after a long day of work. The stove’s cylindrical tower of exposed rocks is both aesthetic and functional, allowing for different intensities of steam depending on where the water is thrown.
Because the sauna is beneath the living space, Siitonen proposed dark colors to create an underground, cave-like feel. Vilma points out that the "peaceful" darkness of the painted alder is reminiscent of traditional smoke saunas.
From the warmth of a bespoke sauna, the seemingly endless Finnish winter doesn’t feel quite so tough anymore. Vilma’s tip: Add a drop of beer to the stove to conjure the smell of summer.