Pannu Kuumana is an interview series made by Finnish journalist Pihla Hintikka.

“There’s always room for visitors in the aitta.”

Designer Linda Bergroth created the KOTI Sleepover installation for the Finnish Institute in Paris to provide an experience of hospitality, a village of tiny traditional guest houses, in the middle of the French metropolis. Open to visitors from January to May, this opportunity is all about being and working together and sharing the experience, without obligatory smalltalk.

PH: KOTI means home in Finnish; how do you know that you have come home, designer Linda Bergroth?

LB: I am never homesick. That is my heritage. My grandmother, who is 102 years old and has lived in many places, says that it is wonderful to wake up in the morning, touch the wall and wonder: “Where have I come to this time?”. This suits me because I am a restless soul. Home always generates a positive kick. There is the saying “feels like coming home”. Home doesn’t have to be one’s own home. One may suddenly feel at home in some random city. People often think home is about ownership. I think it is fun to feel at home in somebody else’s place. I have homes in Helsinki, Hanko and Paris. In Hanko and Paris, I feel at home. Helsinki is more like a logistics centre, the studio where I make myself at home.

PH: Aitta means a small storage and guest house in Finnish; how did the aitta idea for the KOTI Sleepover project get started?

LB: In Finland, we have an exceptional culture of summer cottages. Nearly every family has a second home where they spend at least the warm months of summer. These cottages are often owned or co-owned by extended families, and they often house many generations at the same time. At the summer cottage, everybody is simultaneously the host and the guest. There is often one original house, around which new generations build their cottages. This generates randomly and organically growing villages that offer a combination of privacy and social life. This culture and the tradition of working together at the cottage formed the basis for the KOTI Sleepover installation. The Finns have always been forced to collaborate in order to fight their common enemy, the cold. This mentality can be seen in new phenomena that represent the sharing culture, such as Restaurant Day and Cleaning Day. I wanted KOTI Sleepover to create the same feeling. One person is peeling potatoes, another is cleaning, someone else is cooking. It is an everyday type of coexistence and a work camp, not just sitting down at a festive, ready-made table as a guest only.

PH: What is special in a Finnish home?

LB: Finns invest in their homes. People spend a huge portion of their income in living and interior design. You can say that home improvement is the Finnish hobby. Our language is spoken by few, but we publish dozens of interior design magazines while there is not even one Finnish fashion magazine. That says a lot. In Finland, the houses are built according to a suburban ideal, which means that everything is built in. People have cinema rooms and machines to grind their own espresso. Parisians use the city as their living room. They go to the cinema and to cafes and only go home to sleep.

PH: In what way does being Finnish show in your home in Paris?

LB: I’ve never had curtains in the windows. I recently moved and brought some Aalto stools from my home in Hanko to vacate in Paris.

PH: Why is Finnish Home a brand that deserves to be exported?

LB: The KOTI Sleepover installation highlights the experience of a common, shared home. There are six little huts without soundproofing, and guests eat breakfast together. Yet people are not forced to speak but can be together quietly, and not talking is completely OK. Instead of well known design products, I think we should highlight the Finnish ways of sharing. This is what the little village of aitta guest houses for KOTI Sleepover aims to achieve. It is a bit crazy and experimental experience that requires the guest to engage in something completely new.

PH: What is the difference between an aitta and a cottage, and how does the difference manifest in KOTI Sleepover?

LB: Aitta is an extra building part of a traditional Finnish homestead. It was originally meant for temporary accommodation during the harvest. Otherwise it was used as storage. It is a wooden building without windows because windows used to be expensive while wood is a cheap building material. An Aitta offers scarce decoration: just the bed, a night table and a candle holder. A cottage offers more amenities: it is a little house with windows and cooking facilities. Aitta means hospitality. You are always welcome there. There’s always room for visitors in the aitta.

PH: How does KOTI Sleepover reflect future living?

LB: In this project, we occupy a major space in an attractive district in Paris to accommodate guests and to share internationally through the Airbnb service. At KOTI Sleepover, you can fall asleep in Paris but wake up in Finland.

PH: How has the meaning of living and home changed, and how will it change in the future?  

LB: People easily say that everything will be more flexible and nomadic than before. But the meaning and need of homemaking lies deep. I do some design work for private homes, and they will always be needed even if nearly all creative field people live in two countries.

PH: How does one recognize a Finnish home?

LB: By their very homogenous decoration objects. I often look for places for photo shoots and check out different homes. I’ve found the Kartio Glass by Kaj Franck in every home I’ve looked. Similarity sounds distressful, but it is a way of building and organizing one’s environment. This logic is repeated at Finnish summer cottages. The upside of similarity is that people can fluently move between each others’ homes and are able to operate in them. I don’t think this will change, but there will be even more discipline in the future. Nordic interior design blogs are increasingly identical, the magazines repeating the same message. This creates objects such as “the blog rug” that every Finn interested in interior design now has in their home. I think we have always appreciated personal, creative clothing in Finland. Finnish teenagers, for example, often seek exoticism in their style. For some reason, the same is rare in Finnish interior design. Then again, it is nice that people appreciate high quality, sustainable objects.

PH: What has been the best about the KOTI Sleepover project?

LB: It has been wonderful to ponder the shared sleepover experience, what is needed in an aitta at minimum, and which Finnish artisans to invite to participate. We needed linen, furniture, breakfast tableware and a light source. In addition to sounds and acoustics, the feel of a material against the skin is important to me. Because of this, I invited a Nordic family company, Lapuan Kankurit, to make a batch of bath towels and slippers for us. Ceramist Nathalie Lahdenmäki designs our tableware and vases, and Wesley Waters and Salla Luhtasela create other daily objects we need: coffee pots, candle holders, trays and hand mirrors. Nikari from Fiskars has made our wooden furniture, and Innolux provides energy lamps that wake up all guests at the same time in the morning. Each piece complements the unique, holistic experience.

PH: In whose house would you like to sleep over and why?

LB: My dream is more about a place than a host. My favourite house in the world is Casa Malaparte. It is a private villa built on a ledge in Capri. It is not open to public, and after changing owner, it has been unoccupied for a long time. I have made pilgrimages to go see it, but I’ve only seen it from the hills and the sea. I have snorkeled by the stairs that lead up to the villa. From onboard a boat, I was able to have an idea of what kind of views the house offers. It was the milieu of Godard’s film Le Mépris that I love above all. In an ideal situation, I’d teleport myself to the beginning of the 1960s so that I could be hosted by Jean-Luc Godard, Brigitte Bardot and the film group. I know people who have been inside the villa, and I live in hope to visit it myself one day. If not for the night, at least in the daytime.

PH: Would you like to share a personal memory about home and living?

LB: For eight years, I lived in a small two-room apartment of 18 square metres in Paris, in a house that was built in 1630. This tiny space included a bath tub and a kitchen counter of two metres. If I was making a list of essential features in an apartment, the place would not meet the criteria. But I loved it more than anything. People often have certain growth and status expectations regarding their living and apartment ownership. They think that they must move to a bigger place in a better location as the standard of living increases because an apartment is a financial investment. But one often loves one’s home because it is perfect in its imperfection. That is an interesting idea to understand. Finnish summer cottages work in the same way. Like an arranged marriage, my new home in Bastille, 600 metres from my previous address, looks really good on paper: large windows, an open view, lots of rooms and light. But it has taken me a long time to build an emotional connection to it. I am still adjusting to my new home. For example, every day I still walk to my old fruitier located near my old house.

PH: You’re married to a Frenchman. What does he think about Finnish homes?

LB: My husband admires the Finns who can all build their own homes on an amateur level. He is also astonished about how dramatic, disciplined and thorough Finns are about water damages and how many buildings are demolished because of that. In Finland, electricity and plumbing systems are renewed every 30 years just in case. In Paris, rebuilding is minimal, and renovation is only done out of absolute necessity. Old culture and houses run in the family in Paris. It is an amazing feeling to live in a house that is 400 years old. Old buildings must be handled gently or they won’t last. They have been built in a different way. If there is water damage in an old house in Paris, the house breathes and the humidity dries off over time.

PH: What should Finns require from their homes and what are they envied for outside Finland?

LB: Finland is often seen as a modern society pioneering in science. But in a good way, the Finns are a backwoods people. It is quite exceptional for people to seek life in the forest. I am not like that at all. I love to eat mushrooms, but I rarely pick them myself, except in my fantasy. I am fine with the idea of sleeping in an aitta in the middle of Paris.

Thoughts about Paris: ”I came to Paris 16 years ago. People always ask me what it feels like to live in two cities and how it feels to come to Paris. It doesn’t feel like anything. My mentality does not change, and there are no special effects. I like to live in Paris because I like food, talking about food, and art and culture that are all in focus here. My first thought in the morning is what to eat for lunch and what to cook for dinner. I use most of my mental capacity for this. It is nice that in Paris I have soul mates. If I fail to have a proper lunch, which happens about once a year, I feel that I have failed in life because I’ve missed the most important point. France has a good climate, and the restaurants and food in Paris displays the craft involved. Fruits do not need to be transported from far away. I love the Des Gateaux et du Pain bakery that makes seasonal pastries. I am waiting for my favourite, the peach cake season, and I regularly visit the place to see if they have the cakes on sale. I eat a huge amount of Japanese food because there is a large Japanese community in Paris and good restaurants, such as Kunitoraya known for its udons that I visit twice a week. I also like ambitious yet relaxed restaurants like the Clown Bar.”

Thoughts about the Institute: “Historically, the Finnish Institute in Paris is going through a lovely phase. In a short time, it has become a name that means something to people. For a long time, its capacity and great location in Paris were not fully utilized. Now they are.”

Thoughts about home: “Home is not the sum of its criteria but affected by feeling. Home is often created from the perfection of imperfection.”

Trad: Virve Juhola
Images: Kaapo Kamu, 2017

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