May 11, 2013

The Atrium

It took us two years, more than twenty-five "maybe" apartments and five different offers to find exactly what we were looking for - a piece of mid-century modernism from the 1960's. Our hometown Espoo (located right next to Helsinki) is actually one the best places to find Finnish mid-century modernist residential architecture. Make sure to check it out if you are visiting the area!

In general, post and beam structure, circular staircase, windows from floor to the ceiling, brick walls, atrium yard and flat roof are features typical for mid-century modern (MCM) architecture. Among other places some of the most well known works of this era are located in the Los Angeles area and were built by The Case Study Program (1945-1966). This program is one of America's most important contributors to MCM era including the work of Richard Neutra, Charles and Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen, Craig Ellewood, Raphael Soriano and Pierre Koening, and it succeeded in producing some of the period's most important residential architecture.

These architects, together with other key players of international modernism greatly influenced also their Finnish colleagues, such as Osmo Lappo, the architect of our home. Lappo is known for his concrete architecture with a very distinctive brutalist approach.

Against this background, in this posting we would like to focus on one of the central elements of our home - the atrium. It's located upstairs and due to it's central location, it is visible from most areas of the upper floor. The atrium terrace faces south, is approximately 25 square meters in size and is defined from the apartment side by the huge living room and kitchen windows. And it is needless to even mention - we totally love it!

The atrium from the dining area

The atrium from the lounge

Looking from the backyard, the atrium terrace is well visible and defined by an overhanging wooden structure above and a semitransparent composite railing on the side. The railing has seen better days, and will thus be changed to a glass version by the condo association in due time. This is fantastic, as the new railing will allow a better view to the backyard and the nearby park.

View from the backyard

At the atrium, one can sense the proximity of the large trees standing right next to the terrace. In addition, there is an odd sensation of being part of the interior even if you are indeed outside. This is, of course, due to the large windows allowing one to se everything what is going on inside. Large windows combined with the post and beam structure is a great example of a typical architectural feature deriving from the Case study program.

Two layers of windows

One of the greatest visual effects in an atrium apartment arises when while being inside, one looks through the two layers of windows and sees back inside again. In other words, in our apartment one can see the kitchen from the living room via the atrium, and vice versa.

View from lounge towards the kitchen

Viewing from kitchen towards lounge

As the atrium terrace has been covered with ice through the winter, we have only recently rediscovered its full potential again. Even the snow is finally gone, due to other projects ranking higher on the Eisenhower grid, we really haven't done much with the terrace yet excluding Pekka disassembling and washing the composite railing.

At the moment the big question is: what we are going to do with the terrace? In its current state, it is honestly not very inviting at all. The floor, which actually is not original (information kindly provided by the neighbours) is cold and wet, and still dirty from all of the renovation work done during the winter.

Getting rid of the moss

One of the ideas was to cover half of the atrium with glass panels and attached sliding doors, but that is still under consideration. Clearly, it is the most expensive option and given all the work we still have to do downstairs its not the most appealing idea to commit quite that much money right now. Also, as we are still not quite certain what do we want exactly, it probably wouldn't be a bad idea to sleep (one more year) on it. And it still would not remove the fact that we don't like the current floor.

Cement and moss

At the moment, we would like the atrium to be an inviting, comfortable and visually pleasant area as the summer is almost here. Therefore, what we have committed to is first to cover the floor either with wood or possibly composite material, both of which have their advantages. Then, we plan to move on to furnish the terrace with some nice furniture both practical and pleasing to the eye. Of course, a process you are more than welcome to follow through our blog!

And what does Urho think of the atrium? Well, the best thing in his opinion is obviously the fact that the windows come down to the floor level. The perfect height for a hot dog!

Aah, some heat..


  1. Mulle tuli ensimmäisenä mieleen peittää tuo vanha pohja seiniin kiinnitettävällä, muutoin kelluvalla terassilautarakenteella.
    Mutta älkää käyttäkö puuta, yst. terv. nimim. Viime kesänä rakennettu terassi kaipaa nyt jo öljyämistä :)

  2. Kiitos vinkistä! Otetaan varmasti huomioon valintaa tehdessä.

  3. Wow- your house is truly a dream home. I did not think that flat roofed homes could withstand snowy Finland winters, but perhaps snowfall is not a big issue there? I've toured a number of Eichler homes here in Northern California, and it's quite interesting to see some of the similarities- including the layout and so much wood! The copious use of wood seems also uncommon for European MCM, am incorrect on that as well? ~maja

  4. Hi Maja,

    Thank you so much for your comments! Yes the influence of American mcm-architecture is evident in our apartment. So many design cues that derive from the early works done in California and elsewhere.

    You are also right regarding the flat roof. It is not such a good idea with the climate we have over here. It is something that was widely used in the 60-70's architecture also over here, but we'v seen many of these houses converted to slope roofs later on. Ours actually does not have a flat, but an original slope roof. That being one of the key desicion-points in the search phase in our quest for a new home.

    The suspended, wooden (pine) ceiling that we have is quite typical for scandinavian mcm-houses. Very early on on the renovation process we decided that it will remain untouched as so many others have painted their pine-ceilings white in order to gain sense of height. We prefer it just like it is!

  5. Just found your blog through The Brick House and it went almost immediately into my Google Reader. I'm in love... nay, jealous, of your space. My husband and I LOVE MCM style. Sadly, there's not much to go around in St Louis and what is available is way out of our budget. I can't wait to live vicariously in your space. If you ever want to commiserate about renovations, pop by our blog (

  6. Thanks and same back to you! Both your blog and the space are fabulous!

    Please salute to the Gateway Arch for us if you pass by. Eero Saarinen is definitely one of our all time MCM-favorites:)

  7. Such a really nice and amazing home.

    1. Thank you for your comments! We are truly in love with it, which is also why we are willing to put so much effort in renovating it with such commitment.