My family lives in a detached house located in a cosy suburban neighbourhood in Vantaa. The building stands on a modest hill surrounded by mostly detached, but also by semi-detached and terraced houses. The altitude provides us with a magnificent view over a nearby valley and makes our own house look massive and very impressive indeed – almost monumental. We have a spacious garden and a private driveway. Judging by these facts you might think that our home is just another catalogue house of a fairly wealthy middleclass family. The building has, however, gone through various, more or less painful phases before eventually reaching its current unconventional structure.
The house was originally a wooden cottage with no modern facilities whatsoever and a muddy yard serving as a paddock for pigs and sheep. My parents were looking for a suitable detached house to buy, saw this tiny cottage and fell in love with it instantly. Whatever possessed them, I do not know. Perhaps they were amazed by the fact that such idyllic smallholdings (or more accurately horrible dumps) could actually be found in a mere 25km radius from the centre of Helsinki. My own theory is that both of them, in some strangely twisted way, saw the cottage as a challenging and interesting adventure instead of a livelong working camp which it ultimately turned out to be.
This was fifteen years ago and we are still renovating. My parents decided to expand the cottage by building a separate house next to it. Being a self confident engineer, my father refused to hire any help; he planned the building by himself and dug every single hole with his own hands. As a result we now have one enormous house which consist of two parts linked together only by a narrow passage the width of a doorway. The closest example that comes in mind when trying to think of a construction even slightly resembling that of ours is the fictitious “Barbababa house” from a popular children’s book.
The expansion stands a little higher up the hill than the rest of the house, which makes the cottage look minuscule. It also allows us to refer to the expansion as “upstairs” and the cottage as “downstairs”. The cottage consists of a kitchen, a dining room with a fire place and a study. The kitchen-dining room combination is convenient when inviting a large amount of people to dinner or to any other kind of a gathering. Having a separate study for computer goods and important papers makes it is easier for my parents to keep up with the household bills and provides me and my siblings with some adequate, undisturbed space for schoolwork. The overall image of the cottage is, given its origin, very warm and cosy.
On the upper storey we have a living room, four bedrooms and a sauna section with showers and a dressing room. All of the rooms are quite spacious and bright, but the living room is especially beautiful with its slightly protruding, wall high windows. The absolute crown of the whole house is, without a doubt, the balcony, which actually resembles more of a patio lifted a little higher than usual. The balcony is a perfect place for spending hot summer days by napping, eating or reading – virtually anything you can think of.
The expansion was deliberately built in the same technique as the cottage. It represents the common finish styles of wooden detached houses with its red painting and cubicle shape. Despite all its unconventional features, our house fits perfectly to its surroundings – almost as though it had always been there. The building’s unpredictable compatibleness with its environment is probably the result of over a decade’s gradual modification, during which our apple trees, berry bushes and flower plantations have all found their ideal places. Having lived for almost all of my life in our curious “Barbababa house”, I find it hard to imagine ever feeling completely happy in an average tower block flat.