Kaisa & Otto’s Black and White Abode in Helsinki

updated Feb 20, 2019
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(Image credit: Lauren Turner)

Name: Kaisa and Otto
Location: Käpylä; Helsinki, Finland
Size: 441 square feet
Years lived in: 3 years; Owned

There are a few things that one expects when stepping into a Finnish apartment—a row of shoes by the door, labeled towels racks in the bathroom, and at least a few Finnish design staples. Kaisa and Otto’s home certainly ticks all of those boxes, but when it comes to showcasing Finnish design staples, they have gone above and beyond.

(Image credit: Lauren Turner)

Classic Alvar Aalto furniture features prominently throughout the living, dining, and bedroom area, along with textiles and other design items from contemporary Finnish designers. Kaisa and Otto’s almost exclusive dedication to Finnish design inside their space is further complemented by the history of their building. Kaisa and Otto live in an area not far from Helsinki’s city centre, historically known as Olympiakylä, or Olympic Village. The buildings were originally constructed in anticipation of the 1940 Olympic Games, which were postponed due to World War II. Construction was eventually completed in 1952, and the village served as accommodation for foreign competitors in the 1952 Helsinki Olympic Games. The design of the buildings represents the typical Finnish functionalism, a silhouette which can be seen in many parts of the Helsinki area.

Another remarkable feature of Kaisa and Otto’s home is their strict adherence to a black and white color palette (with some allowance for brown accents, given the autumn season). Although one might consider the whole black and white thing to be a bit typical of Nordic interiors, the extent to which Kaisa and Otto have cultivated their space around this color palette is impressive. Even the coats hanging in the entryway, the shoes lined up by the door, the toothbrushes on the sink, and the cat—barely visible as he reclines on the black bedspread— heed the black and white colour code.

In spite of the bounded hues, Kaisa and Otto’s space is warm and inviting. Warmth exudes from the vintage collectibles found along the walls and on shelves—some of which came from Kaisa’s grandfather—as well as in the fun, yet subtle, bits of typography hanging about. Listening to the couple speak about the bits of renovation they completed themselves, as well as their design choices, makes it clear that this space was thoughtfully curated with its historical and geographical context in mind.

(Image credit: Lauren Turner)

Apartment Therapy Survey:

Our Style: We like vintage things and design items/classics—mainly Finnish. We buy them from flea markets and second-hand-shops and take them to a carpenter and/or painter as necessary. Black and white are our colors, but sometimes we love to mix some seasonal colors in with the black and white. We never use any bright colors, however. Right now is the season for brown.

Inspiration: Vintage and second-hand shops, flea markets, blogs, interior magazines, our travels, etc.

Favorite Element: The old windows, windowsills, and the double doors to our bedroom. We also really like the random nooks and recesses that we have throughout the apartment. We really had to think about what to put in them, and have used them to house the fridge, dishes and flowerpots.

Biggest Challenge: All of the random nooks, and a lack of storage space.

What Friends Say: “Ooh—it looks beautiful!” or “So tiny, but so spacious!”

Biggest Embarrassment: We really don’t like the plastic ceiling, and during our renovation, we attempted to remove it, but what was underneath was way worse, so it is staying for now.

Proudest DIY: Doing the renovation by using Google. We certainly aren’t handymen. The bathroom was ready when we moved in, but we did about half of the kitchen remodel ourselves, including tile work, and the custom glass door. We also did a complete paint job, changed the plugs and switches throughout, and installed the baseboards. We also installed the cabinets in the entryway and did some other small things to the bedroom.

Biggest Indulgence: This year we bought a bed, which is much bigger and much better for our backs than our old one.

Best Advice: Don’t make decisions too quickly and buy something right away for your new apartment. Live first, and think about what you really need and what’s suitable for your home.

Dream Sources: The city of Turku, Finland has a lot of nice vintage shops and they aren’t as expensive as in Helsinki. Also the second-hand webshops are a great way to save money and get something that’s not in production at the moment. Traveling has also given us ideas and we’ve bought nice treasures from our trips.

(Image credit: Lauren Turner)

Resources of Note:


  • Pukkila tiles
  • Renova outlets and switches

  • Vintage mirrors
  • Customized Ikea shoe rack and closets
  • Vintage coat rack
  • Vintage shingle basket
  • Vintage shoe tree

  • Alvar Aalto table 83
  • Alvar Aalto chairs 66
  • Alvar Aalto chair 60
  • Alvar Aalto sideboard
  • Ilmari Tapiovaara Mademoiselle chair
  • Johanna Gullichsen Pillows
  • Arabia flowerpots
  • Ikea sofa with Bemz cover and Prettypegs “feet”
  • Picture from Venice
  • Great grandfather’s old drawing
  • Grandfather’s old camera
  • Ikea rugcarpet
  • Smeg fridge


  • Alvar Aalto shelf
  • Arabia Paratiisi and Teema dishes
  • Vintage dishes
  • Custom made glass door


    • Ilmari and Annikki Tapiovaara 2+3 wallpaper
  • Alvar Aalto shelves 112b
  • Alvar Aalto table 81b table 81b
  • Lundia drawers
  • Pancho Nikander Kanto magazine rack
  • Old Finnish wooden bags
  • Zizi bed cover and pillows
  • Marimekko shower curtain
  • Marimekko toothbrush mugs
  • Savon Marseille bottles
  • (Image credit: Lauren Turner)
  • House towels
  • Thanks, Kaisa & Otto!

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