A New Zealand entrepreneur and a Finnish artist welcome us into their heritage Helsinki apartment
A New Zealand entrepreneur and his Finnish wife have made their home in a charming heritage apartment with views to some of Helsinki’s most sublime inner-city scenery.
In a moment straight out of a fairytale, when Finnish artist Carolina Grunér met Kiwi entrepreneur Sam Ashcroft, it was love at first sight. They moved in together 11 days later, and three months on made their home in a similarly enchanting apartment in an 1890s building in the seaside suburb of Katajanokka in downtown Helsinki, Finland. They married on their eight-month anniversary. “It felt like we didn’t need words or time to get to know each other, because it was like we already did,” says Grunér.
Just as the couple had no doubt that they were made for each other, Grunér says they knew immediately that the apartment would become their home. “The light, high ceilings, big windows, wide windowsills and sculpted double doors – all of it charmed us. Not to mention the view of the Uspenski Cathedral – it’s so close you almost feel like you could touch it.”
For Ashcroft, the drawcards included the “worn original floors in nearly every room, and the thick and solid rock walls, which create a very peaceful and grounded feeling”.
Grunér had lived in the Katajanokka district before, so the apartment’s address in the real-estate ad caught her attention. The photos painted an unflattering picture, but she knew the location would be special, so they scheduled a viewing. The apartment turned out to be a diamond in the rough, and soon it was theirs.
“We’d dreamed about living in an old home in peaceful surroundings close to the sea,” she says. “Wooden floors and light were important factors for us and I wanted to be able to work from home, so we were looking for an apartment big enough to include a studio.
“We had hoped that our home would be near the centre of town, but not quite at the core. In Katajanokka, all our wishes are fulfilled. We have views to the centre of the city, over rooftops, parks and the harbour. The area is actually its own little island attached to the mainland, so we’re close to the waterfront but only a 10-minute walk to the city centre.”
YOU CAN BASICALLY WALK AROUND IN A CIRCLE – EVERY ROOM
LEADS TO THE NEXT.
The couple decorated with items from their previous homes, secondhand finds, heirloom chandeliers and one big new piece: a snow-white sofa. By and large, Grunér prefers to recycle, an approach that’s not only pleasing aesthetically but also helps to make the home feel lived in. She and Ashcroft aim to achieve a sense of harmony, but not have things looking too perfect.
“My mother has always been interested in design and our house was always a bit different to other homes,” says Ashcroft. “Although we had some designer pieces, it was obvious that our house was to live in – nothing was too precious. That’s the approach we intended to take here.”
The couple designated the biggest, brightest room as Grunér’s workspace. In fact, with its almost four-metre stud, the entire house has a gallery-like feel and is ideal for displaying her artwork. Tall doorways connect the spaces, another standout feature for Ashcroft, who says, “One of the things on my wish list was that our home have a good, uninterrupted flow, which this apartment does. You can basically walk around in a circle – every room is attached to another and leads to the next. It’s a child’s dream when it comes to hide and seek!”
The timber surfaces in the kitchen provide a cosy atmosphere ideal for relaxing with a cup of tea. From here, double doors open onto the balcony, which, in contrast to the city views from the rest of the apartment, faces a tranquil courtyard. It’s a lovely quiet sanctuary where the couple can often be found eating breakfast in the morning sun, listening to the birdsong. Grunér, Ashcroft and their baby daughter, Grace, moved to
New Zealand this past summer. Follow their journey on Instagram: @carolinagruner; @samuel_william.
LEFT The artist’s tools form a beautiful still life on her working table. Her grandfather, Risto Kuntsi, was interested in painting, but made his career as a lawyer. She considers him her biggest inspiration. “His dream was to live as an artist and I...