Homes & Interiors

Step inside this unusual Finnish island home full of secrets

You'd never guess that this peaceful five-bedroom country home once witnessed dramatic historical events

historic Finnish island home
(Image credit: Jaanis Kerkis)

When Satu and Ilkka Torstila bought back the house that had belonged to the
family 100 years ago, they knew nothing about the dramatic historical events that had taken place there, on its spot overlooking the Baltic Sea. 

Surrounded by trees and wildflowers and with views of the sea beyond, Satu and Ilkka’s home truly is in an idyllic setting. The landscape is typical of the Finnish archipelago, although at first sight the majestic house on the hill seems somewhat out of place here. However, once you’re through the imposing double gates and start to learn more about the home’s fascinating history, you soon realise the house is actually perfectly suited to its surroundings.

Scroll down to enjoy the couple's property, then visit the world's best homes to see more beautiful houses.

garden room entrance to Finnish country island home

(Image credit: Jaanis Kerkis)

Satu and Ilkka’s chapter in the story of the house begins in the 1970s, when the couple learned from Ilkka’s grandfather that he had lived on a country estate called Sandö as a child. Curious about the place, they looked it up, and were so impressed that they asked the owner to give them a call if he ever wanted to sell. When he got in touch 15 years later, Ilkka and Satu were ready. 

traditional kitchen in Finnish island country home

(Image credit: Jaanis Kerkis)

‘I remember the very unusual atmosphere in the house, a little gloomy perhaps with all the curtains shut, but still very special,’ says Satu.

18th century home on the Finnish archipelago

(Image credit: Jaanis Kerkis)

The next time they saw the house they were its new owners and were crossing a gracefully curved bridge over the Sandö stream and walking up the path to its front door. They had spent the intervening months researching Sandö’s long history and the colourful lives of its previous owners. Most of the contents had been kept intact in the house. The couple found everything from small ornaments and butterfly collections to teddy bears and huge pieces of furniture, all from different eras. They had been left exactly as they had been for years, so it was easy to learn more about the home’s past. 

18th century home on the Finnish archipelago

(Image credit: Jaanis Kerkis)

‘One of the main reasons they accepted us as buyers, was the connection I had to the house,’ explains Ilkka. ‘We bought it fully furnished, three floors from cellar to attic packed with stuff, and considering that the house measures 15 by 17 metres, there was a lot to explore.’ 

18th century home on the Finnish archipelago

(Image credit: Jaanis Kerkis)

‘We are both very interested in antiques, so it felt like a treasure chest,’ adds Satu. The house was in surprisingly good condition considering it hadn’t been touched in decades, but the rattly old windows needed immediate attention as they were so draughty. 

A local carpenter moved in and set up a workshop in the attic, and a few months later he had restored nearly one hundred individual window panes. Local materials were also used to renew the stone base of the house. New pipes were installed for a modern drainage system, along with new wiring for all the electrics. 

There is a working tiled stove in almost every room, typical of the style you find in most old homes in the Nordic countries. New bathrooms were also a priority – one was built on a porch behind the kitchen so as not to disturb the structure of the property.

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The shape of the house is unusual – square, rather than the warren of lopsided rooms and additions that you often find in old homes. The style is inspired by medieval architecture but was also typical of the 18th century. It stands on an
old stone foundation that dates back to the 1650s. The previous house was burnt down by the Russians during the Great Nordic War. The ‘new’ house was built some decades later, in the 1740s. 

18th century home on the Finnish archipelago

(Image credit: Jaanis Kerkis)

Sandö’s dramatic history can be attributed in part to its strategic position by the sea in between Russia and Sweden. Two big battles were fought nearby and the house still bears the scars. ‘On 2 August 1808, a cannonball was fired through the living room wall, and there it has remained ever since, for over 200 years,’ says Satu. The famous canonball is now part of the furniture, on top of a chest of drawers by the living room door. 

18th century home on the Finnish archipelago

(Image credit: Jaanis Kerkis)

As she and Ilkka discovered, there’s much more left in the house besides the historic cannonball. There was no proper road built to the property until the 1960s. Before that you reached it either by horse and carriage or approached from the sea.

18th century home on the Finnish archipelago

(Image credit: Jaanis Kerkis)

‘Maybe that’s why everything in the house, and its fixtures and fittings, are original – including all of the doors right down to their handles, hinges and locks,’ says Ilkka. ‘You can see the traces of different eras in all the rooms and we have decided to leave these layers of time as they are, rather than restore all the rooms according to the date the house was built.’  

18th century home on the Finnish archipelago

(Image credit: Jaanis Kerkis)

‘For instance, the living room hasn’t been touched since the 1920s, and we love it,’ says Satu. ‘The wallpapers are from Galeries Lafayette in Paris, and the best part is that you can find spare rolls in the attic if you need to do any repairs. In other rooms I have found old dresses in mint condition and costumes that were used by the previous owners during their evenings of entertainment.’

See: Living room ideas – clever ways to decorate living spaces

vintage toys found in an 18th century home on the Finnish archipelago

(Image credit: Jaanis Kerkis)

The mahogany beds in the guest room date from the 1860s, and were found intact in the house. In the old nursery, the couple discovered more original 1920s wallpaper and a collection of antique toys, which their grandchildren love to play with.

bedroom in 18th century home on the Finnish archipelago

(Image credit: Jaanis Kerkis)

In the dining room another unusual find came to light, with a whole cupboard full of the former owner’s collections of local butterflies from the archipelago.

Antique butterfly collection in an 18th century home on the Finnish archipelago

(Image credit: Jaanis Kerkis)

Sandö has a very special place in the couple’s hearts, particularly for Ilkka: ‘This house is unique in so many ways. It has played an important part in the history of our country and also in my own personal history, and it gives me great joy to share it with my family,’ he says. 

See: Bedroom ideas – designs and inspiration for beautiful bedrooms

Restoring hardwood flooring bedroom wide boards Finnish island home

(Image credit: Jaanis Kerkis)

‘It is a perfect meeting place for the whole clan during different celebrations. Sandö has always been full of life and it meant a lot to each of its owners over the years and now, for a short while, it’s our turn.’