'I've designed our home for refuge and relaxation.' How one interior designer conjured up calm in a city center

The owners of a turn-of-the-century apartment in Helsinki have created schemes that are serene, atmospheric and full of quiet beauty

Dining room, bedroom, study
(Image credit: Krista Keltanen)

Whether or not you live in a city center, you'll empathize with the idea of designing a home as a haven of peace to retreat to. This is exactly what interior designer Annu Nykänen has done for herself and her husband Stefan Söderström.

The couple had little reason to move from their central Helsinki apartment but just two blocks away an extraordinary opportunity arose, and it's a font of inspiration for small space decorating

‘An apartment came up for sale on Bulevardi. It’s one of the best-known streets in Helsinki,’ says Annu, who runs interior design firm Lova Co Interiors. ‘It’s in the middle of the city yet only a few hundred yards from the ocean. It also has a feeling of spaciousness, being 65 feet wide and tree-lined. At both ends are green spaces and the traffic isn’t heavy,’ she adds.

White sofa, grey rug, glass coffee table, black light

Sheer cream-colored curtains frame the elegant windows and diffuse the daylight, giving it a warm filter

(Image credit: Krista Keltanen)

While their former apartment was satisfactory, Annu and Stefan, a partner in a global management consultancy, craved move living space in a calm setting away from the city noise. 

‘There were several things that really drew us in. The apartment is in a beautiful old residential building dating back to 1905. The exterior is pale orange and the whole style is decorative with arches and small statues. It’s situated on the top floor overlooking the inner garden making it very peaceful. 

'It has 9 foot high ceilings and windows on both the north and south sides. We loved the arch in the main space and the old fireplace was another feature that we fell for. It just felt like us from the very beginning,’ Annu says.

White chairs, white rug, black wooden table, white shelves

A round table with modern curved chairs and a glass chandelier make an eye-catching focal point at the centre of the apartment. 'I love Studio Laurin for antique and vintage finds. It’s where we bought our lovely Murano chandelier for our dining area,' says Annu

(Image credit: Krista Keltanen)

Despite it being in a good condition, Annu quite naturally decided the move would be an opportune moment to flex her creative muscles. ‘It had been renovated a year previously. Despite this, we decided to embark on a three-month renovation to make it more representative of our own style yet retain the spirit of the building. 

'I like to combine different forms and materials but, above all, I always want to achieve a sense of harmony.

'We added mouldings to all the ceilings and walls and redecorated. We also sanded the floors, which had been white, to restore the original color. We changed the kitchen and invested in a few new cabinets at the entrance and in the dining room.’

Blue drawers and cabinets, marble backsplash, cream walls

A wide counter accommodates cabinetry on two sides. The oversized lamp provides sculptural interest, as does the extractor

(Image credit: Krista Keltanen)

Annu was eager to avoid the ‘all-white’ look favored in Scandinavian countries. ‘I visualize colors once I’m in the actual space and think of what would work best for it specifically. Typically, I avoid strong colors but here I wanted a subtle scheme with different levels of depth, warmth and coziness. 

'For this I used a cream shade with some contrast in the pale blue in the kitchen cabinets and living room. I’ve always preferred natural materials like linen, stone, marble and wood, which retain their value long into the future.’ 

Black and white tiled floor, blue stool

High-shine tiles rebound light from the living space. The monochrome scheme is a chic nod to the art-deco period.

(Image credit: Krista Keltanen)

Annu opted for rounded shapes in several of her furnishings, providing relief from the stricter forms of Modernist furniture. ‘The seasons contrast dramatically in Finland. In the summer, the sun sets only for a few hours so the apartment is constantly full of light. During the winter the situation is flipped, so I light plenty of candles,’ Annu adds.

At the heart of the home is the dining room from which the other rooms lead off. This center point allows a strong flow and social connection between rooms, rather like a hotel suite. The arrangement is perfect for intimate, close living with minimal need for privacy. 

Black stable, wooden cabinet, white door, blind

A rattan mobile pendant light fills the room with shadow play after dark. It chimes with the rattan radiator covers used throughout the apartment

(Image credit: Krista Keltanen)

The sweeping arch, high ceilings and large windows lend a palatial and elegant grandeur. Sharing the apartment with their King Charles Spaniel, Maple, Annu and Stefan primarily use their home as a place of refuge and relaxation. 

‘We do have friends over but mainly it’s just for us three and currently it’s our favorite place in the world.’

Black and white spotted headboard, white lamps, mirrors

The mirrored panelling helps make the room appear larger.

(Image credit: Krista Keltanen)