Two weeks before Christmas I went to see a Finnish-Irish family, the O’Gormans, who are renovating two very old Finnish houses in the historical Plassi area of Kalajoki. William and Heidi and their 4-year-old son Viljo ビリヨ. (I took my daughter, Amaya 雨夜with me, so she appears in the photos too.) Heidi and William had met each other in Japan over ten years ago when Heidi had been working in the friendship town of Kalajoki in Izumo and William on the JET programme. The cooperation between Kalajoki and Izumo towns has been going on for nearly 20 years I learnt from William. Izumo and Kalajoki have many similarities, like sandy beaches, wind power turbines, strong fishing industry and location by the sea or ocean, explained Heidi.
The old Plassi area, where William and Heidi live, was the old city centre back in time when the area was a known trading and market place (for instance, for fish, aromatic pine tar and saw mill products) even several hundreds of years ago. The location by the river and seaside was ideal for trading and shipping goods. Later on the Plassi area become a popular living area for fishermen and craft people.
Heidi and William live in an old wooden house that they have been renovating and modernising, although with a very gentle touch so that not all ”oldness” is removed. Inside I saw new wallpapers put on and new concrete floor in the hall and bathroom. But there were old items as well, such as a wood-burning stove which Heidi and William use for all their cooking.
I was interested to hear why this international couple ended up living in this small town of Kalajoki by the sea. As their story unfolded, I heard that Heidi was originally from a place near Kalajoki and a chance had even taken them, as a couple, back to this area and to Kalajoki (and not to another town in Finland or abroad). Both agreed that Kalajoki was a good, safe and peaceful place to live and they both seemed very contented with their life. Heidi is working as a Development Manager in a book publishing company in a nearby town and William works as an International Manager at Kalajoki town; his work is related to education, EU funding and other international projects.
Heidi and William had first lived in a newly built house near the sandy dunes of Kalajoki but Heidi’s dream had always been to have an old house. And William’s dream had been to live by a river. Both of them were seemingly excited about history. By taking care of an old house, you take care of the history. ”You are, in a sense, a part of a chain with an old house”, said Heidi. Heidi has always loved architecture and interior design, and both agreed that it is great to learn new skills through renovating an old house. ”When you live in an old house, you also clearly live together with the seasons”, continued Heidi. William explained how he had showelled extra snow next to the foundation of the house the day before, to enhance the insulation of the house during the cold period to keep the house warm and had also brought more firewood in. (As they have renovated the old building, they have also used eco-friendly insulation material inside the walls and floor.) I like that idea, seasonal living. I could understand that well too as I have spent longer periods at my summer house myself, both during the summer and winter.
Snow used for added insulation and eco-friendly recycled-paper insulation material
Also, when you get back home from work, there is a change in rythm, William explained excitedly. It takes time to light the fire, for instance. All those old-fashioned, time-consuming tasks at home are surely relaxing, your mind focuses on the task at hand and your forget about your work stresses. Living in an old house forces you to slow down, in a good way.
In the same yard, there was another old building that the O’Gormans were planning to renovate when the time is right and plans are ready. After our brunch together, we went outside and had a look inside the other, larger building.
In this larger building I could really see the history again as I looked at the old newspapers that had had been revealed from underneath the old wallpapers. I saw newspapers from 1886!
I was captivated by the beautifully calm snowy winter scenes through the windows, towards the frozen river and was intrigued how the O’Gormans planned to change this old house, which had served as a health centre in the past, and its old use into their new living space. (The smaller house would most likely be inhabited by Heidi’s mother later on.)
The frozen river behind the house…
As we visited a large room which would be used only as a ”summer room” and not heated through the winter, I could imagine how the summer light, warmth and greenery of the nature would be seeping in in the summer and would make the house and its occupants energized and happy. When we stepped outside again, I could further imagine the big yard in the green summer outfit, offering space for family activities, perhaps barcueing and eating outside and for a summer playground for Viljo. That day winter birds were enjoying seeds Heidi and William have place in the bird feeder.
The O’Gormans’ life is one great example of Finnish living, in which the family is living in harmony with the history and the surrounding nature. You can follow Heidi and William and their house renovation projects and see more photos on Instagram at instagram.com/neverfinnished
Photos: Monika Luukkonen