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A Townhouse in Finland Makes Tuscan Look Fresh; Before & After

By 07/15/2019July 18th, 201960 Comments

On the last week of our friends and family tour of Finland, my Mom and I arrived in Oulu where I met my cousin Eija for the first time (daughter of my late Dad’s youngest sister).

Eija and her husband had just moved a week ago and still generously welcomed my mother and I to come and stay. I  let her know I’d help her hang pictures!

Here are some before pics of the small living area which was suddenly even smaller because the movers had placed the cabinet (below) in the middle of the living space.

But what made the small space even smaller were the steps leading up to a Juliet Balcony (above). If you were tall, you’d have to duck to walk through the back door leading to the backyard.

After lunch, I declared the steps had to go. Eija happily agreed and since their two sons were also there because they’d come to meet us, they were a big help in taking it down (below):

I grabbed this later from my Instastories to post here because it was a fun photo

Eija had already found a new sofa and her husband Timo was anxious to get my approval before they bought it.

They liked the faux finished accent wall in the living room and it did relate to the Tuscan inspired tile floor.

After we removed the steps and moved the furniture, we jumped into the car to see the sofa. I declared that it was just right for the space and on the way home, we stopped at Pentik because of course, we needed lamps. AGAIN.

Because Finland is a northern country, it is DARK in the wintertime. If you work in an office without windows from 9 – 5 every day, you will not see the sun. This makes owning a lamp with a shade, absolutely imperative to your well being.

Moomin is a very popular Iittala line in Finland.

Lots of cream in the artwork lightens and brightens

Anyway, on the second afternoon (we were only there for two nights) Eija unpacked all the rest of their pieces which they had collected in their travels. I laid out their artwork on the floor and arranged it many times until we determined what looked best.

Timo said he was partial to the art with the olive branch because when he retires, he wants to be looking at a real olive tree because that means he’s probably living in Portugal. I loved that!

And here is the after. I didn’t have to go far to find two leather chairs because they were already in the house. One I pulled from the dining room and the other from the upstairs loft. We did not have time to find the right area rug.

All greens go together

Eija had lots and lots of Iittala glass that she has collected over the years, which I happily arranged into vignettes.  I also commented ‘It must be  easy to buy a present for your friends in Finland, all you have to do is go to the Iittala store’. I had no idea exactly how much gorgeous glassware came from Finland until I saw it all at the outlet store and was so sad to learn they don’t ship.

Notice how all the shades of green look good together!

I love this Kastehelmi pattern, I bought the votives, plates and glasses. And I found them online, you can get them here.

Eija already had lots of wonderful house plants in perfect white plant pots. All I had to do was arrange them!

See the plant in the middle (below)? It’s a Shamrock plant and the leaves close at night, I watched it happen when I was there and one side of the room got darker. They’ve had it for years!

Cognac leather repeats the rust colours in this accent wall

Here’s the other side with the pillows we found and a comfy leather ottoman. You have to walk through the living room to get to the back patio door so this made an ottoman a better choice than a coffee table that you’d likely bump into. Also, for this reason I suggested a creamy cowhide rug because the shape is unstructured. 


Here’s the other side of the room:

Cream always makes earthy rust tones feel fresh

Eija had two cream drapery panels from her former house so we hung them up in the dining area but I told her she needed two more so it would look more full and finished.

A common mistake that many people make is hanging a drapery rod only over the window. Once you hang up even two panels (which only works for a really skinny window) they start to cover up the windows.

In this case she had wall space on both sides of the window in the kitchen dining area so hanging panels there helped to define the area and make it feel more like a dining room.

A round table would definitely be a better solution for this area, so I told them to keep that on the list as the budget allowed.

Here’s the kitchen and fireplace on the other side of the living room. Happily, the tile around their heat-storing Finnish fireplace was already a creamy classic and timeless tile!

I also suggested a lamp on the kitchen table (I know you’re shocked) which meant that in this house it’s in the middle of the room (below) making it a perfect soft light that illuminates the surrounding area anytime.

Here’s the before picture again after I had re-arranged the furniture (before the new sofa came the next day):

And the after again:

And here’s my sweet cousin Eija! Mom snapped this photo of us while we were pillow shopping! And we had obviously shopped at the same store for new scarves earlier that day 🙂

My Mom was very moved that Timo hung the Finnish flag in the backyard in honour of our arrival! It was an emotional two days for both of us!

Eija couldn’t believe we got so much accomplished in less than two days. She was thrilled with the feeling of her new home and said she loves that the living room now invites you to sit, relax and enjoy music or a good book!

And then, the story isn’t over yet.

We arrived on Tuesday afternoon. After lunch, we ran out and bought the lamps, approved the sofa that same day. Then Wednesday we picked it up along with a few other items, went out for lunch, and then came back and put everything away.

Late Thursday morning (we were scheduled to take the train back on Thursday evening) we drove out to Paavola to meet my aunt Amanda (believe it or not it’s just as much a Finnish name as an English one) and Eija’s two brothers (more of my cousins).

Amanda (below) came out to greet us when we arrived and I immediately started crying I was so moved by this woman who treated me like I was a long lost daughter.

I literally could not stop crying all afternoon, I was so moved by the entire experience of meeting family for the first time.

She took me upstairs and we looked through photo albums where she had collected photos of us that my Mom had sent her over the years.

The family lives in two separate homes on over 350 acres of land.

After we had lunch in Amanda’s home, we walked over to her son’s home for coffee and dessert:

Finnish hospitality is really amazing to experience and they do drink more coffee than anyone else!

And this is a typical Finnish colour scheme. Now I understand why every time I see a photo from Finland there’s a little red house in it! I snapped this photo of their gorgeous property when we were leaving:

I loved this trip to visit my roots and experience my Finnish heritage and it was especially profound to be with my vibrant and fun-loving Mother. She has boundless energy and I love being with her so much! I feel so blessed to have a Mom who is so young (73).

Mom (Hellen) and Maria

I also really appreciated staying in private homes because I truly got to see how Finnish people live and the similarities in the culture. It’s one of the reasons I have always loved staying at Bed & Breakfasts.

I plan on doing a round-up of everything I noticed in a post very soon!

Related posts:

3 Way to Love Your Home Again; Before & After

How to Hang a Gallery Photo Wall

14 Inexpensive Ways to Get the Look of Real Art

28 pins


  • Colette says:

    Maria, they all look like before photos to me.

    I love everything else you do.

    From your biggest fan in Ireland

  • Lynne says:

    It looks much nicer but I have a question. It might be the colours on my monitor but are those white lampshades too white with all the organic, earthy colours. They really stand out.

    • Maria Killam says:

      Yes that is a huge colour mistake made by Pentik because the ONLY lamp shades they sell are stark white. All lamp shades should be off-white. Thanks for your comment, good eye! Maria

  • Adelaide says:

    It has been a joy to follow you on your trip Maria, particularly this last leg with your Mum in Finland. Your design reputation obviously preceded you, and what lucky family members to have you leave such a personal stamp to remember you by. Your generosity has always been rampant, and now I’m thinking it is a deep family/Finnish trait. Such happy faces in all your pics, and what’s a few tears between those we love?
    Best wishes to you and all your extended family dear woman.

  • Lynn says:

    Wonderful to hear of your adventures in Finland and how touching it was for you. Love what you did with the art and the vignette work. Maybe just my screen while I am away traveling, but why the new sofa? Didn’t the existing off-white one fit in almost better? Am I seeing a hint of pink in the new one?

    • Maria Killam says:

      It was old and not comfortable. The new sofa did read slightly pink in this space but it was an orange cream fabric. And the cushions that I chose also picked up the pink slightly which I thought was perfect 🙂 Maria

  • Robin says:

    As much as I loved reading this entire post, (now I’m really going to be late for work lol) your sweet and tender finish to this story had tears rolling down my face and made for the very best part. The house is adorable truly but I just loved the warmth and joy and love emitted from this post even more. I have to keep repeating to myself that all greens go. I struggle with that and will try to remember your words moving forward. Such a special time for you all and I will be planning a mother/daughter luncheon at my home (my Mom’s 82!) stat lol. Memories made last a lifetime. Hey, just like your awesome advice!!

  • Suzanne says:

    I love every bit of this post. Thank you for sharing.

  • Lorri says:

    Maria, you did a great job with your cousin’s place! Love all the fresh green. What a great sofa too! She is so lucky to have her house whipped into shape so quickly after moving in. That Shamrock plant that closes at night is interesting – I never heard of it before.

  • Mary says:

    love everything about this, thank you for sharing!

  • Mary-Illinois says:

    Hi Maria,
    What you did for your family’s home is so “you”. Always helping folks make their homes more inviting. I’m sure they’re thrilled with the outcome.
    Seeing Finland through your mother’s eyes has got to be the best thing ever! Those are the best kind of memories.
    I’m wondering how the house plants survive during Winter with no sunlight. The darkness must be hard on them.

  • KATHY says:


  • Karen H. says:

    Beautiful Maria! Job well done pulling all the elements together for this darling home. I’ve enjoyed seeing Finland and your family. Safe travels.

  • Karen says:

    Maria. This posting was an emotional journey for us as readers. I can only imaging the joy, excitement and love you felt meeting new family for the first time. You prove once again that the reason we decorate beautifully is to share it with those we care about. Thanks for sharing.

  • Candice Hill says:

    Hi, Maria…I was so touched by your emotional 1st visit with your Finnish family! I’m so happy for you! Love ya, Candy
    P.S. How ironic, I was home to Michigan, and bought a lamp for my kitchen, only to come home and find another article about lamps on your blog. See, what a good influence you are!!! You’re the best!!!!

  • jeannie says:

    Love how the living room came out – especially the 2 chairs and the artwork. I’m not crazy about the white lampshades. They look too stark to me. Everything else looks lovely and homey.

  • LISA says:

    I loved following your trip and reading this article. It is all so sweet! Meeting your family for the first, helping with their homes and doing it all with your mom! How special!

  • Bev says:

    thankyou for sharing Maria,…it is truly soul moving to connect with people that share our DNA! I am so very happy for you that you had that beautiful rich experience,..I’m sure you will be forever changed by it all! what a blessing!

    • Sandi says:

      So true! When I went to Europe to visit my parents’ home towns for the first time, I felt a vibrating connectiveness that I can’t really explain! It’s like my eyes, ears, and heart opened to something unknown but familiar. I felt like I left a part of my soul when I had to leave, but it was worth feeling so connected.

  • Jonelle says:

    This is my favorite post thus far! You have such an amazing warmth Maria. The care you took in arranging their home is wonderful. It looks great! Thanks so much for sharing this personal experience with all of us!

  • Kathy says:

    I love Finnish glass too–it looks like melted ice. My mother worked in a shop called “A Touch of Finland” in Marquette, Michigan. The Upper Peninsula of Michigan has the highest density of Finnish immigrants in the United States, in part because the sandy soil, rocky shoreline, birch and pine forests and long winters reminded them of home, Aho is more common than Smith in the phone book. The U.P. as we call it is a little off the beaten path, but might be worth a visit someday.

    The story is that in Scandinavia, so many of the houses are painted red to imitate brick and yellow to imitate limestone of the fancier houses in town, There is a special red pigment made of iron called Falun Red that is used on many buildings, and it forms a tough layer that lasts a long time. It is available in Canada, but unfortunately not in the United States. The traditional yellow is from pine tar, which also makes green and black. Albeck makes these products organically, along with the real traditional window putty, and it is also available here

    Copper Country in the Keweenaw Penninsula had the most Finns because of the mines (Now a National Heritage Site) and a Finnish private college, Finlandia University (formerly Soumi College). The Hanka Homestead Museum nearby is a great open air museum of a traditional Finnish homestead–I try to swing by to visit whenever I am in the area. It is a little hard to find and only open in the summer, but well worth it. You can walk the grounds other times of the year, and it really gives you a sense of how hard life was in this remote region.

    • Maria Killam says:

      Yes when i asked about the red they told me about the red pigment but you explained it the best, thanks for your comment! x Maria

  • Wendy says:

    I loved all your Finland posts and I can relate to your tears at meeting family. It’s powerful to feel connected!

    Great improvements made in this small space. I’m guessing with one more day, you would find a rug. Which color would work best? I’d vote for a creamy neutral.

    Your other Finnish rooms cry out for rugs…I’d think that would help with temp control? Or are bare floors a Scandinavian thing? I see it in Danish, Swedish, Norwegian rooms too. Cheers and thanks for good posts!

  • Susan Silverman says:

    Besides loving what you did in your cousins house, I love how much you enjoyed the experience of going back to your roots and meeting new family! But what I love the most is how you always speak about your wonderful mother. As a mother of 3 daughters (and 1 son) it is definitely something to aspire to. Well done Maria and Hellen.

  • Liz says:

    Great post, fabulous transformation!! I saw all ur InstaStories & it looks like it was the trip of a lifetime! Beautiful country, I had no idea; looks like a very special time indeed. And how lucky they r 2 have a pro decorator in their fam! 😉

    My Mom is 73 also but has been very unwell since having a stroke in her early 50s. I would love 2 be able 2 do something like that with her, but watching u do it was the next best thing. Thx 4 sharing! ??

  • Keira says:

    Love what you did with Eija’s space!

  • Cynthia says:

    What a wonderful house guest you are!!!!
    If you ever need to stay in Langley, you are welcome here lol?

  • Dorothy Robinson says:

    What a lovely post, Maria. It was interesting to read and see the pictures of your family.

  • Ruth says:

    I’ve loved following your trip to what was my great-grandparents homeland. I love what you accomplished in this space, and I also adore the Iittala glass (my mother had an Aalto vase but it was broken in a move, sadly).
    Here’s something I do not understand, ever, and that is the penchant for leaving the stickers on glassware or crystal. Why on earth display the red ‘i’ – it does not improve the appearance of the glass, it only distracts.

    • Maria Killam says:

      Hi Ruth, That is part of the branding which is why it is often left on Iittala glassware 🙂 Thanks for your comment! Maria

  • Joan Westran says:

    Bless Maria … she leaves a trail of beauty wherever she goes. Maria works magic 🙂

  • Dear Maria, I am so moved by your story about your visit with your cousins, and I love how you transform spaces!


  • Susan S says:

    Your posts have felt like I was almost there! So interesting to truly see, as you stated, how they live. I’m married to a Finn/German/Welsh guy and we have discussed visiting Finland and now I want to go even more after reading yours posts!

  • Lucy says:

    Oh Maria I am so thrilled that you were able to meet and spend time with Xo

    your Finnish relatives! They also had to be so excited to meet you! I am sure that you will be in their discussions for years! Your lovely cousin Elja must feel so blessed to have had her famous cousin from Canada arrange her living room. I can just see her inviting her friends in to show them what a professional can do! Her room looks so well done and I know you were limited with your selection. What a wonderful emotional trip for both you and your mom. Thank you for allowing all of us to follow you on your whole trip!

  • Mary Brignano says:

    How great to have followed you around Europe, and especially the Finland part. And how beautifully you pulled together your cousin’s living room on such a tight time budget — you had to work it in between all those coffee and dessert gatherings! Thanks so much for sharing your trip with us. We are fortunate in Pittsburgh that a nearby artisan bakery makes a heavenly Finnish rye bread — dark, dense, and delicious.

  • Rosemary says:

    Honestly, I didn’t even care about th decorating part, I was enthralled by your family story, what a treat for you and for sharing with us.

  • B. Winter says:

    Thanks for sharing! I always learn something from your posts.

  • Susan C. says:

    I love what you did in the space! It can be quite a challenge to update a space when it is a very small area, or you are working with a small budget, or must incorporate existing dated elements (like furniture, floor tiles, wall colors, etc) — or all of the above as you did for your cousin! It couldn’t have turned out any better!

  • Cynthia says:

    This was such a sweet story. Loved what you did to the house. And love your family.

  • Fran W. says:

    I loved this post, Maria. It’s wonderful that you and your mom had the opportunity to take this trip together. Such a special time.

  • Oh Maria, what a truly lovely post! I feel like I was right there beside you along the way!
    So thrilled the removed that silly little staircase. The additions you made completely changed the way that darling home looks. So cozy, functional and indeed it does look like a decorator was there.

  • Karen says:

    During this beautiful post, your family became my family.
    I started crying when I saw the older lady all dressed up in her pink dress and nylon stockings and heels.
    The whole thing reached out and grabbed my heart and wouldn’t let go.
    Karen S.

  • Kim says:

    I am so happy for you that you took the opportunity to travel together with your sweet mom to Finland and meet your family. The connections with family can be so tender and wonderful, and your experiences have been joyful and heartwarming to read about.

  • Karen says:

    I loved following along on your Insta on this trip (and your others in the summers and Palm Springs in January the past two years). I look forward to seeing what you’ve posted in the morning and it’s fun to learn about Finnish culture; what a beautiful place and beautiful people! I showed my husband some of the vignettes you created in the townhouse; you’ve given me some inspiration for my blank, bland tabletops in my living room. I love the Iittala glassware and will be looking to add some to our home in the future. We’re probably more transitional than other styles, but not farmhouse; I really like the way you style rooms.

  • Hala says:

    As usual a great post! Made me recollect every visit with family back in Poland, all the joy and crying. Wonderful job too – you always make the interiors cohesive and inviting. BTW, the plant that closes its leaves for the night is a false shamrock, aka wood sorrel (Latin: Oxalis triangularis). Even more intriguing is the plant on the table by the window – perfect for the “brown thumbs” – called ZZ plant (Latin: Zamioculcas zamiifolia). Highly drought tolerant, perfect for people who travel often, like you Maria, it can be neglected for weeks at a time. Although it will grow in any light, it’s one of a few house plants that will thrive and look beautiful in dark corners, even in windowless rooms, offices or bathrooms with just artificial light. Hope I didn’t bore you all with this bit of horticulture and Latin names guarantee finding a specific plant if anyone is interested.

  • Brenda says:

    What an awesome post, Maria! I loved every word and the last part was just so sweet. That Finnish glass is beautiful, and when I clicked on your link, I was surprised at how many colours it is available in! Something for everyone! Your Mom is so beautiful, I can’t believe she is 73. Her skin is amazing and if she has any secrets to share…?

  • Janice Harpest says:

    I’m LOVING your family story and pictures! THANK YOU for letting us join you on your trip!!

    Your decorating is great, too ! 🙂

  • Debbie says:

    I’ve so enjoyed your posts from Finland over the last couple of weeks! I’ve loved hearing about your wonderful family and your very touching reunion with them. And it’s been great to get glimpses into the culture, lifestyle, and natural beauty of Finland. My daughter will soon be leaving for Finland to be an exchange student for her last year of high school. She will be away for 11-12 months and we will all miss her tremendously! She’s long admired Finland- the happiest people in the world with a wonderful education system, more saunas than cars, and low per capita cigarette smokers. She’s very excited.
    We’ve been trying to come up with gifts she can bring for her host families. Any ideas? (besides lamps, which don’t pack well)
    Anyway, thank you for sharing- it’s been a comfort and a pleasure.

  • Christian says:

    Yesss. Please do share what you learned in Finland. My grandmother was Finnish (born Honkanen, in NYC) but she died when I was 13 so I’ve lost that connection to my heritage.

    I’ll make a trip to Finland one day, but love seeing you reconnect with dear relatives. You won’t be forgotten easily – they’ll live with (and appreciate) your decorator’s touch each and every day! Thanks for sharing! ??

  • Connie Fowler says:

    This was such a lovely and moving post, Maria. For some reason, I started crying too when I saw the picture of Amanda. So sweet. I also adore what you did with the house–it made it fresh and livable in a small space. I love that sofa and the antique cabinet as well–I like to mix styles in my own home. Those outdoor photos were amazing!

    I’m a new subscriber and am really enjoying catching up on all your posts. Thanks for all the information about color–I am learning a lot from you.

  • Abbee says:

    I can really relate to your story. I, too, am of Finnish descent and have beautiful relatives there. This summer was my first time in Finland. I spent a lot of time crying, because it was so emotional seeing all the things my mother had spoken about. It was a wonderful experience and it felt like “home.” I, too, went to Pentik and bought some pillow covers that I am designing my new home around. Thanks for sharing your story.

    • Maria Killam says:

      How lovely, thanks for sharing yours 🙂 I loved that store, its the most stylish home decor store I saw in Finland! Maria

  • Diana McLean says:

    Maria – You are sweet lady. I was always taught to leave a place better than you found it. Well, girl, you went above and beyond.
    Love, love , love this home with your transformation.
    To share a funny story, I was at a Bible study one night and I couldn’t concentrate as the furniture placement was all wrong.
    I raised my hand and said to the hostess, “do you mind if we take a ten minute break
    so I can rearrange your furniture?” She was overjoyed. Ten minutes later we were back in the Book.
    They think they got blessed but actually, I got blessed.
    You are a joy where ever you go. Compare it to educated magic dust. No it isn’t a “knack” as one doctor said to me. I wanted to say, “and, yes you have a knack for finding cancerous tumors on someone’s body, but I took the high road and shut my mouth.

  • Vernah says:

    What joy you bring with your gifts! Loved your family stories. It was heart tugging to see your beautiful Aunt Amanda get dressed up to meet you and your mom. We just don’t do that anymore! And your mom’s plump vibrant skin….absolutely incredible!

  • Diana says:

    What a beautiful family reunion – I love that feeling of meeting European families again – sometimes for the first time – and having them show us pictures that include the family that left for the Americas -ours. And, Maria, Portugal is just like that, and lots of Olive trees, too!

  • Jackie Johnson says:

    Having to rearrange my Aunts home for sale. THANK YOU for the lighting article and long sofa pillow arrangement.
    BUT, I have to know… Brand of your GLASSES !
    I love them, I’m a Gen2 Swede/Finn. 💞🇸🇪🇫🇮

  • Hey Killam! Amazing Townhouse this is very inspiring decoration, why not, the living room now invites you to sit, relax and enjoy music or a good book!

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