Image credit: Vesa Aaltonen
Image credit: Vesa Aaltonen

Last week Holly Holmes and I traveled to Turku, Finland to stay with artist Jan-Erik Andersson and his family. We made the journey to see Life on a Leaf, the house that Andersson designed in collaboration with architect Erkki Pitkäranta and built over a 10 year period from 1999 to 2009.

The genesis of the house is told in a series of stories published by Andersson on his website. They weave together personal narratives with historical figures to create a dreamlike fable establishing the Life on a Leaf as a phoenix-like structure born from a tragic tale of loss and longing.

 leaf_above_photo_andersson (Medium)

Andersson conceived of the project in part as a counterpoint to generic, mass-produced, minimalist housing in his native Finland. Situated in Hirvensalo on the banks of the River Aura, Life on a Leaf emerges from out of the woods like a flower blossoming in the spring. Getting planning permission to build the structure was fraught with difficulties, but after intervention from the Turku city council he was given the go-ahead to build Life on a Leaf in a park area on the island, close to the city center.

The design of the house is a synthesis of decorative ornament, combining a range of motifs with natural elements in harmony with Modernist features and nautical references. Bright-yellow wooden exterior cladding sheathes the structure, embellished concrete interior walls and floors divide the space vertically, and metal decorative features provide both useful elements and unique touches. Andersson, along with his family, close friends, and fellow artists, built significant portions of the house themselves, a process that he has documented really well on both his website and in the book produced to accompany the house, Life on a Leaf My House as a Total Artwork published by AraMER in 2014.

Image credit: Matti A. Kallio
Image credit: Matti A. Kallio

Standing inside the house, one is struck by the absence of right angles and corners. All of the interior walls follow a curvature of some kind. Where any two curves diverge at the perimeter of the house, architect Pitkäranta inserted large floor-to-ceiling windows. This is intended to give the effect of light permeating through the forest. The walls themselves are a combination of wood and concrete. In the case of the concrete walls, they are beautifully adorned with impressions made during the casting process, with lines and cones representing water drops and leaves.

Andersson’s goal for Life on a Leaf was to create a total artwork that stimulates the imagination of residents and visitors alike. Andersson invited 20 artists to contribute individual works of art to the house. Holly and I created a wallpaper design for the upstairs bathroom based on images of consumerism and warfare. Other pieces in the house include Chicago-based artist Shawn Decker’s soundscapes and British artist Trudi Entwhistle’s outdoor sculptures.

If you are interested in seeing the house in person, Andersson hosts tours, providing guests insight into the construction of the project and its origins. More information: http://www.anderssonart.com/

0 thoughts on “A Visit to Finnish Artist’s Fairy-Tale House Life on a Leaf

  1. It makes the same mistakes as what they tried to do with the 70’s soviet style housing to make them “liveable”. While a circus on the surface, it’s still brutal beneath, like a repurposed factory that looks like it was ripped directly out of an 80’s computer simulation. There’s no “Gemütlichkeit” – it’s an environment that reeks of calculated planning disguised under a thin veneer of color and shape. This is the kind of stuff that kids would spray-paint over because it was so depressingly alien.

    I remember this style from a kindergarden in the late 80’s and early
    90’s, and the memory of it was that everything was just cold and sterile. The floors were cold, the walls were cold, the furniture was cool to the touch and everything had an echo.

    The offputtingly cold concrete painted over with thick industrial paints and vinyls, bits of crumbly gray are visible everywhere. All the bare concrete and large surfaces of plain plywood, monocolored flat hardboard doors and panels, painted steel beam rafters and pillars and ventilation pipes just scream that people don’t live here. You just stay there for 8 hours for whatever reason and then go home where it’s comfortable and safe.

    You can’t make “happy accidents” in concrete – it’s just not pretty no matter how many pinecones you impress into it or paint it over. Your effort eventually turns into a mockery of itself when it ages and loses its color, like an old prostitute.

Artist. Arts Professional. Educator. Random-ist

View more articles by Tom Burtonwood