50 years as a museum – the beautiful Art Nouveau building has captivated many a heart, and one heart in particular
When Eliel Saarinen and his family, having settled in the US, decided in the late 1940s to sell their beloved Hvitträsk, their hope was that it would be used as a presidential residence or banqueting premises for the Finnish Association of Architects. However, no agreeable buyers turned up, so the family ended up selling Hvitträsk to a private couple, who lived in the building for a couple of decades until they hit personal bankruptcy. After the couple’s bankruptcy, Hvitträsk was no longer used as a home. Instead, this year marks the 50th anniversary of the building’s service as a museum. For that entire period of time, museum professional Pepita Ehrnrooth-Jokinen has been working at Hvitträsk. However, the building is by no means just a workplace to her – she herself refers it to as the house of her heart.
In addition to her work, Pepita is connected to Hvitträsk through her architecture and history hobby, her love for Art Nouveau and a family manor next door to Hvitträsk. She also found her husband, a chef, in the museum restaurant, and the couple were married in the atelier. On the videos, our Hvitträsk expert talks about her relationship with the building and different chapters of the museum’s history, and she presents some never-before-seen photos from the Saarinens’ family album.
All the videos are available with English, Swedish and Finnish, subtitles. You can change the subtitle language in the YouTube subtitle settings.
Never-before-seen photos from the Saarinen family’s home album
On the next video, Pepita presents photos of the Saarinen family enjoying life on the beach, parlour games and the company of friends. In one photo, Eliel Saarinen is throwing a javelin, while in another, Pipsan is about to go to a ball at the manor next door, which happens to be Pepita’s childhood home.
The next photos are of Eliel with a tennis racquet, having come from the US to spend his summer holiday at Hvitträsk, beautiful clothes sewn by Loja and a miniature statue sculpted from soap by Eero. The video is in Swedish, but Finnish-language subtitles are available.
Getting rid of the 70s’ mustard yellow and carpeting – Hvitträsk has undergone plenty of restoration over the years
Today, Hvitträsk is showcased in its original look, but this has taken a lot of restoration work, as the people who owned the building after the architects – the private couple and two foundations – each left their marks on it. At one point, the building was dressed in colours typical of the 1970s: brown, mustard yellow and olive green. The original surfaces and colours have since been dug up – for example, the original rose-patterned linen wallpaper in Pipsan’s room was found under five layers of wallpaper.
Another part of the restoration process was completed this year, as the Saarinens’ main bathroom was restored to its original glory from the 1910s. Pepita presents the bathroom near the end of the video.
The boys have come home – a portrait of Eliel and Eero was returned to Hvitträsk
All of Hvitträsk forms a cohesive work of art, so the furniture designed and the art pieces selected by the architects are an important part of the building’s soul and being. However, not all of the original items of the building are showcased in the museum, for a completely natural reason: Matilda auctioned items such as the couple’s furniture after her husband Herman Gesellius passed away and used the auction money to move to Paris. The Saarinen family also took some of their beloved belongings with them to the US. These items are stored in private collections around the world, and many have also been returned to Hvitträsk. One item that has seen the world and has since been brought back home is a painting of Eliel and Eero, father and son. Pepita knows that the painting was so dear to Loja that after Eliel died, the entire living room of Loja’s new villa was designed around the painting.