History of Tamminiemi
Urho Kekkonen lived at Tamminiemi as President of Finland for 25 years in 1956 - 1981, and in addition to this, he stayed on in the house for another 5 years after he had retired, until his death in 1986.
In 1987 the Office of the Council of State decided that Tamminiemi would become a museum. The heirs of the president made this possible by donating the personal property of Mr. Kekkonen to the collections of the museum. The museum is administered by the National Board of Antiquities, and it is part of the National Museum of Finland.
A Danish-born wholesale merchant Jörgen Nissen built the Tamminiemi villa in 1904 as a private home for his family. The villa was designed mainly in the Art Nouveau style by two Finnish architects, Sigurd Frosterus and Gustaf Strengell. In 1914 engineer Ernst Sundgren, who worked in St. Petersburg, bought Tamminiemi. The Sundgren family used the house as a summer villa, but as a result of the revolution in Russia the family moved in the villa permanently in 1917, and never returned to Russia. In 1924 Amos Anderson, a wealthy businessman became the owner of Tamminiemi - Anderson was a leading newspaper publisher and editor, as well as a great patron of Arts. He did not reside at Tamminiemi permanently, and in 1940 he donated the house and the estate to the Finnish State as an official residence for the president. Mr. Anderson’s personal friendship with President Kyösti Kallio was one reason for this donation.
President Kallio never moved to Tamminiemi – he died in December 1940. His successor Risto Ryti, however, used the house as his residence from 1941 to 1944, and during the bombing of Helsinki in the winter of 1944, President Ryti also carried out his official tasks of office here. One could say that Tamminiemi was at the focus of politics especially in the critical years of the 1940’s. Ryti’s successor President Mannerheim lived here from 1944 until 1946. It fell upon him to lead Finland that had suffered great losses in the war into a path of peace and see to it that the conditions of the truce were fulfilled. Tamminiemi was his home and a place of negotiations, visited for example by the Soviet chairman of the Control Commission, Andrei Zhdanov. Mannerheim’s successor President Paasikivi never moved to Tamminiemi, as he used the Presidential Palace for his residence.
When Urho Kekkonen was elected president in 1956, he and his wife Sylvi Kekkonen (1900 – 1974) were happy to take up residence at Tamminiemi. The house also became the president’s place of work and the site of official functions along with the Presidential Palace in the centre of Helsinki. During his term of office that lasted a quarter of a century Tamminiemi came into the public eye: Tamminiemi and Kekkonen became almost synonymous.
In 1956 the interior of the house was largely renovated and modernized, so that there aren’t many details left of the original Art Nouveau style. At the same time, a sauna was built down by the waterside. Mrs. Sylvi Kekkonen took an active role in designing the interiors of the residence. When the presidential couple moved to Tamminiemi they brought with them their library, as well as various paintings and sculptures from their previous home in the centre of Helsinki. Mrs. Kekkonen also frequently visited art exhibitions and bought many new works of art for Tamminiemi, and many of the gifts that President Kekkonen received during his long term of office further added new details to the interior. In 1974 the interior decoration was partly renewed: the worn-out furniture of the 1950’s was replaced by contemporary Finnish design: tables and chairs by Alvar Aalto and leather-upholstered furniture by Yrjö Kukkapuro.
The most recent renovation of Tamminiemi began in autumn 2009 and was completed in March 2012. The renovation covered the main and economy buildings, the sauna and the gazebo. As a result, the plastering of the Art Nouveau main building, along with its original colour and decorative motifs, has been restored. Also, the outdated technical systems have been renewed and the accessibility of the museum has been improved. In the interiors of the museum, the patina of time has been preserved, but the surfaces have been cleaned and the damaged parts repaired. In addition, a new room is now on show for the public: the kitchen of Tamminiemi. Also, a multi-purpose room was designed on the second floor of the museum – it will serve as a space e.g. for workshops, group work and meetings. The museum is largely shown as it was in President Kekkonen’s day in the 1970’s. The museum’s park has also been restored.
The study was in many ways the most important room at the residence. All three presidents that lived at Tamminiemi, Ryti, Mannerheim, and Kekkonen, used this room as their study. It was here that President Kekkonen worked, read official documents and papers, and prepared his speeches and correspondence. In his youth Kekkonen had worked as journalist, and even as president he remained an active columnist – writing under a pen name. The president prepared most of his speeches himself. He was well-known in particular for being a keen letter writer, which for him was a way of wielding power as well. He also received visitors here, and would often negotiate with them at the table in the window recess. He visited the Presidential Palace usually only once a week on a regular basis.
The books in the bookshelf include mainly dictionaries, statute books and political literature. On top of the shelf there are a few of the gifts that the president has received: a high vase which was a birthday present from Nikita Khrushchev in 1960. The map collection in the window recess is a gift from the U.S.A., from vice president Lyndon B. Johnson in 1963, on his visit to Finland. It consists of a map of the world and 19 other maps. President Kekkonen used this practical gift frequently. Over the sofa hangs an oil-painting entitled “Dusk”, painted by Axel Gallén in 1904, showing logs washed ashore. President Kekkonen said he especially liked the theme of the painting as it was related to his own experiences as a log driver in his youth.
The Drawing Room
President Kekkonen used the drawing room for receiving his official guests. He would receive most guests at Tamminiemi, and only the biggest and most ceremonious receptions – or those where dinner was to be served – would be held at the Presidential Palace. The official nature of Tamminiemi can be seen in the way President Kekkonen received newly-appointed cabinets here. Also coalition negotiations took place at Tamminiemi. Some of the less formal events here included Mrs. Kekkonen’s literary salon. Mrs. Kekkonen started inviting authors to her home soon after her first book was published in 1949. As Urho Kekkonen was elected president in 1956, the salon came together a few times here, and on occasion at the Presidential Palace. In the early 1960’s President Kekkonen took to inviting young intellectuals and politicians to social evenings at Tamminiemi once or twice a year. The evenings replaced Mrs. Kekkonen’s salon and continued until the mid 1970’s.
The drawing room furniture was brought here from the Presidential Palace in 1956. The baby grand piano, a gift to the president, was made in 1956 by Bösendorfer of Vienna. The works of art are mainly Finnish – over the sofa there are for instance two Lapp scenes from the 1930’s by Professor Aukusti Tuhka. Over the gilded neo-rococo chairs on the other side there’s a winter landscape by Pekka Halonen – a well-known Finnish painter from the turn of the 20th century. On the left in the window recess is a bronze sculpture on an acrylic stand by the sculptor Laila Pullinen. Left of the baby grand piano, however, you can see a gift from the Soviet Union – a granite sculpture called “Mother Earth” given by Nikita Khrushchev. On the windowsill are mainly miniature sculptures by Finnish artists.
The Sitting Room
The sitting room to the left of the drawing room is a place where guests could withdraw after a reception. During official receptions the journalists often used this room. The modern leather chairs are designed by Yrjö Kukkapuro, and the ryijy rug on the floor is designed and donated by Timo Sarpaneva in the 1960s. On the mantelpiece is a bronze of Romulus and Remus, a gift from the mayor of Rome in connection with Kekkonen’s state visit to Italy in 1971. On the wall next to the fireplace you have a wooden sculpture entitled “Spring” by the Finnish sculptor Kain Tapper – the work has an eye of light in the middle. It was a gift to President Kekkonen on his 70th birthday. The winter village scene on the rear wall is by the Bulgarian artist Tringov, given to President Kekkonen in 1978. On the floor right of the door opening is a bronze work from 1968 called “A Window towards the Sea” by Tapio Junno. Mrs. Kekkonen acquired the sculpture for Tamminiemi.
The Small Dining Room
To the right of the drawing room is a small dining room, where President and Mrs. Kekkonen would take their lunch and dinner when they were on their own. After Mrs. Kekkonen’s death the president was often joined by his son Matti Kekkonen or one of the grandchildren at mealtime. Lunch was served at noon, and dinner at 6pm – a butler always served the meals. The menus often consisted of fish and game dishes. Sometimes the fish would have been caught by Mr. Kekkonen himself, who was a fishing enthusiast. Game was often provided for the table as a result of the president’s many hunting expeditions.
The adjoining bar was presumably completed in the 1960’s.
The Biedermeier style mahogany table with chairs was brought to Tamminiemi from the Presidential Palace during President Ryti’s time in 1940. During President Mannerheim’s period all the meals were served in the small dining room.
On the sideboard is a cigar box with engraved designs, which was given to the president on his 80th birthday by President Fidel Castro of Cuba.
The current look of the kitchen dates from the mid-1970’s. The kitchen was opened for museum visitors after the latest renovation in 2012 – it had previously served as a coffee room and office for the museum staff.
All meals were prepared at Tamminiemi. The food was simple, home-cooked fare. The household staff at Tamminiemi included a housekeeper, a cook, a butler, a kitchen maid, and a caretaker. The housekeeper lived in the attic, and the cook and the caretaker in the outbuilding.
When dinner guests were to arrive at Tamminiemi, Mrs. Kekkonen would gently knock on the kitchen door and delicately inquire whether the cook would kindly plan the dinner menu. The president himself never visited the kitchen but sent his compliments to the staff via Mrs. Kekkonen or the butler.
On display in some of the kitchen cabinets are original dishes used during President Kekkonen’s time.
The first floor was the private home of the Kekkonens. The president and Mrs. Kekkonen would take their breakfast in the sitting room, and after the breakfast the president usually went for a run on the nearby Seurasaari Island. Also the afternoon coffee and the evening tea were served in the sitting room.
The room is mainly furnished with Yrjö Kukkapuro’s leather furniture; the Ball Chair, however, is designed by Eero Aarnio. On the wall above the sofa there is a gilded bronze relief entitled “People at Work” that is made by Essi Renvall in 1949. On the windowsill is a polychrome bronze by the same artist of Taneli Kekkonen, one of the Kekkonen sons. On the wall above the bookshelf there is a large painting by Reidar Särestöniemi, who was an original artist from Lapland. President Kekkonen liked his style a lot, and bought several of his paintings. This one from 1974 is called “The Lynx and the Arctic Ocean meet”. Särestöniemi and Mr. Kekkonen were also personal friends.
To the left of of the sitting room are the bedrooms of Mr. and Mrs. Kekkonen.
President Kekkonen’s Bedroom (on the left)
The president used his bedroom also for working to some extent. This is also the room, where President Kekkonen died on Aug 31, 1986. Urho Kekkonen was born on Sept 3, 1900 in Pielavesi, in Eastern Finland. He had a younger sister and a brother, and his father was a foreman for lumber workers. Later on, the family moved to town, to Kajaani, where Kekkonen went to school. He matriculated from the secondary school of Kajaani in 1919 and went on to study law at the University of Helsinki. In 1936 he completed his doctorate in laws.
The bedroom bookshelf is organized for active use: new releases and old books have shelves of their own. The library at Tamminiemi contains ca. 3 000 volumes. The president and Mrs. Kekkonen donated a considerable part of their library, close to 5 000 books, to the University of Oulu. Some books have also found a home in the bookcases of relatives and friends. The president and Mrs. Kekkonen both read a lot, and as readers they were quite enthusiastic, writing comments and underlining sections of interest in the books. In their youth they shared an interest in poetry, and they both collected aphorisms throughout their lives. The president’s all-time favourite was Don Quijote by Cervantes. He once said: “It is in all times and circumstances a tenable description of the everlasting conflict between ideal and practice.”
Above the bed is a group of old coloured etchings of Lapland. On the left, for instance, is an etching by Thomas Rowlandson that was published in London in 1822. Also on the wall is a map of Denmark and Sweden, drawn by Herman Moll around 1715.
Mrs. Kekkonen’s Bedroom (on the right)
Sylvi Kekkonen was born on March 12, 1900 in Pieksämäki in Southeastern Finland, where her father worked as the parish minister. She had five siblings.
After matriculating from the secondary school of Mikkeli in 1918, Sylvi moved to Helsinki, where she spent the summer as a nurse trainee in a hospital, although in the end she didn’t find herself suited for the field. She then worked as an embroiderer for the Friends of Finnish Handicraft Association, and later found a more permanent job as a clerk for the Security Police. She married Urho Kekkonen in 1926 and the twin sons Matti and Taneli were born in 1928, after which Sylvi gave up full-time employment.
Sylvi Kekkonen had grown up surrounded by books in a parsonage and was deeply interested in literature. She later became to have a literary career herself: her first book Kiteitä in 1949 was a collection of aphorisms. She went on to publish four more books. Mrs. Kekkonen suffered from rheumatoid arthritis and died on December 2, 1974.
On the wall in the bedroom is a water-colour from 1956 by Aimo Kanerva, who was one of Mrs. Kekkonen’s favourite artists. She acquired the work for Tamminiemi herself.
The Large Dining Room
The large dining room was mainly used for festive meals with private guests, friends or family. On occasion meals were served here for official guests as well. Some of the gifts that Mr. Kekkonen received during his state visits and travels are exhibited here. On the sideboard on the left you can see an antique clock in the middle – that’s a present from the French president, Charles de Gaulle. Also in the dining room is a glass cabinet with brass embossing and wood inlays. Placed in the cabinet are small objects and mementoes of silver, glass and china. On the middle shelf is a silver figure of a bird, given to President Kekkonen on his 75th birthday by Queen Juliana of the Netherlands. On the bottom shelf is a silver dish, “Armada Dish”, a gift from Queen Elizabeth II in 1975. Most of the Chinese objects were acquired by Mrs. Kekkonen in 1953, when she headed the first official Finnish cultural delegation to China. Above the cabinet is a portrait of Mrs. Kekkonen, painted by Åke Hellman in 1978.
On the wall, left of the doorway is a copy of a 15th century fresco from the monastery of Resava in former Yugoslavia. The copy, depicting an angel, was painted in 1962. On the wall, right of the doorway, is an etching entitled “The Devil is Dead” from 1907 by the Finnish artist Hugo Simberg. It was a gift to Urho Kekkonen on his 50th birthday – he was Prime Minister at the time.
The two rooms to the right side of the dining room are currently used for changing exhibitions, workshops, and meetings.