Monday, 10 September 2012

Idyllic Loviisa

Two weeks ago we spent a sunny Sunday walking the streets of Loviisa, a small coastal town an hour’s drive to the east of Helsinki. Loviisa was founded in 1745 as a trading centre and border fortress to replace Hamina that had been lost to Russia two years earlier. In those days, Finland was under the rule of Sweden and the town was named after Lovisa Ulrika, the spouse of Adolf Frederick, the King of Sweden at that time.

Hamina, on the other hand, had been granted rights for foreign trade two decades earlier when Vyborg or Viipuri had been lost to Russia. The story of our nation: the eastern border has been moving back and forth, the present one standing somewhere between these two towns. (Sorry, I couldn’t help adding this but now to the point of this post.)

More than 40% of the inhabitants of Loviisa speak Swedish as their mother tongue so the street signs are bilingual.

Loviisa is one of the several Finnish coastal places boasting a picturesque old town with well-preserved traditional wooden houses. In fact, it is just in Loviisa where caring for your one, two or even three centuries old wooden house has developed into a phenomenon inspiring not only the true enthusiasts but also us ordinary people who are interested in sustainability and concerned about ecological values also in housing.

The Kappeli Restaurant is being renovated to its former grandeur.
For the eighth time now, Loviisa arranged a special weekend event around its historical buildings (in Finnish: Loviisan Wanhat Talot; in Swedish: Lovisa Historiska Hus). This annual event concentrates on traditional building methods and renovation of old buildings. But what is even more interesting for the general public than structures and methods are the interiors of these houses as traditional and vintage style in living and decorating has very much grown in appreciation and popularity during the recent years.

This time, 30 places in and around the old town of Loviisa and 14 more a bit further away opened their doors and/or gardens for visitors to admire and explore. Most of the houses showcased this year are already completed as modern family homes, some are being renovated and a few are at the very early phase of stripping the interior structures to the ground, literally. 

This year, the lilies and several other flowers in the garden of Villa Aaltonen were about two metres high.
A lot of nice photos of these buildings and their interiors can be found on the website of the event. Moreover, as many Finnish interior design and lifestyle blogs have published far better photos of them than I ever could I will show you something else we saw in this town.

Loviisa is one of the two places in Finland with a nuclear power plant. The two reactors were built in the late 1970s but the town was wise enough to place the plant on such a location that it is too far to be seen from the town centre. Whatever your opinion about nuclear power, it may have been that the plant saved this little town from being forgotten in the periphery. Since then it has been kept in the spotlight and the subsequent revival of the old town has in recent years attracted many creative people to relocate to this beautiful place by the sea embracing the slow life. This trend is visible everywhere. 

For example, wherever we saw an electrical cabinet on a street corner in the old town it was decorated with a painting of some sort. If there were more than one cabinet on a spot at least one of them was decorated. The cabinets are an ongoing project by the Loviisa historical buildings event. A couple of the ones we spotted clearly represent historical persons from the time the town was founded. 

Lovisa Ulrika, the Queen of Sweden who lent her name to the town.

This must be Count Gustaf Philip Creutz, the Swedish poet, diplomat and statesman who was raised at the nearby Malmgård manor owned by his father.
The initials WWP on some of the decorated cabinets refer to the earlier title of the event (Wanhassa Wara Parempi) revealing that those were completed a few years earlier.

As I am a fan of the event on Facebook, I knew that this year a larger electrical cabinet had been decorated to portray facades of houses from the old town. This piece of art is standing in the middle of a boulevard in the town centre. It was designed by a local decorative painter who carried out the basic painting work together with her husband, and the details were crafted by a local artist. Very elegant, don’t you think?

'No junk mail, thank you', says to note on the door.

These electrical cabinets are just the kind of street art suitable for a wooden old town with centuries of traditions. I don’t think any bolder kinds of paintings would be appropriate nor tolerated in an idyllic place like this. I certainly hope to be able to renew my pilgrimage to this old house lovers’ paradise next year to spot more. Meanwhile, something similar would be most welcome to spice up our country roads. Too bad, I’m not much of a painter...

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