Ambassador of Finland
In the heart of the Vesturbær neighbourhood – close to the well-sought-after gem of Vesturbæjarlaug swimming pool, latte-drinking locals at Kaffi Vest, and the local store Melabúðin (which amazingly manages to fit the widest selection of products onto its shelves) – lies a small part of Finland. The house is bright, beautiful and welcoming, which unarguably are essential qualities when its purpose is to host residence of the Ambassador of Finland Mr. Valtteri Hirvonen.
I realised my limited knowledge of the country upon arrival, but Valtteri Hirvonen, Finland’s ambassador in Iceland, was more than willing to better it during our visit. Valtteri and his wife are, as ambassadors tend to be, frequent hosts of gatherings and events at their home, where the house is divided into a private section and an area meant for meeting and greeting.
As this is his sixth post working for the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland, the family has adjusted to multiple ways of living and adapted to diverse societies and social norms in several continents. They always bring pride and love for their home country with them wherever they go: serving Finnish food and sweets, and showcasing Finland’s most prestige crafts and designs around the house. They say adapting to the Icelandic pace has been easy; according to them, Finland and Iceland have a lot in common, both in values and the general way of being. Living with them is one of their four children, a teenage daughter, who attends college here. Back in Finland they have three other children who are serving, or have served, in the Finnish military – which is one of the greatest differences between the two countries, according to Valtteri: “Iceland is like Finland but safer!”
Every twenty years the Finnish embassies are re-decorated, and therefore it is rare that you have much say in how the house looks. A team of interior architects makes those decisions, but luckily for the Hirvonen family this was the year of change. Unlike most of their former posts, here they got to state their opinion on their living space. “A lot of the furniture here is identical to what we have at home,” says Valtteri, and adds that this undoubtedly makes them feel more at home. So one could say that it represents their own personal style of furnishing.
Noticeably the Finns take pride in the world-renowned glass-work company Iittala – examples are to be found in every room, in many shapes and forms. Collector’s pieces from the company are stored in a glass cabinet marked with a serial number and year of production. The Iittala name has a lot of fans around our little Island, so it is no wonder they display it in the embassy of its country of origin.
Aside from Finnish glass-work and furniture, every Finnish home has a sauna. “Even the small apartments have them,” Valtteri tells us with a smile on his face. The sauna is one of the most important gathering places of a Finnish home and is frequently used by family members. We are not completely unfamiliar with the magic of a good sauna here in Iceland, though we have yet to include them as a necessity in our homes.
Text: Anna Sóley // Photography: Íris Ann