3 Ways to Love Your Home Again: Before & After

The river that runs beside the school my Mom attended as a child, when it froze over in the winter, it would save her a lot of time walking home.

I’m in the last week of my 2 1/2 week tour of Finland (where my parents are from) with my Mom.  My Dad passed away a few years ago.

One of the perks of having me as a house guest is that obviously I’m a decorator. And luckily for anyone who happens to be around me, I love to spread atmosphere around.

Mom (Hellen) and Anja

So here are the three best ways to do it:

Limit your recessed lighting (or don’t even bother)

When we arrived at my Mother’s cousins home (above) in the small village she grew up in Kurrikka and I noticed that she didn’t have a single lamp with a shade in her main living areas, I had to say something.

She had lots of recessed lighting as this Finnish farmhouse is brand new, but not a single lamp.

And specifically a lamp with a shade. This is a very important distinction. As many of you know.

I’ve said this before, but there are many decorators who install them only in the kitchen because when you’re cooking, you need to see what you’re doing.


It’s strawberry season here so this is what was waiting for us when we arrived around 5:00 pm (below). A wonderful strawberry cake made with potato starch which makes it super light and fluffy. She topped it with slices of vanilla ice cream, which gets even better when it melts into it (you can even enjoy it like this the next day).

Because Finland is so far in the North, the sun barely sets here in the summer time which makes the berries especially delicious because they get so much sunlight.

The peonies were straight from her garden, simply gorgeous!

My sister Elizabeth warned me that the Finns drink coffee all day and I’d basically be having coffee and something divine to eat approximately five times a day.  She was right.

Install a lamp in your kitchen

Anja’s and her husband recently built this farmhouse. I was quite charmed by her contemporary kitchen with black lowers, white uppers and pale Spruce tongue and groove walls.

When I saw her fabulous kitchen with the wall of windows and no uppers all along the back wall with the perfect spot on the left side for a lamp, I said “OMG you need a table lamp right there!”

She said “What? In my Kitchen?” How big?

I immediately went to Pinterest and found this image (below).

Anytime there’s space for a lamp in a kitchen, it’s wonderful to have one. I have many posts where I’ve put them in, here, here and here.

Kitchen Lighting

This is her living room. Without a single table lamp. The situation was desperate.

Buy a Lamp with a shade (absolutely critical)

As I write this blog, I’m in the fourth house we’re visiting on this trip and I still haven’t seen a single lamp with a shade and then I realized something.

In Canada or the US, anyone can walk into a big box store (or even a hardware store) and literally stumble upon a boxed set of 3 lamps that look something like this:


Lamps, like coffee tables, dining rooms and bedrooms should be coordinated for a designer look, not matchy, however I would take three lamps like this, over no lamps any day.



We were in my cousins home for two nights before we drove here (in Jarvela) and his ceilings were also filled with puck lights and even a strung up contraption (that he had added) because his house was older.

The one day we went out to the shops, they were filled with little task lamps similar to this (below). It’s called a task lamp for a reason. It’s good for reading or working but it does not cast a soft, filtered light in a room.

Home Depot

Recessed lighting is best for locating your contact lenses

And now that I’m in my 4th house without a single lamp with a shade, I realized that they simply aren’t easily available here in Finland.

Anyway, back to the house in question. That evening, when we sat in the living room, Mom’s cousin Anja exclaimed that she just couldn’t stand the recessed lighting, they hurt her eyes when her husband flicked them on so he could read.

And truly the new recessed lights are super bright. I have four in my master bathroom and I never put them on.

Here we were on the first night in Anja’s living room looking at family photos (so we needed the lights on).

The only reason you need them, if you’ve lost your contacts (as I’ve said before, haha)

The next day Mom, Anja and I piled into the car and went shopping for lamps. I walked around with photos I had taken of her house so I could show her what went where. The selection was bleak.

The first furniture store we walked into, Anja confided that when they moved into their new house, she went shopping for a new area rug but saw the same one she had bought 20 years ago (in the same store), so she had it cleaned and installed it in her new home.

Schlepping from store to store felt like the days before the world of online shopping where that was the only way to source items for clients. It took way more time than it does today.

When we arrived at Pentik, I breathed a sigh of relief. Pentik is the West Elm of Finland.

And here’s the after. We bought an ottoman to fill the space underneath the coffee table and give the person on the sofa a place to put their feet up. The grey round nesting tables also came from Pentik.

I even managed to install a table lamp beside the television. During the evening, all four corners of your living room should be lit softly for the best effect.

Okay so here’s the kitchen with all the recessed lights on!! This was taken at 11:45 pm, the sun had just set but it wasn’t totally dark yet! But wow the lights in the kitchen made you want to run and hide, haha.

And here’s the kitchen with our lovely new light. Not too big at all and it’s all you need at night when walking in and out of your kitchen.

The best lamps come with a fabric shade

When I came out of the bedroom at just before midnight (we don’t sleep much in Finland because it’s so light outside) I found my Mom and her cousin, like two peas in a pod laughing, sharing and drinking mint tea. Anja was completely delighted with her new lamps and will be buying more for the other rooms in her house!

I really can’t stress the mood altering affect of a lamp with a shade. My clients NEVER have enough lamps and it’s the first thing on the list when I’m decorating any room.

Everyone thinks the lighting solution for a dark room is to fill the ceiling with recessed lighting but NO ONE likes to have them on when you’re actually relaxing and enjoying your home.

Anja and Mom (Hellen)

Earlier I had found my Mom in the garden at 9:15 pm (below) picking yet another lettuce sandwich last night. That’s me eating one with my green juice one morning (above).

I’m in love with the Iittala glass I’m holding, you can find them in many sizes here.

I’m so happy that I was able to have this experience of seeing my Mother in her element in her homeland! It’s been so wonderful to explore the village (Kurikka) where she grew up, a place I had imagined in my head so many times. It’s really special and magical to be here with her!

Last night I exclaimed “Where is my Mother and what have you done with her?” English is still a second language for her in Canada so she doesn’t get into great debates with anyone and I always thought that was just her personality until we arrived here where she speaks her mother tongue!

I noticed the same thing with me, since we are deep in Finland most people don’t speak English and especially her friends. Although I understand Finnish, (Mom has spoken it to me all my life) I can’t speak it enough to have a proper conversation. All kinds of things pop into my head to say but I can’t find the words to say them. Therefore, my personality is rarely expressed. Who I am at home is, of course, very different.

Every kitchen I’ve seen here has the dining area in the middle instead of an island, a trend that’s coming back to America as well. Have you noticed that?

It’s been really interesting for me to see all the different and efficient ways a home is designed in another country. Anja specified the dishwasher to be installed above a drawer (above right) so you don’t have to bend over while loading and unloading it! So smart!

Also, if you were following me on my Instagram stories, you might have seen the ironing board I photographed in the laundry room which folds into a drawer! So much more practical and way easier than wrangling it out from inside a closet.

Okay so back to lamps for second, it actually makes me sad when I see homes without them because they so transform the feeling in any space. If you’re just not happy sitting in your living room, this is seriously one of the best ways to love ! If you don’t know how to coordinate lighting, then buy the set of 3 I showed you above, it’s still better than no lamps at all!

And, if you’d like help creating a decorating plan for your living room (including lamps) check out my Get me Started package here. I’d love to help you create a home that fills you with happiness when you walk in the door!

PS. Okay one more amazing photo of the scenery in Finland:

Photo taken in Kauhava where we are staying for one more night

Related posts:

The Enchanting World of Atmosphere

The One Thing you Need When Choosing Colour for a Room

What Every Lighting Obsessed Girl (or Guy) Should Know



leave aREPLY

  1. I really enjoyed your post. It’s so helpful that I tweeted the link. I recently finished the book, The Almost Nearly Perfect People: Behind the Myth of the Scandinavian Utopia. You would find it a fun and interesting read, especially about Finland. Get it on your Kindle for the flight home!

  2. Hi Maria! I’ve so enjoyed reading about your trip, and the stories of your mom and her family in Finland. It’s a beautiful country and one I’d like to visit one day.

    I so agree with you about pot lights (recessed lighting)! As a matter of fact, I’m visiting my daughter for a month, and her whole house is nothing but recessed lighting! She and her husband purchased his childhood home from his parents last year, so the lighting came with the house. I’ve had to scrounge to find lamps for my bedroom, because I simply refuse to use the ceiling lights – too stark and glaring! I’m trying to guide them into choosing more indirect lighting for bedrooms and living room, but son-in-law isn’t convinced. Ah well, I’ll keep trying. Lol.

    At home, I do have 3-4 lamps per room, and I do have a sweet vintage one in my kitchen! It is so good to know you and I agree on the importance of lamps! One thing that I learned a few years ago, is that as one ages, the lighting needs increase, which is where good task and reading lamps are even more important.

  3. I also love lamps and have been teased because I prefer them. But I am always at a loss of how to manage cords. They are always too long or too obvious and the cord is distracting. What did you do do with the 3 feet of cord for those counter lamps? And what do you do with a cord that is plugged into the wall but the table is a few feet away from the outlet? So the real question is what do you do with the cords?

  4. Absolutely agree abut lamps being essential to atmosphere. We purchased Etekcity wireless remote controls so that we can turn on/off all or a selected combination of the lamps in a room with one click. Have several settings so we can turn on/off various rooms from the same control – one control in living room and one in master bedroom. So convenient not to have to go around turning each lamp on/off individually! An architect friend specified that the top outlets in each box is wired to a master switch, again so one can turn on all lamps plugged into top outlet with one switch.

  5. I have a couple of small lamps with shades on my kitchen counters. Together with the light from the hood over the stove, they give me the equivalent of under cabinet lighting which I do not have. I use soft white (warm) LED bulbs in them because I don’t want to heat up the underside of the upper cabinets. Plus, the look is virtually the same as the old fashioned incandescent bulbs. I appreciate the points you’re making about lighting. Lamps, and lots of them, really make a home feel comfortable and inviting.

  6. Thanks for sharing your travel adventure to Finland. We can learn so much from travel and seeing how other people live. I love the trend of the table in the kitchen. It reminds me of my grandmother’s farmhouse <3

  7. I’m a lamp whore from way back. You can never have too many lamps. I detest overhead lighting, it’s so….clinical. Glad to hear my love for lamps is a good thing! Now I can tell my husband… LOL.

  8. Don’t know if I qualify as a lamp tramp yet but I counted 21 lamps in my small house with 3 spares hanging around. Only pot lights in my 1986-built house are one in the 9-foot ceiling of the kitchen over the sink (that I never turn on) and two in the 7-foot ceiling hallway which are blinding at the ceiling when turned on but wouldn’t enable me to locate that contact in the rug. From the first time I read your post about lamps in the kitchen, I began to plan for that and now have two and that’s despite the fact that my kitchen is small and there’s a definite lack of counter space, especially with two cats with different tastes in food. Wouldn’t be without those lamps because they add to the charm of my kitchen and I always turn one or the other on at night, just to avoid the black hole of the kitchen. Luckily during the day with a corner sink with south and west windows, a solar tube and a door to the west-facing patio, don’e need the lamps during the day. However, the one in the dark and windowless laundry room is on all day as are the ones in both bathrooms, one of which gets no light and the other only reflected from the arch to the bedroom. Trying to figure out how to put something in that dreary hallway that has no near outlet. They are such fun and I know if I spotted another one I really liked, I would like buy it.

    Your mom is so beautiful. She looks so happy and so does her daughter.

  9. Yes, lamps in Finland are hard to find! They are seen kind of old fashion…but they bring so much warmth that most homes could benefit from 1…or 5 😉
    I just got back from a quick 1 week visit after a 14 year break from going to Finland…I left 25 years ago originally. I was happily surprised how international Helsinki was, just lovely! Finnish people are proud of Finland. They decorate with lots of Finnish brands like Marimekko and Iittala, so fun! When I was returning to the US, the customs guy was wondering why I had a back bag full of glass! I just asked him to be extra careful as it’s quite expensive and I have to haul a bag with me every time I visit Finland…because to me Iittala=Finland. As I sip water from Iittala glass, it makes me smile. I don’t save them for special occasions, I want to see them, feel them (Ultima Thule) and just enjoy the little things like pretty glasses.
    Glad to read about your visit! Have a fun summer.

    • OMG I totally agree, and I was so upset when I got to the Iittala outlet store that they don’t ship!! I now have some heavy glass to schlep home, haha! Thanks for your comment! Maria

  10. What a beautiful and heartwarming post! The small changes you made in Anja’s home make it so much more inviting. Her garden and flowers are wonderful!! And the strawberry shortcake?? Yum!! Most of all, I enjoyed hearing about your mother and her sweet time in her beloved homeland! Thanks for sharing!

  11. Great post Maria! I love that you just can’t stop decorating people’s homes, because we know what we know so why not make it better? It’s nice to see Finland through your stories.

  12. When we lived in England, we spent a week traveling around Denmark, Norway, and Sweden but did not make it to Finland. I felt a real connection to the Scandinavian way of life, and have since discovered that my ancestors settled in Finland. I do believe we carry memory in our DNA, and that would explain the feeling of recognition when visiting that area. Your post was just lovely.
    I now reside in a city known as “Little Norway” as the Norwegians settled here over a hundred years ago. I love the culture, and enjoy seeing crafts from Scandinavia in our little downtown shops. Every Christmas I place the Swedish lights in my windows as they are so welcoming.
    On the topic of lamps, I love them because they add so much to the atmosphere in any given room. I recently placed two small lamps on my kitchen counter in the corners, and like the look. I am not a fan of recessed lights either, and much prefer the soft glow from a lamp.

  13. Thank you for taking us along on your fabulous trip to Finland. It is always better to “live” with the locals than a hotel as far as I am concerned. You get the real “flavour” of the country you are visiting then.
    Having the dining table in the middle of the kitchen is the true farmhouse style. Growing up we all had our kitchens this way. Makes you wonder why people still like to gather in the kitchen. I love Anja’s kitchen and she is so smart to raise her dishwasher!

  14. Enjoyed traveling “with you!” I, too, love lighting and what it can do for a room. When my husband and I moved to our current home with a windowless bathroom, I put a small lamp on the vanity from one of your suggestions. I can’t believe he actually noticed it and even mentioned that he liked it. Not only does it look pretty, but it helps guests find their way to an unfamiliar bathroom and not struggle with finding the light switch. So, Maria, I do appreciate your generous advice on small changes that can make a big difference in our homes.

    When recently remodeling my dining room and kitchen which have entrances from 2 locations, I wanted light switches in the two locations so I would not have to travel through a dark room to get to a switch. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a good place to mount them. I made the decision to go with home automation voice-activated switches. My electrician agreed and told me that it would be cheaper for me to do voice activated switches than to do the necessary rewiring that was originally discussed. It does require internet and a hub. Now I can activate the lights from a phone app or voice request without ever touching a switch. For the light switches, the switch has to be replaced with an automated one. The new switch still can be operated manually like a traditional switch if the internet goes out or if a guest uses the switch. (If you have a three-way switch, only one needs to be replaced.) However, no extra wiring for the outlets, just stick a special plug in the outlet and plug the lamp into it and connect it to the phone app. (My previous house had outlets wired to a switch which I loved. Now I have the voice activated outlets which are even better since I can have the same function without getting an electrician to rewire.) I can also group lighting on my phone app so that I can turn off all of my indoor house lamps/lights with a simple voice request. Oh, yeah–no extra expensive dimmer switch is required. I just ask for the light/lamp to be turned on or dimmed to a certain level (e.g. 50%). It is nice that I can come home at night and before I get there use my phone app to turn on certain lights so I don’t arrive to a dark house. For safety reasons, I can turn on all my outside lights quickly with one voice command. No more getting out of bed in the middle of the night and going to each door to turn on outside lights one by one. I look forward to Christmas to be able to turn on/off all my Christmas lights with a single command. My husband who has had a small stroke finds it easier to ask for lights to be turned on/off rather than dealing with lamp/switches, especially when hands are carrying items making it awkward to reach a switch. So, if you have not looked at voice-automated lighting, I highly encourage you to do so. It has been a game changer for me.

  15. Oh my I haven’t checked in here in way too long! I love your rant against recessed lights! I totally agree! Newer homes seem to have pegboards for ceilings, with a phalanx of switches that no one can figure out. An old fashioned table lamp instantly brings a human feeling to a room. I recently learned about the Lutron Caseta system which I used for all my garden lighting with wireless remote dimmer switches, and a phone app to control them. It’s been a revelation and now I want to add this to all my lamps to make it easier to control the light levels.

  16. OMGEE, yes! I LOATHE and DESPISE those too-bright overhead lights! They hurt my eyes. I like the ambiance of lamps and the decorative aspect of them as well. My favorites are blue and white.