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  • Writer's pictureSofias Country Gardens

The Gatekeepers Cottage gets a new life

Most of the time, I tend to have an ongoing crazy project. My children just sigh when they see my eyes lit up, as they know that more often than not it means I have another old cottage that needs salvation. I can't help it! It is as if houses speak to me, begging me to give them love and tender care. One of these is Björkkulla, or the Gatekeepers Cottage at Stensund. It had been parcelled out of the farm for Irma, the last of the descendants from the family that had the farm before us back when my parents moved there. In those days the comforts were sparse as there was running water only in the kitchen and one had to get by with an outdoor loo and a wood fired sauna for washing, but Irma loved it none the less.

Many of my childhood memories at the farm involve Irma. I was always most impressed by her, and with good reason too. During harsh winters long after she had turned 70 she could be found up on the roof shovelling snow, and no matter the weather she went out fishing for food. She loved to feed the birds and had many tales to tell about them when I went visiting, often complaining about an especially greedy Starling that she called Saddam. "There he was again, this morning. Eating all the finches food! Saddam is the devil!" she would say, and I would nibble my stale biscuit and nod in agreement. Many years after Irma moved into an old peoples home and later passed away her home stood empty and dissolved, until one day her nephew called me and asked if I would like to buy it. Of course I did, and we drank champagne as we signed the contract, all of us equally happy that the little cottage was once again incorporated in Stensunds land.

Kitchen before renovation

The kitchen during renovation

After so many years of being empty, the house was a wreck on the inside. The isolation in both walls and ceiling left a lot to be desired, as much of it had been removed by rodents or just withered away during the years gone by. It was a tremendous job, but all the walls were opened up from the inside and isolated anew, whereafter the inner wall was re-panneled with drywall panels. We also changed the windows because the old windows were from the 60's and single glazed, which obviously isn't very energy efficient! Instead we put in new tripple-glazed windows with beautifully old fashioned traditional window fittings.

Master bedroom during renovation

The roof had to be redone too, which of course was an added expense. However, if there is one thing I have learned it is that in the long run it is better to do things right from the start. Having good roof isolation is actually both economically and environmentally important in a country with such cold winters as we have in Finland. It makes no sense to heat a house for the warmth to just evaporate trough the roof! Therefore the space between the inner and outer roof was filled with cellulose made by wood fiber from recycled news papers. (Don't you just love innovative material like this?! It is eco friendly in so many ways, being made from recycled waste products, biodegradable and re-usable if you ever need to get rid of it!)

Another thing we spent time and effort on was making proper drainage around the outside of the cottage, as well as a proper eco system for separating grey water and toilet waste. The toilet waste goes into a sealed container that is emptied twice a year, while the grey water is filtered through a system that removes all harmful chemicals like phosphates before it is recycled back into nature. I always think that every little helps when it comes to saving our planet, so making sure my homes are as eco-friendly and environmentally sustainable as possible is important to me.

The kitchen is tiny but functional

The living room

Once the renovation was complete, we furnished the cottage with old furniture from storage. (It these pictures it is still sparsely furnished, but with time things and objects will inevitably appear like mould on a damp surface...) Last summer when my godfathers came from Amsterdam to stay for their summer holiday all was ready for them to move in. As the cottage is right by the road to the other houses, we re-named it the Gatekeepers cottage. This comes naturally, as when my Godfathers sit by their window they automatically keep track of who is coming or going!

Most of the time, it is of course only us who are coming and going between the houses. In this picture taken in July 2017 you find me, Godfather Ente and Frans, my sons and their father Jan. I'm sure we are violating every health and safety rule in the book riding around as we do on the old trailer pulled by a 1959 Mossey Ferguson tractor!

Me with my Godfathers, my sons and their father

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