A legendary Helsinki restaurant run by the Kalevala Women’s Association, Kestikartano was inspired by Finland’s national epic, the Kalevala. It had a prime location in the heart of the Finnish capital, with interiors created in the style of a traditional log cabin. Known for its legendary buffet, the restaurant ran between 1946 and 1967.
The idea for a Kalevala-inspired cafe first emerged in the early 1940s in private discussions between the Kalevala Women’s Association’s chairwoman Elsa Heporauta and Kalevala Jewelry Managing Director Aino-Mari Mecklin. What the two women wanted to create was a social space, aimed particularly at women, that would promote the Kalevala heritage and the spirit of Finnish identity, whilst also showcasing Finland’s culture to international visitors. However, World War II prevented them from bringing their plans to completion. It was not until June 1945 that work on the project began in earnest. Notable post-war architect Aarne Ervi was commissioned for the project.
Kestikartano’s success story could perhaps have continued to this day had it not been for its commercially highly desirable location. Helsingin Osakepankki, the financial institution that originally built the property in the 1930s, wanted to replace it with something bigger and more modern. On 12 September 1967, the Kalevala Women’s Association received an official demolition notice from Osakepankki and the restaurant was forced to close. On 15 October 1967, Kestikartano’s last day of trading, 800 diners gathered to bid farewell to this well-loved eatery. Later that evening, Kestikartano hosted its last ever wedding celebration. After the restaurant closed, the logs used to build it were numbered and moved into storage. The outdoor restaurant’s structures, crockery and other items were sold by auction, while all the original interiors, including furniture and lighting fixtures, were kept for posterity.
Planned by Aarne Ervi and furnished by Maija Taimi, Laila Karttunen, Greta Skogster-Lehtinen and Paavo Tynell.
Text by kestikartano.com / @kalevalaisetnaiset