Elna Kiljander was born in 1889 and is perhaps best known as one of Finland’s earliest female architects of model homes and kitchens but also for her furniture designs, many displayed at her concept store Koti-Hemmet home in Helsinki. Kiljander was a feminist, becoming a member of Architecta, the Finnish women’s architecture association, from its establishment in 1942.
Born on 4 November 1889 in Sortavala, Finland Elna Kiljander was the daughter of a Finnish father and a Swedish mother. After her father detah, the family moved to Helsinki, where Kiljander graduated as an architect from the Helsinki University of Technology in 1915. She went on to teach graphic design in Povenets in Russian Karelia but returned to Finland the following year. She opened a private office, concentrating on social living matters and everyday furnishings in the home.
Kiljander became interested in functionalism when visiting the Stockholm Exhibition in 1930 and subsequently adopted it in her housing designs as well as in the model kitchens she developed for the Martha Association. Kiljander planned kitchens for homes and schools and in 1932 she planned the renowned modern large kitchen in the Parliament Building.
Her friendship with Finland’s first female politican Miina Sillanpää nurtured her work on model homes and kitchens for workers, as well as furnishings and furniture. Sillanpää commissioned Kiljander’s most important work: the Ensi-Koti home – one of her most important works. The Ensi-Koti (First Home), was a home built in 1940 for unmarried mothers and their children and Kiljander had herself become a single mother after a brief marriage with the sculptor Gunnar Finne from 1918 to 1926.
Together with textile designer Marianne Strengell, she founded interior design studio Koti-Hemmet in 1934, an interior design business where she designed furniture in a style closely resembling that adopted later by Alvar Aalto in the 1930s – a pre-Artek store where Aalto’s furniture was sold. Influenced by developments in Swedish design, her work exerted a significant impact on Finnish interior design in the 1930s. Koti-Hemmet declared bankruptcy in 1949, which ultimately lead to Kiljander’s retirement from architectural work.
- Elna Kiljander
- 1889 – 1970
- The kitchen at the domestic science teacher school in Järvenpää, 1928
- Furniture for the Parliament Building in Helsinki, 1932
- The boy’s room at the Paris World Fair, 1937
- The Ensikoti union’s house in Helsinki, 1942