Elis Sinistö

Kirkkonummi (1912–2004)

Mystic freethinker, the artist Elis Sinistö was known as the creator of Villa Mehu (Villa Juice), an example of environmental art situated in Kirkkonummi, near Helsinki, and as its hospitable owner. Sinistö managed to acquire the grounds in 1954 after having lived as a vagrant during the period of war and shortage. As Sinistö’s funds were rather limited, founding Villa Mehu required exceptional tenacity.

Within a year, Sinistö’s first building, the Sun Sauna, was finished, and its rotating and opening structure managed to attract the interest of the press. He did not stop there: in 1956 he built the Smoke Sauna and the ship-like main building Hermit’s Hut, and later on the amazing tower construction, Seventh Heaven, and the Hotel Elite for children.

Sinistö said that he followed the holy trinity of realism, Romanticism and mysticism in his constructions. “Realism has pragmatic value. Romanticism appeals to both senses and imagination, it is colourful, and adds to the depth and atmosphere. Mysticism is apparent in the way my buildings are constructed – there are no plans, but they assembled little by little, as the ideas come.”

In its early days, Villa Mehu was the subject of much controversy. In the mood of the 1950s and 1960s, when the country was becoming more prosperous and modernised, it was difficult to understand Sinistö’s lifestyle, which was based on asceticism and the recycling of materials. More ecological and tolerant ideas that became widespread in the 1980s helped to change this attitude, and numerous guests have visited Villa Mehu in the past few decades. Sinistö’s wish that “everyone who visits me will leave happier that they were when they arrived” has come true. Villa Mehu has become a place of respite to many who need a break from the rat-race.

Sinistö was often described as a hermit. But although he could live by himself for weeks on end in the darkest and coldest winter, he was not a withdrawn person. To him, occasional solitude was simply a precondition for creativity – to counterbalance his many connections with the outside world – and he had, indeed, an exceptionally large network of acquaintances. Even at an early age he made friends with many well-known philosophers.

Sinistö’s outlook on life was tolerant and versatile, and he practised it not only through his building projects but also through his hobbies: humanities, yoga, dance, poetry and singing. Several artists have depicted – and have been inspired by – Sinistö and his Villa Mehu. In addition, Sinistö posed as a model for numerous art classes in the 1980s. In the late 1990s, Sinistö became appreciated as an ITE artist.

Text: Jan Kaila. Translation: Kirsti Nurmela-Knox. Photos: Minna Haveri.