FLAT NOUVEAU. 10 things that might make your interior truly Rigan.

As I gazed at the Sun loosing its elevation, and as the weather turned less and less comforting, my soul was returning to indoors. More flat parties, diners, pancake mornings or hangover days; all this will most likely end around springtime. And, similarly to every local now and then, I take more time to observe everything around me - the décor, furniture, trim, taste and style. Could the coming of November begin another quest for the true style of flat interior culture of Riga?

capital r, capital riga, latvia

Everyone has heard there is the Paris style of apartments, the London style of flats, the New York interior, or the Berlin style of absolute lack of consistent private space whatsoever. The true essence of such defined private space also dictates the location of the flat, including the "right" neighbourhood or even the right floor with windows facing the right side.

The paradox of such ideal flats is that, influenced by literature, pop culture and tourism driven Instagrams, many of the entities are only subsisted as mental rather than physical structures. As one of my friends, the prominent architecture critic Vents Vīnbergs, formulates in one of the only articles about the flat culture in Riga:
"Although such interiors exist, they are constructed on myths, ideals and identities. Such iconic, legendary apartments, boosted in mass media, are too few, [..] however they possess great influence, and create a need in every citizen to verify one's belonging to the place and community, and even the authenticity of oneself.1"
He speaks about rather exclusive Nordic-influenced flats with interiors created by professionals that are praised by other professionals (and eventually hits the roof on Instagram); but, eventually, we turn to something else the next day.

I believe the ideal "Riga interior culture" is a combination of two fundamentals - 1) ascetic, functional interior with furniture from natural materials, that has no wallpapers and is accompanied by now exclusive pre-WWI details like original doors, floors, windows, tile stoves, and even door handles; and 2) mixed with the atmosphere of the country - a flat that enjoys playing with shadows, has a lot of serious indoor plants (not some daisies), full bookshelves, trees outside the windows and the moon above the sky.

It's a flat where the classical Latvijas Radio 3 sounds just right every time, but does not look like a place for dodders on their brink of death. If all fits, it sits. If something is missing, I believe we have gone the wrong path in urban planning, furniture, interior design, public and private greenery, and consumerism.

Riga gained its name and posture during the industrialisation, when Art Nouveau period with all its styles over-dominated the urban landscape of wooden suburban workers' houses, growing along the Art Nouveau, and defining another world. For most of visitors and even majority of locals, this is what Riga looks like today and what made the city back - clean and professional brick architecture in the core, yet wooden, local and suburban within its suburban shell. Sadly, the microrayons that hold the largest amount of people in the city, either have no style in its panel modernity and postmodernity or has one that overlaps with any other city growing after WWII, thus making it not unique at all

What's special about Riga's case is that, despite the rapid urbanisation, Latvians never left the countryside off their hearts. During the thirties it was even nationally promoted that the province is the future as well as during the first decades of the Soviet rule.

Times have changed now, majority of Latvians live in cities and towns, yet we are still crazy over picking berries and mushrooms, gathering nuts and herbal teas. Whenever there's a chance, go for the beach, have a walk in the forest or visit their country house, friend's country house, grand-parent's country house or, at least, spend a weekend at some villa in the province. Despite the terrible governance of the city today, a tree outside the window, a private seclusive backyard or garden, or a park with no one smoking is what every Rigan openly or secretly yearns for.

capital r, capital riga, latvia

This might also explain the craze over indoor plants (maybe it's also related to Latvia having several thousands of km2 of peat bogs that generate great and cheap soil available everywhere). Also, the tradition of DIY is very much alive in many locals, and if one can do it at home with not much tools, it can very well appear in interior.
Putting these two elements together, it scratches the itch. The still-existing Riga interior culture is an amalgam of two - the noble and provincial, the contemporary and retrofitted, the urban and natural, the introvert and the cosy, the creative and the templar.
If one enters your home in the city and doesn't say it feels like a remote manor house in the country, it's not the real style of Riga. If one sees no trees through the pane, the flat has lost its charm. If one has an interior with plastic windows, or laminate floors, or salmon-coloured wallpapers, or LED disk lights mounted in dropped ceiling, you will never hit the highest prestige points among the visitors' or tenants' eyes ever. Simply because nothing of that can be crafted, and nothing of that can withstand the pressure of the grace of Art Nouveau.

capital r, capital riga, latvia

Still, it's awfully hard to achieve the look and feel. Because of the distortive presence of fast, chemically or industrially produced composite materials; because of the lack of quality products and materials available to everyone; because of the poor taste rendered dull during the Soviet times; because of the cult of the cheap, not sustainable (I have a few friends, who have blindly installed plastic windows that will eventually ask to be changed every 20 - 30 years).

Also Vents Vīnbergs emphasizes that it seems only now everything Soviet or old is not sanitized with dropped ceiling, dry-walls, linoleum, fluorescent lighting, weird plasterboard arks, and chipboard or MDF doors any more. All together, many don't believe that life today is much different any more, and only take utter measures to replan the room layout. Because after a century, it still works quite well.

I believe I have found something close to the ideal flat of Riga. We dwell in urban neutrality mixed with the country atmosphere, and doors, floors, windows and even door handles are older than a century. And they all look good, and they all work well and are maintained. Looking at my flat, I offer 7 elements that, from my opinion, forms the Riga interior, and here is the checklist for you fill:
  • Wooden floors
  • Wooden doors
  • Wooden windows
  • Tile stove or any open fire as well as kitchen stove
  • High ceiling (270cm+)
  • Juicy plants (maybe including the Hipster trifecta - Monstera, Zanzibar Gem and Schefflera) 
  • Trees outside the windows
  • One room spacious enough to lie down, spreading limps like the Vitruvian man
  • No air conditioner
  • Located in any Riga's neighbourhood as defined until 1949
After all, the country feel is what makes Riga most different. Really nothing much else. And, after all, the flat, as described earlier, is only a utopia or over-exclusive option to dozens of thousands in the city especially after the last 60 years of prefabricated architecture. But that would be a story about the truly Soviet or socialist flat then, repeated all across Eurasia.

I think, this article is a story about a dream. The dream that is sometimes unreachable, but will always appear in interior magazines and Instagram. And, let's be honest, not many in Riga would dream of a prefabricated flat.

Mārtiņš Eņģelis

1 Rīgas dzīvokļu kultūra. Satori.lv