photo essay


by Alessandra Baltodano & Hõbe Ilus

In this photo-essay the author documents an old Estonian tradition of collective work. As a young Estonian couple reclaims an 1890 house with the help of friends, they also rebuild tradition, history, and community.

The second half of 19th century was the time of great changes for the Estonian country-folks as they could purchase their own land with dwelling houses (since the 13th century Estonians had been serfs for the foreign nobility, serfdom was abolished in Estonia and Livonia –today’s Southern-Estonia and Northern-Latvia– in the 1810’s). These changes mark the start of “farm-capitalism” and a significant part of it was a new type of a dwelling – a farmhouse-manor that was meant only for living, other buildings where now detached from the main building.



The property ‘Albi’ was bought from the land owner by Märt Wiera, whose son Peeter Viira built it into its current shape in 1890. In 1934 Peeter’s son Märt inherited the house, but unfortunately, both father and son lost their lives during World War II. Their maid Liidia Vakermann then managed to get Albi into her possession. She got married and had four children. During the Soviet era private properties were nationalized – so they had to live at Albi as tenants and share the house with other families. After Estonia regained its independence in 1991, Albi stayed in the family, but when Liidia’s son Riho Karbus died in the beginning of 2000’s the house remained empty and everything that wasn’t firmly attached to the house was stolen. Liidia’s grand-child Margus Karbus sold the house to Indrek Palm who changed the windows and the ceiling. He sold Albi to Hurmet-Mihkel Ilus in 2016. Hurmet and his fiancée Minna Salmistu are now the new owners of the property.



This house was somewhat famous and known to me already before Hurmet, my brother, first mentioned that he had the wish to have his own home at the countryside. This drive is most certainly related to the fact that our own family-house, that my father managed to get back in the mid 90’s, is very similar and situated only 10 km away from Albi. I guess we got used to the freedom and space that we were privileged to experience when growing up in the countryside.



As I mentioned I had already heard about Albi and seen the advertisement and articles to attract people into buying the property shared around social-media, when he sent me a link and told me, that this is the place he feels for. I remember the precise moment after encountering another share on my feed, when I made a quick call to tell him that it’s now or never. The decision was made: together with Minna they started to work towards the goal. I take the right to say that the purchase of this house became an event that lasted for eight months, involved relatives, family and friends, consisted of several setbacks and resulted in the triumphant moment when all the necessary documents were finally signed. 


Casi todas las casas históricas en Estonia han sido influenciadas por el «pensamiento soviético». Esto también aplica para Albi, pero afortunadamente algunas partes quedaron intactas (o cubiertas) y debido a eso es la única casa de campo en Estonia donde las decoraciones originales de la pared y el techo se han conservado. Eso es lo que la hace única. Uno puede sentir la historia y casi que escuchar los relatos no contados mientras se está dentro de sus numerosas habitaciones. Se siente como si esta casa hubiera estado esperando a los propietarios correctos y con suerte ahora los ha encontrado.



Hurmet’s and Minna’s aim is to build a home for them and their future children, but also a home that would always welcome their friends and family. This is already happening – the process of this creation in itself is already something ongoing and inviting that unites.



Traditionally, it was common in Estonian peasant culture to organize an event where a household would invite neighbours and relatives to help with bigger works that would simply take too much time to accomplish alone. In exchange, the hosting family would offer food, accommodation and celebration. We call this event talgud, in translation something close to house-raising. This tradition is still going strong and at Albi there have been already three gatherings carried out in the same principle. In the broader sense it’s worth to mention that there’s also an annual happening called “Let’s do it!” during which similar events take place all over Estonia to promote active attitude and strengthen and support the development of local communities. This is definitely related to the matter that more young and active families are moving to the country-side, to rebuild, maintain and expand the culture of Estonian country-side life.



Weather is a hot topic in Estonia and spring is the most longed season of them all as it follows the dark and cold winter that feels to be everlasting. These days of May were the first ones to offer some real warmth and the long-awaited sunshine. Hurmet and Minna are one lucky couple to have such a family and circle of friends around them, who, without a single complaint, would go to a place with no running water and with an outdoor toilet to work all together for one goal (not to mention that the work itself is physically hard and demanding). And I know they are grateful, so we go to Albi and there we find a hint of freedom in the surrounding vital energy that allows us to be just the way we are, far away from Monday.


Lill, Annika. (2017) Albi taluhäärber Mulgimaal (Farmhouse-manor Albi in Mulgimaa).



Alessandra Baltodano



 Hõbe Ilus


2017. Viljandimaa, Estonia


Published in October 2017

Volume 1, Issue 5


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