Tom House: Michael Reynolds explores Tom of Finland's living museum

Front cover of Tom House with a close up image of a leather jacket, the top opening to reveal another garment with two soldiers face to face.
On sleepy Leveta Terrace in Echo Park, LA, Tom of Finland’s private residence is the location for the new biography and photobook Tom House.
(Image credit: Design by Hoffman Creative)

At first glance, the four-floor Craftsman-style house at 1421 Laveta Terrace looks like the kind of perfect fixer-upper that would be snapped up by the kinds of cashed-up creative types flocking to Los Angeles’ Echo Park neighbourhood. But this wholesome looking 106-year-old house, situated behind a manicured evergreen hedge, is a shrine to desire of a distinctly non-real estate kind.

Tom House, as its become known, was the erstwhile home and workplace of renegade Finnish artist Touko Laaksonen, perhaps the most influential homoerotic artist of the 20th century (as featured in W*188). Now home to the Tom of Finland Foundation and the team who faithfully administer it, the property has been immortalised for the first time in Tom House, a deluxe new volume from Rizzoli, published 8 March.

Tom died in his native Finland in 1991, but his work and legacy have continued to flourish due to the indefatigable efforts of the foundation and its founder Durk Dehner, an Auntie Mame in leather who owns and oversees this sprawling paean to the libidinal. (With more than 3,500 artworks and 100,000 documents, images and items of memorabilia, it’s the world’s largest repository of erotic art). Dehner first encountered Tom’s drawings in the late 1970s, a moment which changed the course of his life and led to the establishment of the home and foundation. 'The mission of the foundation is really to carry on Tom’s legacy, which is all about having a healthier, more natural way of looking at sexuality. We think sexuality doesn’t stop when you leave the bedroom,' says Dehner.

The book itself – the vision of creative director and Wallpaper* US editor Michael Reynolds – reflects the property’s idiosyncratic, wildly collaborative spirit. 'The moment I discovered the house some 20 years ago, I was entranced,' says Reynolds. 'I have always been captivated by provocation and things that lurk in the shadows of mainstream culture. Tom House is like a living, breathing commune – the very opposite of a dead artist’s museum. It was just a matter of waiting for the zeitgeist to be ready for this project.'

Lavish interior photographs by Martyn Thompson provide an intimate glimpse into the rambling 17-room house and its surrounds. There’s the crepuscular dungeon, with its myriad leather toys; Tom’s Room, an attic eyrie where the artist would sequester himself, chain-smoking cigarettes whilst working on collaged reference pages, sketches and preparatory drawings (many of which appear in print for the first time in Tom House); and the terraced, cheekily named Pleasure Park, which promises house guests the opportunity for alfresco assignations.

Rounding out Reynolds’ creative dream team is journalist and critic Mayer Rus, who contributed the book’s fascinating foreword. Rus places Tom of Finland and its home within a wider fine art context and captures the property’s sui generis nature.  'Tom House has always been a welcoming gathering place; it’s a safeplace, a sensibility and an almost spiritual experience given the amount of artwork that is guarded here,' says Dehner. Ultimately, it’s a destination best experienced on the page or in person: part frathouse, part bunker of Bohemia, part noncomformist bulwark. At Tom House, pleasure is always a moral imperative and life itself is a form of activism.

Daytime image, parked black car and four retro style motorbikes, trunks of two palm trees, tall evergreen hedges with solid black gates in the centre and to the right, top of detached house, with windows and roof protruding over the hedge, tops of trees, cloudy blue sky

Behind a wholesome looking 106-year old façade, situated behind a manicured evergreen hedge, is a shrine to desire of a distinctly non-real estate kind.

(Image credit: Martyn Thompson)

Daytime image at the front entrance of Tom of Finland’s living museum, hedges, stone steps with ceramic pots with plants, brick column with cut out black and white male image, wind chimes hanging down,, stone flagged floor, close up of left wall of house and window, tree and grass shrubs

The book itself – the vision of venerated creative director and Wallpaper* US Editor Michael Reynolds – reflects the property’s idiosyncratic, wildly collaborative spirit. 

(Image credit: Martyn Thompson)

Front terrace, yawning tabby cat lay on a black leather seated wooden frame chair, netted backdrop, plants, side table with small chest on top, brown stone floor, corner of multicoloured rug, window letting in daylight

The terrace – cheekily named Pleasure Park – promises house guests the opportunity for alfresco assignations.

(Image credit: Martyn Thompson)

Daylight image of the museum interior, brown stone floor, multicoloured rug, wicker table , black leather chairs with metal frame design, house plant in a green bowl, glass half filled with water

Lavish interior photographs by Martyn Thompson provide an intimate glimpse into the rambling 17-room house and its surrounds. 

(Image credit: Martyn Thompson)

Daylight image of sitting room, patterned carpet, window with blinds open, small bookcase filled with books, photographs and artwork on the walls, dark wooden walls and furniture, black leather armchairs, black leather footstool, floor standing lamp with cream shade, coffee table with books on, bronze sheild propped up against a gold drinks trolley , glass display case with ornaments inside

Rounding out Reynolds’ creative dream team is journalist and critic Mayer Rus, who contributed the book’s fascinating foreword. 

(Image credit: Martyn Thompson)

Interior room, fireplace with blue brick surround, lamps, clock framed images and ornaments on top, photograph in a black frame on the wall, black tile floor to the fire surround, wooden floor, edge of multicoloured rug, large scale ornament in front of the fire in black gloss, logs in the fire, pale orange wall, black unusual shaped chair to the right

Tom House, as its become known, was the erstwhile home and workplace of renegade Finnish artist Touko Laaksonen, perhaps the most influential homoerotic artist of the 20th century. 

(Image credit: Martyn Thompson)

White kitchen, fridge with male erotic decorative magnets, white door open slightly, white tiled worktop with black trim, male erotic image framed, ood blender, ornament of male head, white kitchen appliance

Tom died in his native Finland in 1991, but his work and legacy have continued to flourish due to the foundation and its the work of its founder Durk Dehner.

(Image credit: Martyn Thompson)

Close up shot of male erotic fridge magnets on a white fridge door, white door handle to the right

Now, it's home to the Tom of Finland Foundation and the charming team who faithfully administer it.

(Image credit: Martyn Thompson)

Bedroom, corner of bed with dark grey cover, black leather armchair and foot stool, wooden floor with rug, metal base standing lamp and neutral shade, dark wood wardrobe, black chest of drawers, lit lamp, photograph in a black frame, helmet, black frame window with white blinds, book case with books, framed art on walls

Dehner explains, 'The mission of the foundation is really to carry on Tom’s legacy...' 

(Image credit: Martyn Thompson )

Interior room, two pieces of black furniture with drawers, ornaments and pictures on display, wooden floor witha colourful rug, black door open looking into next room, white walls, black rail framing the top of the walls, wooden coat rail with leather handbags, wall light lit

'...which is all about having a healthier, more natural way of looking at sexuality. We think sexuality doesn’t stop when you leave the bedroom'. 

(Image credit: Martyn Thompson)

Close up of a California highway police patrol leather beige colour short sleeve shirt, police badge, hanging from a rope attached to a red rail, with matching leather pants draped behind, framed picture on a lime green and brown wall in shot

The moment I discovered the house some 20 years ago, I was entranced,' says Reynolds. 

(Image credit: Martyn Thompson)

Bedroom interior, corner of bed with white sheets and red cover, black framed windows with red blinds, black table under window, books on table, corner light, male erotic framed art on the walls and table, hung in front of the windows and propped up against walls and furniture on the floor, slim black framed floor mirror, reflecting art, tall red standing lamp and another angle of the room

Tom House is like a living, breathing commune,' says Reynolds, 'the very opposite of a dead artist’s museum. It was just a matter of waiting for the zeitgeist to be ready for this project.' 

(Image credit: Martyn Thompson)

Large white floor rug with male erotic artist sketch in charcoal, wooden oval coffee table, with silver metal legs, book, sunglasses, open packet of cigarettes, brown ornament

'Tom House has always been a welcoming gathering place; it’s a safeplace, a sensibility and an almost spiritual experience given the amount of artwork that is guarded here,' says Dehner.

(Image credit: Martyn Thompson)

Attic bedroom interior, bed with black sheets, white desk with green swivel chair, ceiling fan, two windows with red blinds, framed artwork on white walls, dark grey floor, book case to the right, leather jackets and shirts hung on clothes rails, tall black leather boots, bedside table with black lamp, white wooden slat ceiling, police caps

Tom’s Room, an attic eyrie where the artist would sequester himself, chain-smoking cigarettes whilst working on collaged reference pages, sketches and preparatory drawings. 

(Image credit: Martyn Thompson)

White table top, black and white male photographs, yellow pencil, glass ashtray, male erotic sketches, small blue box

Many of the sketches and drawings appear in print for the first time in Tom House.

(Image credit: Martyn Thompson)

INFORMATION

Tom House is published by Rizzoli (opens in new tab), $55. For more information, visit the website (opens in new tab); Instagram: @tominlosangeles (opens in new tab)

A book signing for Tom House: Tom of Finland in Los Angeles will take place on 12 March, 4-6pm at David Kordansky Gallery

ADDRESS

David Kordansky Gallery, 5130 W, Edgewood Place, Los Angeles, 90019

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