Lauri Reitz was born in 1893 in Valkeala, Kymenlaakso, in south-eastern Finland. The descendant of a German glass-blowing family and the son of a railway worker, he went to elementary school in Kuopio but later transferred to the Normal Lyceum of Helsinki for five years. Reitz graduated as a construction engineer from a technical institute in 1914 and became an independent building contractor seven years later. He set up his construction company, Lauri Reitz Oy, in 1928.

Lauri Reitz was one of the most influential building constructors of his day in Finland. Between 1927 and 1952 he oversaw the construction of more than twenty blocks of flats, as well as industrial premises, public buildings, cinemas and private villas in and around Helsinki. As a developer, Reitz was known from the start for his high-quality work. He was interested in new inventions and technological advances; his buildings were the first in Finland to adopt many innovations, such as electrical locks. Reitz played a central role in the development of Helsinki, and especially the district of Töölö, in the 1930s. His buildings were most often drawn by the architect Jalmari Peltonen, whose rectangular bay windows, balconies and stairwells represent Töölö’s particular brand of functionalist architecture at its best. Reitz and Peltonen had a significant influence on the ways in which Töölö was developed in the early decades of the twentieth century, and thereby on how the district still looks to this day.

Lauri Reitz held diverse positions of trust besides his job, including on the board of trustees of the Finnish Construction Engineers’ Association, the board of the Foundation of Construction Engineers and the committee for the Permanent Exhibition of Construction Materials. Reitz was also an assessor for the Association of War Damage Insurers and a governor of the insurance company Suomen Vakuutus Oy. In relation to employment policy, Reitz was the deputy chairman of the employers’ committee of the Construction Engineers’ Association of Helsinki, as well as sitting on the boards of the Association of Construction Employers and the Confederation of Finnish Construction Industries.


“Objects are very near and dear to me.”

Lauri Reitz became interested in collecting at a young age. He made his first purchase in 1915: a tin jewellery vase, bought for seven Finnish markka. According to Reitz, the monetary value of the item was “no more than that of the tin of which it was made”, but it provided the spark for his career as a collector. Thanks to his successful construction business, Reitz built up his fortune swiftly from the 1920s onwards, which allowed him to broaden and deepen his interest in art through collecting.

Over the 1930s, Reitz’s collection grew to include not only paintings but also antique silver, valuable porcelain, weapons, musical instruments, clocks, books and antique furniture. Regarding art and silver, Reitz focused on acquiring Finnish pieces; his clock, weapon and furniture collections, on the other hand, extend to the rest of Europe.

Reitz amassed his diverse collection alone, focusing on and carefully familiarising himself with each subject at a time. He greatly valued experts, however, and advised anyone who was interested in collecting to “make acquaintances with first-class art dealers and become their clients.” He considered this to be the way to “obtain the finest items at the best prices.” Reitz was acquainted with Finnish and Nordic art dealers, who dealt him not only works of art but also beneficial advice. He also accumulated a comprehensive book collection, through which he was able to read up on the cultural and art history of Finland and the Nordic region in general. As a collector, he wanted to have a thorough knowledge of his objects of interest.

In describing his collecting activity, Reitz said that “objects are very near and dear to me, for which reason I may value some of my items much more highly than an art critic or expert would.” He understood, however, the monetary value of his collection and when the Winter War broke out in Finland in 1939, his focus was on protecting it to the best of his ability. During the wars, Reitz stowed his collection in cellars, in the countryside, in bank vaults and, with assistance from the authorities, even abroad. Although keeping his collection safe caused Reitz so much trouble, he stated that “the artistic enjoyment brought by these items, the joy of ownership, and the historical memories and diverse, exciting experiences to which they bear witness more than make up for the effort and hassle that I may have had to go to for their sake during the war.” 

In garnering his extensive collection, Reitz was also expanding his personal intellectual capital: his education, cultural knowledge and insight. Primarily, however, Reitz’s collection reflects his own particular tastes and preferences. As he himself stated: “collecting and understanding objects of art is highly personal; some people have a greater inclination towards it than others. For a few select individuals – perhaps one in a thousand – it is innate, received as a family inheritance or a natural anomaly.”

For future generations of collectors, Reitz left the following advice: “Only acquire objects that gratify you personally and that you find beautiful; never buy ugly pieces, however old or valuable they may be.”

Beside his interest in fine arts and collecting, Lauri Reitz was fond of cars and motoring. In his words, “the affluent and genteel man of today appears on the street to show off his wealth in the form of an automobile.” Reitz was a member of the Automobile Club of Finland, and was actively involved in their events, taking part in driving meets, among others. Over the years, Reitz was granted both a silver and a golden achievement plate from the club, which could be attached to one’s car for all to see. Reitz never raced himself but liked to follow events such as the Finnish Grand Race in the Helsinki district of Eläintarha, with his son Lasse. Reitz was particular about his own vehicle, always updating it for the latest and most modern model. His predilection was for Jaguars and Buicks, and in fact he owned one of the first Jaguar automobiles in Finland.

As a counterbalance to his collecting activity and modern urban life, Reitz practised agriculture on a farm he owned in the southern region of Porkkala, named Solvik. He had a wooden house dating from the 1830s, called Kinnekulla, moved there from what is now Töölö’s Sibelius Park. After the wars, Reitz bought Tasbygård estate in Sipoo, east of Helsinki, which would become a favourite summer holiday destination for the whole family.


The building that Lauri Reitz commissioned entirely in his own name and owned on Apollonkatu, Helsinki, was completed in 1938. Reitz moved there with his wife Maria and his son Lasse (1924–1966) in 1943 and went on to live there until his death 1959. Originally, the Reitz residence consisted of 175 square metres, but Lauri Reitz added an extension in the form of a large study. The building, whose main entrance was situated on the Hesperiankatu side, also housed the Ritz cinema, which is said to have been named after the building constructor. Later, restaurant Elite, which became a hugely popular venue for artists, moved to the building from its former quarters on Museokatu.

The Apollonkatu building was a perfect example of the international functionalist style. Designed by Jalmari Peltonen, it was a tour de force of the Reitz construction agency; a modern residential building whose every last detail was carefully designed. The pargeting used on the façade made the building glimmer in the sunlight. According to the architect’s vision, the windows were large and the stairwells spacious. The light and airy apartments were equipped with oak parquet flooring, safe deposit boxes, refrigerators and functionalist gas cookers. Many of the apartments also had a spacious balcony.