Marko Vaikmaa, one of the co-founders of Lähe House, dreamed of a greenhouse that would be beautiful to the eye and at the same time environmentally friendly and durable. Like in the old times. Greenhouses with glass and wooden structures were once very popular in Estonia. However, they disappeared into oblivion with the arrival of plastic. So did their production.
“Once upon a time, quick and cheap ‘euro repairs’ were also popular,” says Margus Kruusvall, one of the owners of the company, referring to the quick and cheap renovation style prevalent in the Baltics in the late 1990s. In Estonia, however, the standard of living has steadily risen over the past decades, and so people have more choices. Cheap plastic is no longer wanted. It is true that glass greenhouses are produced and still popular in Great Britain and Scandinavian countries. However, the selection was not quite the same as Marko Vaikmaa, one of the founders of the company, was dreaming of. He wanted something beautiful! The interplay of wood and glass. As ordering a greenhouse from England to Estonia would have taken too long, he decided to build the greenhouse himself. The first Lähe House glass greenhouse was born in 2018. And it looked pretty cool!
Since the market vacuum was already detected, a business was born out of personal need. Marko Vaikmaa also convened Margus Kruusvall and Marko Tammist. In cooperation with engineers and architects, the greenhouse was further developed and the prototype was technically improved.
An inheritable solution
Lähe House greenhouses are patented. The most unique part of the greenhouse is its glass design. The glass in the greenhouses is installed on top of the wood, not in between, as is usually the case. It creates a cleaner look from the outside. In this way, it is also easier to install and replace glasses over time, if needed.
The greenhouse construction is made of thermal wood, which lasts 40-50 years with finishing. Kruusvall jokingly admits that, in principle, Lähe House greenhouses are inheritable due to their long life and structures, as they can also be assembled and transported to a new location if necessary.
The greenhouses are made of 99% natural materials, glass and wood. Only washers are not made of natural materials. Therefore, if the greenhouse should end its life at some point, it is possible to reuse the parts or return them to nature. Production has also been made maximally efficient. Every little piece of wood has a purpose. Energy consumption is kept low.
Founded in 2019, Lähe House produces 100 greenhouses a year. Almost half of them are exported. After cutting out the wood details, the greenhouses are handcrafted by experienced carpenters. Many customers are aware of it, so it doesn’t take much effort to explain why a glass greenhouse is a good choice.
Glass transmits light better than a plastic greenhouse and is more durable. It is also an environmentally friendly choice. When a plastic greenhouse ends its work, it is mostly material harmful to nature – without having a new life and purpose, it will become waste. Lähe House greenhouse instead, when taking a break from growing plants, can be used as a garden pavilion to read a book and drink tea.
The pandemic brought new customers
In addition to enthusiasts of growing food at home, another unexpected clientele emerged with the advent of COVID-19. Namely, restaurants wanted to serve people outside their premises. You can soon see Lähe House greenhouses for example in Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, on the terrace of the popular coffee shop Komeet in the Solaris Centre and at the Kaktus flower shop on Telliskivi’s creative campus. One of the greenhouses has found a home in the city space of Malmö, Sweden: Lähe House’s business partner was in a gardening fair with a greenhouse and the city government liked it so much that they asked to leave the greenhouse in the city, so it was done.
Gätlin Tanni, one of the owners of the Kaktus flower shop, says that the Lähe House greenhouse is a cool feature of the shop that often attracts both, customers and curious eyes. In December, the flower shop used the greenhouse for Christmas sales and workshops. During the winter, the pavilion was used as a workshop for teaching how to make Christmas wreaths. In addition, the greenhouse that has the powerful ability to attract attention has also become an extension of the office and a space, suitable for client meetings. Tanni admits that a lot of people come to take pictures and ask where it was made. “The greenhouse does not always have to be hidden somewhere in the home yard. It’s such a cool space,” Tanni says.
The production unit in Padise, Northern Estonia
Lähe House greenhouses are produced in Padise village, located only 50 minutes by car from Tallinn, in Northern Estonia. Northern Estonia is well known for its forests and wood industries, and here in Padise, Lähe House production building and sample greenhouses have a great surrounding. The business environment supports usage of local carpenter skills and experiences.
One of the company’s greenhouses that is standing in the yard of restaurant Kastell near Padise, brings a lot of positive feedback to the company. “We have often been told that our greenhouse looks better in real life than in the pictures. It is a real treat for us,” Kruusvall says.
A handicraft greenhouse
All the details of the greenhouse are cut out with a precision saw and assembled by highly experienced woodworkers. “It is very important for us that the greenhouse is put together by a person who knows everything about wood,” says Kruusvall. Since a large part of the products are exported, the assembly must be made as easy as possible for the customers, so there is no need for them to drill screw holes, for example.
In addition to Estonia, Lähe House greenhouses are sold to Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, Belgium, Ireland and the Netherlands. According to Kruusvall, there is interest even from East Asia and Spain.
Although, the company started exporting only last year, its network has grown faster than expected. So far, the company has managed with its own capital, grants and investors are not involved. But if the company rushes forward at such a pace, a new production unit must be built, and exports expanded.
Estonian wooden house industry
Estonia has one of Europe’s largest bioeconomies, including world-leading expertise in forest-based activity. Supported by high-quality natural resources, ultra-high use of IT and support policy-making, Estonia offers a range of production and innovation opportunities.
Estonian wooden houses have become a major export article for the country, with annual production volumes reaching over 500 million euros, 90% of this being exported. The main international markets for Estonian timber construction enterprises are Norway, Sweden, Germany and Finland, forming over 75% of the total export share, with other major markets including France, Holland, the United Kingdom, Italy and Japan.
And as a true proof to punching above its weight, every 4th wooden house exported from the European Union is manufactured in Estonia. According to Trade with Estonia, for the past 10 years, Estonia has been the largest exporter of European wooden houses, ranking only behind China and Canada in global statistics.