Made by Choice co-founder Niclas Ahlström is passionate about many things: art, books, and especially chairs. Many of the pieces found in Ahlström’s home have been made in the company’s own factory in Halikko, Southwest Finland.
Niclas and Leia Ahlström and their small children Richard and Wilhelmina. The apartment is located in Helsinki in an apartment building completed in 1904 and designed by architects Mauritz Gripenberg and John Settergren. It has three bedrooms, a living room, dining room, kitchen, utility room, bathroom, toilet and two balconies. The floorspace of the apartment is 212 m².
WANDERING THROUGH Niclas and Leia Ahlström’s recently renovated apartment will quickly reveal that one has arrived in a home where everyday aesthetics and modern art highly valued. The couple’s home is bright and colorful. Each and every object, color and surface material has been chosen with care – and without compromising on quality. The residents’ passion for innovative, sustainable design is evident everywhere you look.
When the couple first started looking for a new home in central Helsinki, Leia stumbled across an apartment located in an early 20th century art nouveau building that had been used as an office space for some time. It met many of the couple’s most important wishes: a central location, large windows, beautiful details, high ceilings and a floor plan that had been preserved in its original condition throughout the years, but was still functional.
The couple made an offer to buy the apartment, which the owner, to their astonishment, accepted. After the deal was closed, the apartment underwent a year-long renovation to convert it into a home fit for the growing family.
The renovation was designed by the South African born architect Werner Barnard, who has been living and working in Finland for the past two decades.
“Barnard had designed many of our friends’ homes, and we were very impressed with his work. We wanted a timeless, spacious, long-term, functional home flooded with natural light. High quality materials were also a priority for us,” Niclas says.
“We wanted a timeless, spacious, long-term, functional home flooded with natural light.”
Since the house is almost 120 years old, the couple decided to preserve many of the old elements during the renovation. They give the modern home a unique character. The three fireplaces, the dining room murals and the numerous lead glass windows in the apartment still remain in the same places where they were when the house was first built.
Removing a few doors and a partition wall from the entrance hallway and kitchen made the space a lot brighter. The bathroom was moved to a different location for the same reason, and now features a large window that fills the room with natural light. A utility room equipped with washing and drying machines was built next to the bathroom.
The couple felt there was no need to move the kitchen from its original location, but the space still underwent a complete transformation. The walls were painted in a bright shade that makes the room feel even more spacious than before. All of the electrical wirings were replaced, and the floor was redone in oak parquet.
DUE TO HIS father’s occupation, Niclas spent his childhood and adolescence in Milan, London and New York. His background has molded him into a businessman with international connections who thrives in large cities.
This background came in handy when Niclas started running his own design company, Made by Choice.
“Me and my partners Sebastian Jansson and Lasse Laine are on a mission to take Finnish design abroad and to maintain the craftsmanship of Finnish carpenters.”
Niclas and Lasse also co-own the Protos Demos company that produces Made by Choice’s furniture in their carpenter’s workshop in Halikko. His company portfolio also includes the newly founded kitchen furniture manufacturer Arkken and Aino.ar, a 3D interior configuration company.
Commissioning a carpenter to make your fixed furniture ensures that it fits exactly in the space it is meant for. What’s better, it also means it will be unique.
“Some people are passionately opposed to fast fashion or fast food. We stand firmly against fast furniture. Instead of mass production, our pieces are handmade individually to meet existing demand. This way, we can also avoid overproduction. The new definition of luxury in furniture retailing is customization. It ensures that the customer does not have to compromise on their wishes."
Niclas finds that in order to gain visibility and make it in the international market, a company has to be one of two things: a radical innovator, or a player that is able to take into account customers’ new modes of consumption well enough.
ALL OF THE FIXED FURNITURE and many of the other pieces in the Ahlströms’ home have been made in Halikko. The home provides a great opportunity test out chairs before they enter manufacturing. Chairs are Niclas’ greatest passion.
“Last fall, we launched so many new chairs that even I realized that maybe we should slow down a bit. But what can you do when you're completely crazy about chairs? A good chair must be comfortable to sit in. However, I find that it is equally important that it features interesting, even surprising, shapes. It should also be beautiful to look at.”
The home also reveals Niclas’ love of books and reading.
“In addition to my many chairs, I go through a lot of books. Our bookshelves are full of books on architecture, art, design, economics and fashion. My favorite bookshops are Nide in Helsinki, Papercut in Stockholm and Do you read me? in Berlin.”
When at home, Niclas prefers to sit in the couple’s bedroom in the Little Petra chair, which is upholstered in sheepskin.
“Books come and go, but there are certain ones I will read again and again. These books have been given places in my home that befit their value. My most treasured books include Josef Albers’ Interaction of color, a masterpiece in art education, Christopher Alexander’s A Pattern Language, which has remained the best selling work on architecture for decades, and Juhani Pallasmaa’s essay Eyes of the Skin, a defense of multisensory architecture.”
Currently waiting on Niclas’ bedside table is Pertti Männistö’s Aalto Design Collection, a book that details the past and present of the world's largest private collection of modern designs by Alvar Aalto and Aino Marsio-Aalto.
Text: Mila Pentti Images: Jaanis Kerkis
The story was previously published in Avotakka magazine 1/2023.