Niclas Ahlström’s spacious Helsinki home is filled with chairs

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.

Nuura  Apiales 18 pendant, brushed brass - opal white
The Ahlströms wanted the dining room to be filled with round, eclectic shapes. The bright art nouveau tones in the murals were restored by conservator Tanja Lindfors. The Apiales 18 ceiling light is from Nuura, and the carpet is from Dusty Deco.


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.

Niclas Ahlström and the new Pavo chair designed by Thomas Sandell.

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.

Tisti cabinet by Thomas Sandell
The entrance was made brighter by knocking down a part of the partition wall. The Tisti cabinet by Thomas Sandell hides away the family’s accessories. The oil painting is by the Rome-based artist Hannu Palosuo.
Made by Choice  Goma dining chair
The Goma dining chairs surrounding the table are designed by Thomas Sandell. The Wiurila chair is by Bernadotte & Kylberg, the Laulu cabinet by Matti Klenell.
Flos  Arco floor lamp
The living room is an exciting mixture of Niclas’ old favorites, newer pieces and stunning works of contemporary art. The flower-patterned rug and Paolo Piva’s 80s Alanda coffee table have travelled with Niclas since his youth. The Arco floor lamp is by Flos, and the abstract painting behind it is by Raili Tang.
Kim Simonsson's sculpture Moss Girl and Fire
Kim Simonsson's ceramic sculpture Moss Girl and Fire adds a surprising detail to the edge of the tile stove in the living room.
Sana chair by Halleroed
The tile stove is reminiscent of a wedding cake. Kim Simonsson’s green sculpture provides a refreshing contrast to it. The Sana chair is by the design studio Halleroed. Above it, you can see one of artist Hank Grüner’s works.

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.

Laakso chairs
The kitchen was made more spacious by leaving out the upper cabinets. The fixed furniture is made of oak by Protos Demos, and the countertops are made of Caesarstone quartz. The Lammi stools and Laakso chairs are designed by Saku Sysiö, the Melt ceiling light is by Tom Dixon. “Frosted Flakes” by artist Jani Leinonen.

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.

&Tradition  Little Petra lounge chair and pouf
The decor has a playfulness finish: the parents' bedroom is brought alive by a piece of art by Riiko Sakkinen. Niclas’ favourite reading spot is the &Tradition Little Petra armchair, which is located right next to the piece.
Reading Horse bookshelf by Katrin Ólina.
Carpet from Dusty Deco, cushions from Moko. The small portable Reading Horse bookshelf is by Katrin Ólina.
Made by Choice  Kolho dining chair, black oak
The old fireplaces give the home a unique feel. Both the artwork and the Kolho chair are by Matthew Day Jackson. Kolho, which was born as a result of a unique collaboration between an artist and a furniture manufacturer, has garnered a lot of interest. The VL38 luminaires by Louis Poulsen.

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, 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.

Oak furniture in the bathroom by Protos Demos
The location of the bathroom was changed to bring more natural light into the space. All wooden furniture is custom-made from oak by Protos Demos.
Neutral colors in the bathroom
The neutral colors in the bathroom calm the nerves and make it easier to relax amidst the hustle and bustle of everyday life. All tiles are from ABL-laatat. The tub, which is especially beloved by the family’s kids, is from Duravit. The kids’ bathrobe and towels are by Lapuan Kankurit.
A courtyard side balcony
The courtyard side balcony serves as Leia’s workstation and offers a place to relax. Leia says she doesn’t have much of a green thumb, but she still wanted plenty of plants on the balcony. Lungo watering can by Xala, doorstop by Zuny.

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 AlbersInteraction 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.

Get inspired

Made by Choice
Goma dining chair
DLM side table
Made by Choice
Beebee jar
Louis Poulsen
VL 38 wall lamp
Made by Choice
Kolho dining chair
Pertti Männistö
Aalto Design Collection
Raami tumbler
Little Petra lounge chair

See also:

Made by Choice at Finnish Design Shop >

Text: Mila Pentti Images: Jaanis Kerkis

The story was previously published in Avotakka magazine 1/2023.

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