Behind the Design: Niclas Ahlström of Made by Choice

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Made by Choice is a Finnish design brand, embracing Finnish culture, heritage, and values, and delivering unique products with a ‘made in Finland’ stamp of approval. Established by three delightful characters, Lasse Laine, Sebastian Jansson, and Niclas Ahlström, Made by Choice reflects the beauty of traditional Finnish design with a modern twist.

In a nation that is home to some of the happiest people on Earth, Made by Choice embraces Finnish and Nordic happiness. The brand believes that purposeful design brings happiness: design that is genuine, with a reason for being, and a unique story to tell.

Choice works with a range of design professionals, including artists and fashionistas, in order to offer products that are unconventional, quirky, and playful. That is not to undermine the seriousness with which the company takes its craft: at the Made by Choice factory in Halikko, Finland, its master artisans create furniture pieces using both contemporary woodworking methods and modern technology. With sustainability at the forefront of its artistic endeavours, Choice adopts a purpose-driven approach to design, developing products on demand.

Made by Choice draws inspiration from Finland’s centuries of woodworking traditions. At the same time, the company is striving to explore—and push—the boundaries of its craft, creating new narratives and a new design heritage.

Here, Gessato talks with Made by Choice co-founder Niclas Ahlström (NA) about the Choice ethos, design, and happiness.

 

Why Made by Choice? In what some might see as an already saturated Nordic design market, what sets Choice apart from its contemporaries?

(NA) Made by Choice is a platform for and curator of designers and artists, connecting them to companies and individuals. We almost always develop new products through bespoke projects, ensuring each piece has a clear purpose and a unique story.
We are known for our quirky, playful, and colourful style, which reflects nordic happiness. Finland is the happiest nation in the world and I think our brand is a reflection of this.

You believe in the value of cross-disciplinary projects, such as those involving art and fashion. What can product and furniture design learn from other creative spheres?

(NA) I believe that in the field of design, there isn’t enough cross-disciplinary work taking place. On the whole, furniture design, particularly in Scandinavia, tends to look the same. People from the worlds of art and fashion approach things differently, leading to more unconventional and innovative designs.

Where some companies might present vague promises of sustainable practices, Made by Choice believes that a business should be built on transparency and social responsibility. Can you describe your approach to this.

(NA) Our aim is to craft products that last a lifetime, and can be passed down through the generations. Sustainability is at the forefront of everything we do. We use wood, a material which is sustainable and ethically sourced. Any surplus wood is then used to heat our factory.

Every member of our team plays an integral role in the development of Made by Choice. We strive to take care of our workforce in a way that reflects this, ensuring reasonable working hours, holidays, maternity and paternity leave. When making products, our workforce find creative inspiration in the beauty of the surrounding landscape, and in the centuries of Finnish woodworking traditions.

Space of Mind modular cabing by Studio Puisto with Made by Choice.

’Space of Mind’ is a project that Choice worked on with Studio Puisto Architects, creating a modular cabin in part as a response to the coronavirus pandemic. In the future, do you see a growth in modular living, in separating ourselves from others?

(NA) We now know that business meetings can be held remotely, making use of videoconferencing technology. Many people have more freedom to choose where and how they work. Spending time outdoors, in nature, has immense health benefits. Going forward, I think there will be a huge change in how we work and live, not forgetting that people still yearn to meet and spend time together.

Travel and leisure are experiencing major upheavals. We are finding a greater level of interest in the countryside and nature, with activities such as hiking and camping. ‘Space of Mind’ allows people to experience nature in new ways, by building a cabin in a place where they might not necessarily have imagined doing so.

Finnish people—and Nordic people collectively—are known to be some of the happiest people on Earth. But what does this actually mean?

(NA) Finland and the Nordic countries are generally known for their balanced life-work approach. People are, by and large, honest, friendly, and trustworthy. Levels of corruption are low, and trust in institutions is high. Our universal healthcare and school systems are world class. Finland was a forerunner in gender equality—universal suffrage has been Finnish law since 1906, and Finland was the first European country to recognise a woman’s right to vote. Sanna Marin is Finland’s youngest ever prime minister (and currently the world’s youngest female state leader). Every one of these achievements and freedoms lead to a high quality of life and increased happiness.

MERRY by Hanna Anonen for Made by Choice.

Can we design happiness and can design make us happy?

(NA) Purposeful design brings happiness. At Made by Choice, our design is very much purpose-driven. We always strive to have a genuine reason for why we choose to design and make something. The world is full of products, therefore any new product must have a purpose. I believe people should focus much more on quality, handmade products, with unique stories.

Handicrafts and traditions are important in Finnish culture, and at Choice we strive to maintain centuries of woodworking traditions. When people purchase a thoughtful product, made with  with an authentic narrative and quality craftsmanship, it brings happiness. Such products will be loved and cared for, and are more likely to be handed down through the generations.

We believe it’s easier to be happy when making sustainable choices. Through our designs and brand, we wish to raise awareness of the Nordic lifestyle. This means valuing those things that can often be taken for granted in the western world: clean air and water, nature, work/family balance, and the importance of home.

The Choice ‘creed’ is extremely egalitarian, though some might ‘raise an eyebrow’ at the principles it outlines. Why was it important that you draw up a creed?

(NA) It helps to outline how we work. Nordic organisations are typically horizontal or flat, not hierarchical. We have a strong purpose, something that encourages people in the company to take responsibility in order to achieve results. At the same time, they can have fun while doing so.

When you established Made by Choice, along with Lasse Laine and Sebastian Jansson, part of your mission was to create a new design heritage. How do you see this coming to fruition?

(NA) We hope to become a platform that provides creative individuals with the opportunity to create purposeful design, connecting them with companies and consumers who value the Nordic lifestyle. This being the case, we will build an interesting portfolio of products that will, hopefully, become design classics. We are known for our edgy, quirky designs, which have come to reflect the ethos of the brand.

SIENI by Michael Yarinsky for Made by Choice.

In a global system, we see increasing uniformity in and commodification of design. How do we champion authenticity, creativity, and innovation?

(NA) Our approach is one in which architects, woodworkers, and designers, work together to build purpose-led products. It’s a unique way of working, and can lead to some innovative designs and processes. Our cross-disciplinary work with artists and fashion designers—creatives who often approach furniture design from a different angle—has led to a number of original pieces.

With the coronavirus pandemic, much has changed across the design world. How has it impacted the Choice view of the future?

(NA) It has definitely strengthened the fundamental values of sustainable choices and the operational models related to purpose-driven, agile development. We have developed new products and solutions, such as work desks, safety screens, and dispenser stands. In collaboration with Helsinki-based Studio Puisto Architects, we developed small cabins for remote working and living, and to support new means of travel and leisure.

We believe that every change and challenge is an opportunity to adapt to new needs. With the coronavirus pandemic, the significance of design fairs has changed and diminished. This new reality establishes challenges and opportunities to open businesses in different regions.

    string(16) "Gerard McGuickin"

Gerard

I’m a design writer, lover and aficionado, living in a modish neighbourhood in south Belfast. My writing is studied and yet uninhibited, and my perspective on design is typically punctilious and urbane. My thinking is often guided by Dieter Rams’ ten principles for good design. I have an educational background in psychology (MSc + BSc) and believe in the potential for design to improve our daily quality of life. And without affectation, I value that which is aesthetically pleasing and inspiring (great design excites my imagination). Find out more at GerardMcGuickin.com.

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