Fredrik Carlström is the founder of Alma. The Stockholm-based co-working place and members’ club has been called the ”coolest workplace” by Vogue and the ”Anti-WeWork” by Surface Magazine. Fredrik is also founder of the furniture brand Austere. Almas bar, Alma Trägårdh, will be the official bar during Stockholm Design Week.
The concept of members’ clubs and co-working places has been under some scrutiny recently, with the debacle around WeWork. Why are co-working places and members’ clubs important today?
The co-working model is not super new. It’s been around for a fairly long time. I don’t think that co-working is going anywhere. There’s lots of data that suggests that people will continue to work that way. But to answer your question, the way that we work is changing, and has changed for some time. I read a statistic that 30 percent of the workforce will spend at least five days a month not in their regular office. There’s a huge shift. The need for people to congregate is not going anywhere. It makes sense from a cultural perspective and from an economic perspective. If you’re a small company or a start-up, it makes a huge amount of sense to sit in a co-working type of environment, rather than to get your own office.
When you started Alma, what were the things you wanted to do differently than similar concepts?
All the founders live in New York and we saw the co-working and the social club trend happening. The opportunity to do something in Stockholm came up very randomly. The building became available, and somebody asked us if we wanted to do something. Looking at Stockholm was actually terrifying, because it doesn’t have the history of social membership clubs and Stockholm is incredibly trend-sensitive. We looked at the market and we felt there was a place missing for us, which was much more nurturing, a place where you wanted to spend time. We looked at some of the other concepts that felt more like Excel products.
What was the concept behind Alma?
We took the name Alma, which means a bunch of things: ”nourishing” in Latin, ”soul” in Spanish. In English, the university you went to is your alma mater, which comes from the University of Bologna, which is the oldest university in the Western world. It basically means ”nourishing mother.” We wanted it to be a place that was about nourishing people and their ideas. The consequence of that is obviously to make it comfortable, or maybe a bit more homey. Our lighting is different. We used Tham & Videgård architects to help us with the structural changes. We worked with amazing brands to furnish the place: Fredericia, PP Møbler, KBH and De La Espada. Brands that you typically see in a luxury home, not in an office space. We worked with artists and we worked with galleries to put actual art on the walls, as opposed to neon inspirational quotes like some of our competitors do.
When I think of co-working places and the start-up culture that surrounds it, I don’t necessary think of people who care about good design.
That’s probably true. I think a lot of tech companies have a terrible sense of style, even bigger ones. I love going to these conferences, and you see these logotypes, and it’s almost like it’s clip art from Microsoft Word. I think good companies don’t do bad design. We’re not much more expensive than other places. It’s not necessarily that. I think we are for people who care about those things… it attracts a certain person. The easiest way is to describe it is like the small luxury hotels of the world, where there’s a different type of charm. We aspire to that.
Where do you find inspiration?
It’s inspirational to look at places throughout history that have been great for innovation. I’m inspired by Bell Labs and the Manhattan Project and MIT Media Labs. How you create a place that foster innovation and foster human interaction. There’s this amazing story around Bell Labs in the ’50s. They were creating more Nobel Prize winners and various awards than any place on Earth. Someone started looking at why that was. They found out that it came back to this one guy, this engineer called Harry Nyquist, who actually had a Swedish heritage. He would do these lunches, and the people who went to these lunches were the ones who won all the awards. The ones who didn’t, didn’t. It was all about being cross-disciplinary and meeting different types of people. Throughout history there are a ton of examples where the group helped elevate the work of its members. Certain spaces, restaurants, bars, universities, and offices. There’s something in the walls. There’s something magical in that space. That’s what inspires me.
What’s next for Alma?
Our second project is also in Stockholm. We took over this movie theater on Sturegatan called Park, which is one of the most beautiful cinemas in Sweden. It’s 710 seats. It’s the largest single-screen cinema left. It’s amazing. It was done by architect Björn Hedvall who was very functionalistic. This spot allows us to give our members a different experience. For us, it’s still about work. The idea is that the movie theater has a perfect setting if you have a product launch, an event, a seminar, a festival, education, or a shareholder meeting. It’s perfect for that. Then at night it’s a great stage for culture and creativity: live music, poetry, comedy, films obviously… The amazing cultural event makes the space more attractive during the day. One thing can support the other.
You are also opening in Palma de Mallorca?
Yes.There’s a very large community of people there. Swedes for sure, but there are English people, French people, Germans. It’s become this sort of little hub in the middle of the Mediterranean Ocean that attracts lots of interesting people, actually. We found this building that we fell in love with, and it all came together.
Is there a next logical step after that?
We’re opening in New York in early 2020. It will be much smaller than the space in Stockholm. We’re calling it Alma Living Room. It’s on Great Jones Street, between Bowery and Lafayette. I just love that area. We’re going to focus on design, hospitality, and food and beverage.
This is an edited version of a longer conversation. Listen to the full conversation on Youtube, Apple Podcast or Spotify by clicking the links below:Stockholm Design Week 2020Furniture and Light Fairfredrik carlströmfredrik carlströmalma alma