‘We’ve been absolutely overwhelmed by the positive feedback Alma has gotten since it opened,’ Carlström says. ‘That’s what makes it all worth it, when a member tells us they love Alma.’
‘It all’ is a lot indeed. Every detail of the house is as meticulously designed and articulated as a piece of jewellery, from the art on the walls to the ambitious social calendar. The shelves, desks and giant lounge sofa are custom-built; the tables and benches designed by the architects; the drawers produced by Sjölinders; the lighting was specially designed (the eponymous w171 Alma won best lighting at this year’s Stockholm Furniture Fair). Even the coffee machines were carefully chosen.
‘To paraphrase Donald Trump on overhauling healthcare: nobody could have known that renovating 1,800 sq-m to open in less than a year would be so hard!’ laughs Carlström.
The W171 Alma lamp by Wästberg
This high level of curation and attention to detail may have paid off in Stockholm, but the Scandinavian palate for design is famously refined. Would such an exclusive, elegantly muted co-working concept be accessible to the creatives in Rome, Hong Kong, or New Delhi?
‘Alma is absolutely something we believe can travel,’ says Carlström. ‘The fundamental values behind Alma have nothing to do with a “look”, or any one aesthetic. I wanted to design a space where people felt inspired, safe, comfortable, and perhaps a bit spoiled.’
‘People spend so much time at work, the goal was to create a place our members were happy to return to every day. So in some ways, Alma is an idea that might be even more needed in places outside of Scandinavia where offices are usually less well-designed.’
After all, the purpose of design is to enhance our lives by improving our processes and interactions, and there is no demographic more sensitive to the value of good design than creative individuals. The concept of Alma extends beyond the aesthetic to facilitate collaboration, the exchange of ideas, and mutual inspiration between its members.
‘For many creative professionals, working and socializing are the same thing,’ says Lundh. ‘You do projects together with people you like and share views with.’
Indeed, Lundh and Carlström are themselves a case in point – the Alma co-founders worked together at the advertising agency Graceland Stockholm in the late 90s, and embarked on other various other ventures prior to developing Alma.
Another partnership that has emerged from Alma is New Material, an architecture and design studio that is dedicated to creating retail and hospitality spaces. ‘I started it with Nathan Warkentin who did the graphics for Alma,’ Carlström tells me. ‘I first met Nathan when he was creative director at Mast Brothers and we did a pop-up in Los Angeles. Then when we needed graphic design for Alma, I called Nathan.’
The partnership grew from the simple fact that Carlström and Warkentin like working together, with New Material as a reaction against the increasingly inward-looking retail and hospitality industries. ‘Retail is failing because they have not moved beyond being transactional. If people visit your store they want to feel something. The experience needs to make sense and be designed for humans, not just be architecture for architecture's sake, or a silly advertising gimmick.’
Carlström sets the example with Austere, a design and concept store he founded and physicalized in Stockholm for the first time as the only part of Alma open to the public. Available for purchase in the store are some of the products designed by contemporary artists for Alma, such as the tableware that was custom-made by ceramist Richard Palmquist for the restaurant.
The Austere interior is whimsical while allowing the products to speak for themselves