DESIGN

New partnership brings Swedish-produced hope chest to the 21st century

It’s quite rare to see a new Swedish design producer entering the market. Alwares just did, and we speak to the people behind their delicate line of plates — and the coming launch aiming to evolve the classic chest into a contemporary piece of furniture.
By JOHAN MAGNUSSON
December 11, 2023

Jill Ågren has always been interested in design. When she moved to London to work in finance, she started to study interior design and wanted to create unique private homes.

— There were some things I couldn’t find, so I started to look into sourcing and collaborating with craftsmen and producers to create products that I wanted to use in my projects, she remembers. When I relocated back to Sweden, I was in contact with many talents that weren’t represented in the Nordic countries and wanted to introduce them to our market. I set up a webshop, Alwares, just to give it a try and to see the outcome of it, she says, continuing,

— It was challenging because neither I nor the brands I represented were familiar here, and the products had a hefty price tag. 

To meet her customers in a new setting, she opened a physical pop-up. While there, she met Viktor Erlandsson, who’s worked as a designer for almost 15 years and launched his own collection, Artefacts, three years ago.

— Some pieces I work on are quite hard to get into production — they are not really suitable for the commercial market and mass production. Two of those objects — The Oyster Plate and The Hors d’Oeuvre Plate — were inspired by how you can serve oysters. And not on a big tray with a lot of crushed ice or rough salt but one plate for each person. I put buds on them to be able to balance the oysters without them falling over and pouring out. 

When Jill and Viktor got to know each other, Alwares took the helm of the production. In November last year, three more plates were made and The Plates Series was launched. Ever since, the duo has continued to explore more gaps in the market, for the launch of even more plates.

— I’ve also been working as a chef and I’m really excited about plates that challenge me, says Ågren. When I saw the plates for the first time, I thought to myself, ’What am I cooking to use this place to the full right?’

The Plates Series.

The Plates Series is designed to be versatile and suit today’s contemporary food habits.

— They’re inspired by fine dining, to place the food on them and for the customer to be able to serve the guests in a home in the same way that you’re getting served in a fine dining restaurant. Thanks to their shapes, you can serve something that otherwise pours out or rolls away, Erlandsson explains.

— I want people to be able to mix the plates with other, more plain ones, for a nice table setting, says Ågren. You don’t need to buy the whole collection, just one will automatically give you a statement piece to serve on. People want to buy something that they also use — not just put on a shelf as a design piece. The best feedback I got was when we had dinner, serving on these plates, and the guests said, ’I slow down when I eat because of the nibbles’. That was heartwarming because then, you create something for the table that people pay attention to.

It’s a talking point.

— Definitely, Ågren agrees. Someone said that they’re like podiums for the food — you raise the value and respect the food in a different way — which is also nice to hear.

The plates are made by Samir Dzabirov in his craft studio right outside of Stockholm.

— He’s an amazing craftsman, who usually does plates and bowls for restaurants, Erlandsson explains. These plates are made with the same quality — you can even use them in a restaurant dishwasher. They’re handmade, not moulded, and how he can get everything to be so precise is crazy to me. The white big one is rotted four times. At first upside down to make the shape underneath, then he turns it over and does the upper shape with the ridge, then the centred cavity in the middle and then he put it off-centre twice to do the last two cavities. 

And Jill, you’ve mentioned that another challenge here is to work B2B, because the restaurants want to make their own tableware.

— Yes, they want to make it exclusively for their restaurants. They often start with a certain dish for the season or year and then, afterwards, create a plate to fit that dish. It’s a very niche market where we compete with the owners themselves.

— Quite early, says Erlandsson, we talked about the next steps for the plates but also other products. I realised that Jill put a lot of effort into finding these unique pieces, most often a small-scale production, and finding something that she already knows that she wants. I realised that what I’m hearing is that you want to be a producer, decide for yourself, and own the production.

— And I realised that yes, this is exactly what I wanted to do, Ågren agrees.

The idea behind the concept, called Alwares, is to enhance personal homes to become more unique. What started as a webshop is now a design production company.

— Running a webshop is tough, says Ågren. The market is competitive, especially since COVID, when everyone has transitioned to having an online existence — even the design galleries. It is a challenge to stand out if you don’t have a massive budget and can use all the marketing tools that are out there. I have so many ideas of products that I want to do, but I also want every piece to have a focus. I’m not aiming to produce just because of launching, so by having my own production, I aim to stand out with thoroughly curated objects.

Chest No 1.

The next launch is Alwares’ first furniture piece, named Chest No 1.

— When Viktor showed some products he had designed but are not yet in production, this design immediately stood out and draw my attention, says Ågren.

— It’s inspired by the traditional hope chest. I first started sketching it about 10 years ago when I wanted to explore the relations between storage and the objects that are stored in it. But also what storage actually is and where it comes from. The chest is one of the oldest pieces of furnitures in history — a place where we kept our belongings, but also an object that could be used as a table or seating, Erlandsson explains. He continues:

— When I grew up, I was taught that the chest is clumsy, heavy, and ugly. When I started to explore it, I realised that it’s actually a great and versatile product. I didn’t understand why we suddenly changed our opinion about it 30-40 years ago — it might have to do with how we started to consume. Historically, we passed products and furniture over generations. At that time, the philosophy went from being proud of old things to that everything had to be new and modern, which, in my opinion, is quite sad. With Chest No 1, I wanted to give back the pride of the chest and evolve it into a contemporary piece.

— It’s a timeless design inspired by the past, that merges form and function in a modern way. 

By putting this piece in production, we aim to inspire people to invest in a piece that can be passed through generations, filled with valuable belongings yet accommodate the modern living of today and the future, Ågren concludes.

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