The trio behind Swedish architecture and design partnership Claesson Koivisto Rune tell Options that their decades-long friendship is the glue that binds them together

A few years ago, the co-founders of Claesson Koivisto Rune were tasked with a rather unusual interior design project for a then upcoming hotel in New York. The project brief required, among other things, an easy chair that allowed for guests to have sex in various positions on it.

“We designed it all right, but the hotel project was cancelled and never happened,” recounts one of the practice’s three co-founders, Eero Koivisto, in an email interview with Options. “When another client later asked for an easy chair that was ‘something different design-wise’, we gave them the design [originally intended for the New York hotel]. They produced it, but we never told them where the inspiration came from.”

Serendipitous union
Custom furniture design is but one of many services offered by the firm, which was established by friends and business partners Koivisto, Mårten Claesson and Ola Rune. It all began when they first met in the early 1990s while studying architecture at the Konstfack University of Arts, Crafts and Design in Stockholm, Sweden, where they became close friends and, eventually, business partners as architects- cum-designers.

Their relationship is one that is free of rivalry, as described by Mårten. “I felt so honoured at first when I thought the other two selected my family name to come first in ‘Claesson Koivisto Rune’. Until I realised it was just a matter of the names being alphabetically ordered.”

One of their first prominent collaborations was conceived for a school examination project in 1994: Villa Wabi, a portable private house concept that was first built in Stockholm and on display for one month. The experimental urban villa has since been moved and re-erected on Torö Island, outside Nynäshamn on the southern border of the Stockholm archipelago.

About a year later, the three decided to found Claesson Koivisto Rune as an architectural business. It eventually evolved into the multidisciplinary practice that it is known as today.

Recalling how it was a constant struggle to make ends meet in the early years while juggling both work and studies, Claesson, Koivisto and Rune admit that they never did have a “plan B” despite their interpersonal differences and circumstances then. Fortunately for them, it worked.

It is this firm friendship-turned-brotherhood, according to Rune, that remains the foundation of their partnership until today. “Eero, being the eldest child in his family and also the eldest in our group, is constantly looking ahead. I am the ‘glue’ keeping the group together as the middle one, while Mårten is the youngest in his family as well as among us three. He [Mårten] keeps a sharp and critical eye on everything that goes on within our studio and beyond,” says Rune.

“If you ask my two friends, they’ll tell you that I’m very much the spoilt little one. But they’re wrong,” quips Claesson.

Flexing creativity
Aside from having completed architectural projects for prominent contemporary landmarks such as Sfera Building, a five-storey culture house in Kyoto Japan, as well as for the Stockholm stores of iconic labels Gucci and Louis Vuitton, the firm is also renowned for its award-winning furniture and product designs, which are in turn manufactured by interior and furniture companies the world over.

One such company is Arflex, whose products are sold exclusively in Singapore at Space Furniture. Claesson Koivisto Rune has worked with the classic Italian manufacturer for 10 years, and its founders consider the “long and fruitful relationship” as one of their finest achievements. It was also through Arflex that the trio exhibited their manufactured product designs at the Salone Del Mobile in Milan from April 4 to 9.

Inspired by their Scandinavian roots in design and architecture, the firm’s works continue to hold true to its founders’ belief that buildings, and the things that go inside them, should always be “elegant, functional, and somewhat friendly in appearance”.

Practicality is but just one aspect of their creations, which also convey a story through subtle aesthetic details borrowed from global influences. The Hillside storage system, for example, boasts the flexibility to change its proportions, depth and height, much like the natural rise and fall of hills. Another instance is how the legs of Arflex’s Tablet tables are roughly fashioned after tools and jewellery from ancient indigenous cultures.

The Bonsai collection’s organic shapes are inspired by traditional Japanese gardens and their bushes, their soft outlines juxtaposed against rectilinear platforms to provide a certain order to the overall look. Claudine, on the other hand, marries soft and rigid forms through the interplay of classic cubism with long, stretched arcs, explains Claesson Koivisto Rune.

Grander scheme of simplicity
Presently, the team is working on a number of projects, including a restaurant concept on behalf of a client who produces dairy products and is based in Sweden’s remote countryside. “He [the client] has grown so frustrated with the lack of good restaurants in his area that he has asked us to design a roadside self-service restaurant — but of very high quality in both the architecture of the building itself, as with the food that will be served there. We think it’s a very forward-thinking project,” Koivisto comments.

“I have been busy helping a family in Beijing to fulfil their dream of having a Scandinavian-type home. They are now so happy that their friends have started calling us to redo their homes. Meanwhile, we have started the total rebuilding of a seashore hotel on the west coast of Sweden, a project that will run over many years,” adds Rune.

But working on assignments as a group is only a small portion of how the trio keeps busy. For one, pet projects are aplenty for Rune, who shares that he has recently been up all night mulling over the architecture of a new flat that he is moving into.

The three also double as lecturers in the fields of architecture and design.

“I used to have a column about architecture and design in the Swedish national daily newspaper, Svenska Dagbladet, and another one in the national design magazine, Form. But after a few years, our own pursuit at Claesson Koivisto Rune swallowed up all my time and I had to resign from public writing,” recalls Claesson.

“Today, I find it harder [to write for the media as an individual] because whenever I publish anything, my name is first of all associated with our practice. Lecturing is less problematic because I’m not only free to be completely narcissistic — to speak completely about myself and the work of Claesson Koivisto Rune — I’m expected to. This year, so far, I have lectured in Taiwan, Belgium, Denmark and Germany. But I’m not the only one; Eero and Ola do an equal amount of lecturing.”

When asked about the most rewarding part of working together with his close friends, Rune replies: “The fortune to have made this partnership internationally successful in both architecture and design is an achievement that’s hardly possible by myself. And, enjoying this success with other people is so much more rewarding than drinking a glass of champagne [to celebrate it] alone.”

Tailor-made for Arflex
Claesson Koivisto Rune designs furniture for companies around the world. One of them is classic Italian brand Arflex. The following pieces are available in Singapore.

Arflex’s armchair from the Hug collection features a certain welcoming touch to its design, with armrests that can be interpreted as outstretched “arms” in anticipation of a hug. Its steel legs are attached to a leg frame finished in solid wood. Both are available in different colours and finishes.

The Ciclope mirror is an extra-large edition of a classic Venetian mirror. When fixed onto a wall, it reflects nearly everything within the entire room to create the illusion of an expanded interior. “Ciclope” is Italian for cyclops, the mythical giant creature with a singular eye that first appeared in Greek and, later, Roman mythology.

A versatile innovation showcased at the 2017 edition of the Milan fair is the Mangold sofa collection. It comprises different parts — including units curved in a progressive radius where only one measurement matches the next — that can be mixed and matched to produce different seating combinations.

Inspired by the 1914 structural system Dom-Ino by Swiss architect Le Corbusier, Domino has beech wood legs that are ordered in an almost architectural way, providing support to and even protruding through the table top, made with smoked oak. The limited edition table, which is coming soon, celebrates 10 years of cooperation between the group and Arflex.

Another production in the works is a new series of Brianza chairs, which come with or without arm rests and are designed to be more roomy and luxurious without taking up too much floor space. Aesthetically minimal yet elegant to suit a variety of interior contexts, these chairs with polyurethane foam frames are also stackable and will be developed with two leg heights for different purposes.

This article appeared in Issue 788 (July 24) of The Edge Singapore.