When designers begin to create a new store concept for a client, typically projects begin with a survey of the competitors stores to gauge where opportunities for improvement might exist. But designers Aleksi Hautamäki and Anders Nord faced a rare opportunity when they began work on a new concept wine store for Alko in Finland, no competitors.
Alko which is state owned, was given its monopoly status 75 years ago. It has a strong role in the Finnish society and has had divided opinions for decades. Those in favour of the monopoly think that the controlled distribution reduces social problems, while others view that alcoholic beverages should be available elsewhere, too. The challenge for designers was to develop a concept that would better serve all the different customer groups while departing from the very traditional way Alko used to look and operate.
The resulting design breaks the conventional style of wine shops that use dark wood and traditional display cases. The new store uses light Douglas fir on all the furniture surfaces, on suspended ceilings and on the floors. Inspiration came from the works of designers such as Aalto, Wirkkala and Tapiovaara. And this Finnish tradition in the use of wood was brought into the 21st century.
The flagship building site is on a prime spot next to the Parliament building and the Museum of Contemporary Art. The building was bombed by the Russians during the Second World War and part of the beams had been damaged and repaired later with concrete, which made it impossible to open up the suspended ceiling. Also because of the tight alcohol legislation in Finland, designers had plenty of restrictions. Aleksi noted ”You can’t, for example, have hard liquor in view from the shop window, and we had to think how to hide it.”
The new graphic identity has been carefully considered and merged into the three-dimensional store design. Wayfinding and graphics were structured to be positioned at 90° angles to be easier to read.
We didn’t want to compete with the curves of a bottle, we wanted Alko to be standing firmly giving guidance and expertise about their product, says Anders.
Service areas are located on both floors in the middle of the main circulation. They consist of desks with digital displays mounted on the tabletops where customers can browse the selection. There is a smaller ‘curated’ selection for fast shopping near the store entrance and adjacent to the checkout for customers in a rush.
Because of the vast quantity of shelving and bottles, Aleksi and Anders thought the space would need some character elements to break it up. They designed a light installation hanging on top of the stairs to draw customers to the heart of the new Alko experience, the service area and the new downstairs wine boutique. The designers also made a large logo of cotton strings, using a traditional technique, to create intimacy by the checkout.
We wanted customers who usually spend 6 minutes at Alko to spend at least 12 minutes – 6 minutes shopping and 6 minutes exploring and learning about the products, says Anders.
Project photography by Pierre Björk