Ahlström: Cultural contributions in Noormarkku and Kauttua

Text: Kreetta Haaslahti, Photos: Julia Hannula and A. Ahlström Kiinteistöt Oy

During the last decades of the 19th century, Ahlström became a successful saw mill cluster in Finland, and significant cultural heritage was created in the process  Today, these formidably maintained areas are open to the independent visitor, families gathering for special occasions and company meetings, no longer just for the members of the Ahlström family. Accommodation is available for up to 60 people.

It all started in a small iron bar works by the river and the Makkarakoski rapids. The year was 1806 and the man behind the construction project was Baron Carl Constantin de Carnall. However, the best years of the Noormarkku Works were yet to come. They started after Antti Ahlström acquired the factory in 1870. This was when an era of determined growth, development and construction towards splendour began – and it has lasted up to today.
“Antti Ahlström made substantial investments in this area and its development, so the tradition obliges us to cherish the work and memory of the past generations,” contemplates Peter Ahlström, who has been the Managing Director of A. Ahlström Kiinteistöt Oy, the property company that manages the area, since 2012.

Ahlströmin ruukki @ A. Ahlström Kiinteistöt Oy

The Noormarkku Works area is self-sufficient when it comes to electricity and heat energy. This is ensured by the power stations, completed next to the iron bar works on the banks of Makkarakoski rapids back in 1896, and the heat power station that uses wood chips for fuel.

Dwellings for the family

Ahlström’s Noormarkku Works comprises over one hundred buildings. The jewels in the premises are Isotalo (1881), Havulinna (1901) and Villa Mairea (1939) north of the river, all built by the directors of the company as their family homes in different decades, Today, these buildings are used for different purposes depending on the building.
“Isotalo is a chapter of its own. It cannot stand too much wear and tear, so it is reserved for the use of the family, and occasionally the company. Villa Mairea and Havulinna are in the use of the family and the company, and Havulinna is also selectively leased out to other companies. Villa Mairea is the only one of these buildings that you can visit on a guided tour,” explains Peter Ahlström.

Pienoismalli Noormarkun ruukkialueesta © Julia Hannula

In the scale model, on this side of the river lies the company headquarters, behind which, on the opposite bank of the river, is Isotalo with Havulinna on the left-hand edge of the picture. Scale model maker Taina Pailos spent two years building the scale model of the Noormarkku Works that is showcased in the Voyage Exhibition.

The company headquarters were located in Isotalo up to 1916, when the new headquarters were completed. The story goes that, at the time of its completion, the new headquarters building, equipped with guest rooms, was a bit over-the-top considering the actual size of the company. However, the investment was a necessary one for the purpose of impressing the major international clients who visited the factory. The building continues to hold an important role, because this is where the property and forestry operations of A. Ahlström Kiinteistöt are managed, as well as the financial administration tasks of the parent company, Ahlström Capital, carried out by Ahlström Konsernipalvelut.
“Almost 20 top professionals keep busy with their numbers over there at the headquarters. Sure, you could easily place those operations in Helsinki, but the company considers it important that there is activity and jobs available here. It is a way of supporting the local activities. We see it as a part of our community responsibility,” Ahlström outlines.

The company boasts a long tradition of supporting local activities. In 1874, Antti Ahlström founded a Finnish primary school in Noormarkku, and the Noormarkku Hospital was completed in 1912 with the help of donations from Eva Ahlström, wife of Antti. In the 1930s, the Ahlström company helped in the building project of the stone church erected in the place of the old wooden church that was destroyed in the Finnish Civil War.

Services and rented flats

The directors’ homes are complemented by residential areas for the workers and clerks of the company in the factory premises. Even to this day, some of the old workers’ flats in the area of the Works are leased out as homes.
“There are over 50 tenants in the area, and they set their own demands for keeping everything in order, which is also the will of the family and the company. New tenants are always easy to find. One reason for this could be that few rented flats come with their own gardener,” Ahlström says, smiling.

Riitta Kilo & Peter Ahlström © Julia Hannula

The Ahlström Voyage exhibition, hosted in an old workshop building, showcases an intriguing story of the history of the Ahlström companies and the Finnish industrial history for a period of over 160 years. Pictured Riitta Kilo and Peter Ahlström.

For a long time, the Noormarkku Works area served mostly the needs of the family and the company. When the Ahlström company was divided into three companies in 2001, the largest industrial company became separated from the other operations and almost all of its operations were concentrated in international locations.
“The Works area became radically quieter without the company guests who used to visit the area regularly. That was when the company and the family decided that the area would not become a museum. We want the Works to stay alive. This was the incentive behind starting to slowly open the premises to outsiders,” Peter Ahlström explains.

Opening up an area of this kind and attracting customers has to be managed by a professional. One was found when a headhunter managed to lure Riitta Kilo, who used to manage two hotels in Helsinki, into returning to Satakunta and Noormarkku in 2012.
“I was interested in the position when I heard about the development plan for the Works and the strong motivation of the family. I had spent a while in the hotel manager position and thought that this would be similar managerial work,” Riitta Kilo says, looking back.

It has turned out that she was wrong about that.
“Here, I am much closer to the customers and it makes me happy. Developing the services and implementing them in practice with the various customer target groups is extremely interesting work. The positive feedback from customers for what we do is rewarding and inspirational for all of us,” says Kilo.

Villa ett © A. Ahlström Kiinteistöt Oy

The colouring in the buildings in the area reveals their original purpose of use: red houses were for workers, yellow was for clerks and white for owners. Near the headquarters are the clerks’ houses Villa Ett (pictured) and Villa Två (Swedish for Villa One and Villa Two, respectively). Villa Ett is surrounded by a garden and its facilities are suitable for meetings. The Noormarkku hall hosts up to 40 people. 

Business visitors and culture tourists

Ahlström has long traditions in hosting guests and the goal is to offer customers the same kind of hospitability that company guests and family used to be showered with in the past. However, Ahlström does not seek to become a destination full of events and open every day of the year, like Fiskars Works.
“It is my responsibility to establish such customer relationships that are compatible with these surroundings,” Kilo explains.

Vierastalo Sahala © A. Ahlström Kiinteistöt Oy

There is hotel-standard accommodation available in Guesthouse Sahala (pictured), Vainiola and Kultala. The spacious rooms feature elegant decor and the breakfast is served in the Noormarkku Club, decorated in Gustavian style.

Business guests and groups are important to Ahlström.
“Typically, a business group will first hold meetings here and then stay overnight. After a day of meetings, you can enjoy the comfortable sauna facilities on the bank of River Noormarkku, where the guests can take full advantage of the Koli Sauna World featuring electric- and wood-heated saunas, the traditional smoke sauna and a hot tub.

Kolin saunamaailma © A. Ahlström Kiinteistöt Oy

The Koli Sauna World offers pleasant surroundings for relaxation after a long day of meetings.

In addition to business guests, the Ahlström area attracts visitors who are interested in culture.
“The Ahlström Voyage exhibition offers an extremely interesting cross section of Finnish history and the past of the company and the family. Another important crowd puller is Villa Mairea, designed by the famous Finnish architect Alvar Aalto. Guided tours of the building are organised. A third destination of interest is the Makkarakoski Sawmill Museum that gives you the opportunity to learn about the life cycle of a sawmill.

Daily lunches, family celebrations and tours of the Works

Lunch is served on weekdays at the restaurants in both Noormarkku and Kauttua Works. This summer, the restaurant opening hours will be extended to cover the evenings, with a separate summer menu available.
“We hope that this will help local guests to find us even better than before,” Kilo comments.

Andréd Fabig © Julia Hannula

On a Monday in April, the Chef André Fabig was in the middle of lunch preparations at the kitchen of the Noormarkku Works restaurant. He sees his work at Noormarkku and Kauttua Works as varied. It includes, among other things, planning lunch menus and dishes for meetings and festivities, as well as breakfast buffets.

Open, guided tours of the Works are organised in the summer.
“You get a lovely serving of culture at one go if you start the day with a guided tour of Villa Mairea, visit the Club for lunch and continue to our tour of the Works. The tours are organised on predetermined dates, which you will find in the upcoming events section of our website ,” Kilo hints.

The Ahlström Works, both in Noormarkku and Kauttua, offer excellent options for organising family festivities. Riitta Kilo is happy that companies like Ahlström still exist, with determination to maintain and develop the precious milieus of the works.
“Works like these really do not exist anywhere else on this scale; this really dawned to me only after I had started work here.”
“This is a contribution to culture and our way of supporting the local area, but also a way of promoting the appeal of the province of Satakunta by managing these historic milieus and keeping them open to the public,” Peter Ahlström concludes.

Noormarkun Klubi © A. Ahlström Kiinteistöt Oy

The Noormarkku Club is a popular venue for family festivities. The banquet room accommodates a little over 100 guests for celebration of special occasions.