Norm Architects are designing Äng restaurant in Sweden

Sweden is not particularly known for its viticulture, nor for its fine dining. The Ästad vineyard, a 90-minute drive south of Gothenburg, is something of a rarity, a thriving albeit compact winery with a Michelin-starred culinary show, Äng Restaurant, on site. Being Sweden, it also offers a spa with eight saunas of different temperatures. The combination of Ästad’s food, wine, and spa, and its rustic setting in the hills, meadows, lakes, and beech forests of Äkulla Nature Reserve, make it a serious attraction. With the aim of growing this allure, and giving it an architectural edge, the vineyard has just opened a stunning new home for Äng, a multi-level glass house.

The new building is the vision and design of Daniel Carlson, one of the three brothers who run the farm. (Daniel founded the vineyard on part of what was his parents’ organic dairy farm in 2009. It specializes in making sparkling eggs, which are currently only sold on site.) Carlson Äng, a more upscale experimental complement to an existing bistro, opened in the Vineyard reception building in 2019. It offered a tasting menu created using local produce and local seafood and earned a Michelin star in 2021. An attractive combination of low-key, dry-delivery and high ambition. Carlson decided that Äng deserved a new setting that would add cinematic views and thematic drive to the dining experience.

At first glance, the new, sharp-angled greenhouse contains a bar, kitchenette, and lounge area. However, the interior elevator takes you down a level – deliberately slowly and adding to the drama – to a cold, windowless cellar and wine lounge and onto a large, light-filled dining room. The lower level, which is mainly built into a gentle slope and set at an angle of 30 degrees to the level above, opens to expansive views of the pond, hills and lakes beyond but is cleverly hidden from view as you enter the vineyard by road from the other side.

Without spoiling the food for future visitors, progressing through the 17 or so courses of the tasting menu (depends on produce available, some grown on the outside terrace), paired carefully with wine from the cellar, entails precise timing and a choreographed tour through the greenhouse. With the restaurant’s focus on sensory and experiential discoveries and grand views, Carlson wanted to create laid-back interiors of calm and restrained elegance. Choosing furniture that seemed to fit the bill, he contacted Japanese wood furniture giant Karimoku about the N-DC01 dining chair, designed by Norm Architects in Copenhagen and part of Karimoku’s series of case studies.

Karimoku, Japan’s largest maker of wooden furniture, launched Case Studies in 2019, named after modern, low-cost, high-design homes built in California between the mid-1940s and 1960s as part of a program devised by Arts & Architecture magazine, and one From a number of sub-brands covering the market. It was born out of a collaboration between Norm Architects and Tokyo-based Studio Keiji Ashizawa. Frederick Alexander Warner, partner and designer at Norm, met Ashizawa at a workshop in Japan. The duo successfully looked for opportunities for cooperation and began working on projects together in Japan and Europe.

“There was a lot of connections between what he did and what we did, we are architecture professionals with a design department, it’s a designer with an architecture department,” Wagner says. In 2018, Ashizawa asked Norm to collaborate on the renovation of two apartments in Tokyo. “This is how we like to work, to create designs for specific situations and specific needs,” Wagner says. Ashizawa was working with Karimoku making furniture for the project when there was a flashlight collective moment. “We just thought, there’s more to making bespoke furniture, that could actually be the starting point for a sub-brand.”

Norm and Studio Keiji Ashizawa designed twelve Kinuta apartment blocks that became Case Study 01 and these designs, the bedrock of the case study collection. The list of case study projects now includes another apartment in Tokyo, a branch of Blue Bottle Café in the city, a simple house in Sweden and a concept store in Copenhagen, where Norm works as design directors and Ashizawa is an almost constant collaborator.

For each project, Norm and Ashizawa mix existing pieces from a collection of case studies, often modifying, making them larger or smaller, and designing new pieces as needed. The program became a kind of conversation about the commonalities and differences in approach between Scandinavian and Japanese design and manufacturing. “Keji’s approach is a lot more about strict straight lines while maybe being a little more organic,” Wagner says.

When Karimoku’s team found out more about Carlsson’s plans for Äng, they introduced him to Norm and Wagner. They soon realized that they had the perfect candidate for Case Study 06. Norm worked with Carlson to fully outfit the greenhouse, making a physical painting that worked with the expansive views. Kronos stone floors extend into the patio and produce the garden. It was also used as a work surface and interior cladding. In the main dining room, Dinesen panels have been used in the flooring to create a stepped ceiling, rising in steps from the waterer stations in the back to the floor-to-ceiling windows that span the entire length of the room. Due to all that stone and glass, subdued gray panels were used by Kvadrat to keep noise levels at the exact level Carlsson wanted. Lighting by Anker & Co in Copenhagen which also worked on Noma mark 2.

Again, the items in the set of case studies were adapted for the restaurant. Norm’s Club Chair N-CC01 is reimagined as a love seat in a wine cellar lounge, while Ashizawa’s A-S01 sofa, chair, and table N-ST02 has been downsized into a dining table. Ashizawa has also designed a new small table and Norman bar cart. The case study group is now working to identify modifications and new designs entering the permanent collection.

Wagner also added pieces, some of which were commissioned specifically for Äng, from Danish potters Viki Weiland and Ulla Bang and woodworkers Løvfall and wall carving from designers Sara Martinsen. The new restaurant, by Carlson’s private admission, leaves other parts of the winery and spa looking a little tired. But he has ambitious plans to dramatically increase wine production, renovate and add new facilities and accommodations, and work again with Wagner and Normar Architects. Äng may not be the last vineyard case study offer. §

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