A shared love of solid wood furniture took an iconic chair to Tokyo

Stolab has been manufacturing solid wood furniture in the same location since 1907. Windsor chairs have long been an important product for the company, and continue to be so. In particular, Lilla Åland, designed in 1942 by Carl Malmsten, has become a distinctive icon for Stolab. It was also Lilla Åland that enabled them to make the journey from Smålandsstenar – all the way to Asahikawa, Hokkaido in Japan.

The story of Stolab’s export partnership with the Watanabe family, who own the Kitanosumai Sekkeisha company, began in 2009 when Stolab set up a product range advisory board. An initiative that no one then imagined would lay the foundations for a respectful collaboration with a Japanese company that is as passionate about making and selling quality furniture as Stolab.

One of the participants in the advisory board was architect Jacob Sahlqvist. Jacob had been an exchange student in Japan with the Watanabe family. Another connection was that the family’s daughter, Yayoi Watanabe, had studied in Sweden.

More than ten years later, when Jacob started working with Stolab, he realised that Watanabe Senior’s favourite furniture designer was Carl Malmsten. A coincidence too good to ignore, so Jacob arranged a meeting between Stolab and furniture manufacturer Kitanosumai Sekkeisha.

They shared Stolab’s passion for furniture-making and were impressed by their modern factory, where automation is now an integral part of the production, and thus a discussion started on how to develop a collaboration.

The result was an order for of 200 untreated and unassembled Lilla Åland chairs – Stolab’s first order to Japan in its 115-year-history.

Lilla Åland has since been exhibited at trade fairs in Japan and has a permanent place in Kitanosumai Sekkeisha’s own shops. The chairs are shipped with the back and seat already assembled and then the legs are attached on site to save on shipping volume.

Stolab’s last visit to Kitanosumai Sekkeisha was on the 6th of September 2018. The night before, a major earthquake struck Hokkaido and power and water were lost. But you don’t cancel, do you? You adjust. All the workers had been sent home, but Stolab’s CEO Martin Johansson had the opportunity to visit the production site. Perhaps one of the best days of the trip.

“Long-term relationships are key for us at Stolab. Finding friends like Kitanosumai Sekkeisha on the other side of the planet really makes us feel proud and humble.”
Martin Johansson, CEO at Stolab.

The boundless project

From Smålandsstenar to Hokkaido
Export project: Little Åland – Tokyo.




The chair of Lilla Åland


Carl Malmsten