Back in the summer of 2011, Niko Riskilä was disappointed to find he did not get into Tampere University of Applied Sciences straight after completing his national service. Needing something worthwhile to do, he found a job, took out a mortgage and bought a two-bedroom flat to renovate.
After securing a place at Tampere University of Applied Sciences the following year, he decided to start a home renovation business while studying. Riskilä launched a company, which later grew into Nikora Oy, and soon landed his first customer when a neighbour of his parents hired him to remodel a kitchen.
“I initially had some misgivings, because the only tools I owned at the time were a cordless drill and a jigsaw,” Riskilä says.
Still, everything turned out fine. He threw his meagre collection of tools into the back of a van and drove back and forth for two weeks to redesign the kitchen. The next summer, the stakes were raised when Riskilä was contracted to build a detached house for a family he knew. He was under enormous pressure.
“I was 22 and had completed my first year of studies towards a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering – and someone trusted me to assemble a prefabricated house and finish the interior from floor to ceiling. It was crazy!” Riskilä laughs.
But good work leads to more work, and the following summer Riskilä was busy building an outbuilding for the same customer.
Riskilä is, by his own account, a performance-oriented person. Lying in a hammock is not his idea of a relaxing day off. Ever since he was a child, Riskilä has enjoyed spending his free time cutting firewood or raking leaves – anything but being idle. Leaving a mark on the world is what motivates him, which is exactly what the construction sector is all about.
Riskilä’s company Nikora Oy specialises in modern house building, meaning that the company buys a plot of land, designs and sells a property, and finally builds it.
“I do not like to call it property development because of the negative connotations, but that is basically what we do,” he says.
The more challenging and outlandish the project, the more excited Riskilä becomes. He believes houses should have character. Conventional designs with four walls and a pitched roof do not pique his interest. According to Riskilä, buildings should be sustainable, practical, high quality, customisable, modern and beautiful.
As beauty is in the eye of the beholder, the houses built by Nikora elicit both positive and negative responses, which is fine with Riskilä; there are already enough bland and unimaginative buildings in this world.
Nikora is committed to sustainable building and therefore favours wood as the primary construction material, chooses air-to-water or geothermal heat pumps as the heating solution, minimises the use of plastic and invests in the recycling of waste. In addition, Nikora has contract negotiations underway with a company that offsets emissions through afforestation.
“What I would especially want Nikora to be known for is customisability. It is not always necessary to build your dream home, as even co-op residents can have their units tailored to their needs.”
Riskilä is looking to grow Nikora into the region’s leading construction company, not in terms of size but rather in terms of reputation.
Although construction companies are perfectly poised for growth, Riskilä does not have ambitious plans to grow his business at all costs. As Riskilä favours building high-end homes over maximising profit, he takes a dim view of the construction industry’s prevailing culture.
“Nikora has a mission to build high-quality homes, but the market is pushing construction companies to continuously strive for greater efficiency. Some compromises are inevitable. The industry should take more pride in its work,” he argues.
When a new building has been completed, Riskilä often stays on after the construction team has left, wandering around the empty house for a couple of hours.
“At that stage, the building is no longer the result of my work alone but the realisation of my plan and the hard work of my team. It is very rewarding.”
Fittingly for the CEO of a construction company, Riskilä built the semi-detached house he lives in. The idea was born when Riskilä was sitting with a friend in a seaside bar somewhere in Europe while travelling during his final year at university.
“At first, the design of the architect we hired seemed way too grand and imposing, but the look on my friend’s face said there was no turning back.”
Riskilä has not dared to count all the hours that went into the three-year construction project of the semi, but he is pleased with the results – although nothing is ever perfect.
“My dream is to live by the water and have my own lakeside sauna and private jetty.”
Luckily, his current home has a view over a field that looks like a snow-covered lake in the winter.