When many of us think about German design, what springs to mind are austere sobriety, rational action, simplicity of forms and an industrial rather than an ornamental look. These are precisely the characteristics of the Bauhaus movement, whose heyday was in the first half of the 20th century. Its popularity, power and success grew to such an extent that it went on to have a profound impact on designers not just in Germany, but in the western hemisphere. Those who preferred a more playful and easy-on-the-eye aesthetic had to look elsewhere.
Bauhaus style is still an integral part of German design, but the internet and the world-wide exchange of ideas and cultural resources mean that its authority has been imbued with the freshness of a new and daring generation.
Katrin Greiling was born in Munich and now works in Stockholm; her creations are stocked throughout Germany. ‘German design has become much more versatile over the last few years. The lines between what’s typically German, Italian or American have become blurry. We are seeing an increasingly international approach,’ she says.
Greiling’s Hide & Sleep daybed is a case in point. Made from ropes and Hallingdal 65, a textile famous for its flexibility and endurance, it was conceived as an homage to the Bedouin tribes she encountered while travelling by Jeep through the Arabian Desert. According to Greiling, aesthetics are culturally influenced and, for her, getting away was ‘a major act of liberation’. ‘We can’t just look at design through its function. There is also poetry to be found in the form and material.’
Greiling identifies an increased need for individuality. ‘Art and design have moved so much closer together. A piece of furniture has almost assumed a sculptural character. The only problem I see in Europe is that we are letting our knowledge and craftsmanship die. We should be more attentive to what’s going on around us and take better advantage of the advancements in engineering and processing.’
Charles and Ray Eames, design icons of the 1950s, would have envied the Shrimp chair designed by Stuttgart-based duo Jehs + Laub. Made from just a single shell of plywood, instead of Eames’s five parts, it is a heavenly comfortable piece to sit in. The gaps in the shell make it flexible, and the leather part is padded just enough to give the chair a soft feel and to stop the sitter from sinking into the upholstery. ‘It was technically very challenging and was something that would not have been possible in the Eames’s time,’ says Jürgen Laub.
Laub says longevity has become a major concern for buyers. ‘With the internet and technology changing our lifestyles, we don’t need as many objects as before, but those we do have should be of superior quality. It’s about finding something that’s aesthetically appealing and will stand the test of time.’
Stefan Diez and Konstantin Grcic, who are based in Munich, make furniture and industrial items which have won favour with an international clientele. Diez’s Dice wall-mounted storage system took Wallpaper’s Best Storage Award in 2012. It comprises various modules of different sizes which can be playfully mixed and matched to anyone’s liking and which feature coloured surfaces and intriguingly fine-to-the-touch fabric fronts. ‘The idea was to produce a soft piece of furniture and to play with tidiness and chaos,’ explains Diez.
A new design dawn
A sense of wit and light-heartedness are new elements in the 21st century German design landscape, and are exemplified by Studio Vertijet which is known for its unconventional designs. Studio Vertijet’s Cloud Seven is a bed with a quirkily arranged set of headboards and upholstered floor pads, resembling a cosy island. The amorphous Lava sofa, with slidable elements and loose cushions, is a sophisticated playground for grown-ups. ‘We have to think outside of the box if we want to compete with the ideas from designers streaming in from emerging countries such as Brazil. This is the time for grit, not compromise,’ says Studio Vertijet designer Kirsten Hoppert.
Meanwhile, David Geckeler describes his approach as ‘an attentive and analytical view on the environment’. Based in Berlin, he brings an industrial edge to furniture. His Nerd chair, a starkly simple wooden rendering of an everyday plastic chair, won the Muuto Talent Award 2012. Geckeler’s compositions combine the best of both worlds: the strong Bauhaus tradition founded on quality, precision and function and a nonchalant, easy hand that finds beauty in the banal. Solid German design is re-defining itself, one quirky chair at a time.