City of design
With a population of some 3.5 million, Berlin is – as much for its cultural heritage as its populace – inevitably an important centre for the arts. That’s to be expected. Munich, on the other hand, is home to just 1.4 million people. It is comparatively small and quiet. Not a place for the progressive, one might imagine. Unless, that is, you happen to be outfitting your home. For Munich, disproportionately to its size or cultural heft, is arguably one of Germany’s epicentres for design shopping. From furniture and homeware to decorative knick-knacks, the city is teeming with boutiques, from the modest to the massive, offering the best in both classic and contemporary design for life.
Kustermann, one of the city’s landmark stores, can trace its history back to 1798. It once had its own foundry, which supplied the iron that built Munich’s railway station as well as many of its bridges and even manhole covers. The store specialises in design for the home, or what it calls ‘living and table culture’: glasses, ceramics, cutlery, table and cookware. More than this, it is the largest store of its kind in Germany.
If modern classics are more your thing, head to Koton and explore the end of the design spectrum favoured by Berlin’s hipsters. Here you’ll discover products you won’t find easily anywhere else. Among the standout pieces from some of the biggest design manufacturers, including Knoll, Verpan, Artek and Vitra, are Panton chairs in a limited-edition green, Eames dining chairs in a limited-edition grey, a special edition of the Eames aluminium series lounger and footstool, and even items by contemporary designers, such as the Cypris mirror by architect Nina Mair. Koton also carries an impressive array of vintage pieces. Pick up a George Nelson roll-top desk, a Ron Arad Soft Little Heavy chair, or even a rare Eames bent plywood leg splint, useful when you’ve pounded the city’s shopping streets a little too hard.
Thiersch 15, part store, part gallery, sells products from an impressive array of some 70-plus contemporary design brands. From German names such as Müller to Italy’s DePadova and Denmark’s Carl Hansen, everything here is chosen for its modern, accomplished design. As for the store itself, the white-walled space is a calm and contemplative environment in which to consider your purchases.
The magic of Munich
But why are these stores congregating in Munich? ‘People outside Munich might be surprised to find a store of this size and kind in the city,’ says Kustermann’s marketing manager Jasmin Javid. But, she adds, it makes sense. ‘Relative to Berlin, Munich is conservative, but most of the people here are very well educated … in fact, Munich is one of the wealthiest cities in Germany. So the population has the money and the interest to spend on design products. And they tend to have the big houses to put them in.’
Yet this does not mean that Munich’s design stores lean towards the predictable – they offer the work of less well-established names, too. Go to Ben’s, for example, for the hard-to-find glass and steel furniture of Italian maker Gallotti & Radice, or glass lighting from Pulpo, a company working with a number of German designers, such as Peter Raacke, Sybille Pfeiffer and Harry Thaler. At Magazin, you’ll find the likes of Flos, Luceplan and Munich-based designer Ingo Maurer, but also all manner of interiors products of the company’s own design. Go smaller still and at 1260 Grad you can discover the ceramic, porcelain and stoneware pieces – made on site – of designer Petra Fischer, who opened her shop some 15 years ago.
‘Smaller independent design stores are opening up in Munich more and more now because people are getting tired of seeing the same products wherever they go all over the world. When they come to Munich they want to discover something,’ says Sabine Stadtherr, a knitwear designer who opened her store Room to Dream just two years ago. As well as her own custom knitted pieces, from pot-holders to throws, the store specialises in Scandinavian pieces that Stadtherr collates on her travels.
‘The lighter, simpler Scandinavian style is taking off in Germany now, even if it takes a little longer for trends to get to here in the south,’ she jokes. ‘I moved from fashion to interiors because it is less faddish, a little slower. It’s a world in which people want to invest in things they will live with for a long time, and not just throw away after a season.’