The German-born industrial designer is one of the industry’s ‘it’ boys, with an impressive portfolio and an equally impressive client list. Tamsin Bradshaw finds out why.
Sebastian Herkner started young: he set up his own studio when he was still at university. Now, at just 35, his work is sought after by the likes of ClassiCon, Moroso, Pulpo, Fontana Arte, Gubi and Rosenthal. His appreciation for craftsmanship, his mix of traditional and contemporary methods, and his research-driven approach are all part of his appeal – as is his dedication to his job.
Earlier this week, he visited Hong Kong with Dedon, on the back of a visit to the outdoor furniture company’s factories in the Philippines, where he was working on the MBRACE collection. MBRACE has been a runaway success for Herkner and the brand, presenting a beautiful mix of painstaking weaving techniques and modern technology. Here, he speaks to IDLHK about working with Dedon, how smartphones are changing design, and why he never takes holidays.
What brings you to Hong Kong?
I’ve just spent four days in Cebu, at Dedon’s factories. It was really amazing to visit them. It’s really great to see how organised it is, and the whole atmosphere in the factories, which is really positive. They work with such passion. They’re going hiking next Friday, all 1,500 workers. They do these things around community, which you really feel there.
Trips like this one to Cebu are a holiday for me. For me, it’s never work, because it’s my passion. If I’m travelling for work, I’m seeing so many new images. It’s relaxing.
I did about eight years with no holiday, actually. I took my first one two years ago in Thailand. The first few days were horrible; I was sitting on the beach, bored and crying!
You launched MBRACE, a new lounge chair for Dedon, to great success at this year’s Milan Design Week. Tell us about it….
The idea is that it embraces you, it hugs you, like a kind of shell. It’s not completely closed – the ideas is that it should still be a bit open, translucent. It’s a protective shell.
We mixed the weave, which is like the scaled textile of a blanket, with teak, which was new for Dedon. We developed the weave in my studio. I worked with four assistant designers, we created a small paper-sized piece and we shipped it to Cebu. It’s a lot of work, because it’s handcrafted. The first prototype took a few weeks, but now they know how to do it, they do it in two days.
The project took about three years from the first sketch to the final product. We have a low version with a footrest, and a high-backed one. We also used typologies from inside the home for this outdoor chair, such as the rocking chair. Ten years ago, outdoor furniture was much more functional and practical, but now we want the colours, the tactility.
Right now, MBRACE comes in red, blue and a grey-brown. We’re adding new colours, and we’re working on eight new pieces.
Why is it important to develop new ideas and visions?
If you don’t see a new idea and a vision, it’s not good for the brand. It’s very important to work with a company that’s moving forward and pushing rather than just sticking to the classic products that have sold well for them.
And behaviour changes, too. We’re working with a bed company in Germany [Schramm Werkstätten], and beds changed completely in the last 10 years. The first and the last thing you do each day is check your mail, your social media. You need sockets there to charge them, maybe you need a bed that maybe the backrest angle changes.
Your grandparents sat formally on their sofa; they didn’t need the depth we do. Now, we almost lie down on our sofas, because tablets and smartphones have changed our seating positions. If you sit on the train from an airport to the city, almost 95 percent of people are on their smartphones. If you go to a museum and your kids are crying, they get given an iPhone.
What else are you working on now?
We’re doing the interior of a department store in Hamburg, the store’s a bit like Lane Crawford. And I’ll continue with the companies I already work with, such as Moroso and Linteloo. We’ll also start working with some lighting companies now because next year, Euroluce will be at Milan Design Week.
We’re also working on a biro for a German company. All our projects are different, which makes it very interesting, because it’s not just sticking to interiors or furniture.
If you could design anything, what would it be?
A stage design for a concert. I went to a few concerts earlier this year and this one concert in Frankfurt had an amazing stage.
And a perfume bottle would be great because it’s something affordable for more or less everyone. It’s something very intimate. People have to hold it every morning; they have to touch it and celebrate it every day.
Studio Sebastian Herkner