LIKE SITTING ON CLOUD 9
ROLF BENZ KUMO BY BECK DESIGN
Beck Design are Silja and Norbert Beck, one of Germany’s most successful (married) design team. Their latest sofa creation, Rolf Benz KUMO, features consistently organic curves, offering uncompromising seating comfort without any corners or edges. The sofa range, which is available in many different variants, premièred at the Rolf Benz Hausmesse in autumn 2021 and was a real visitor magnet. We talked to the designer duo about their love of craftsmanship, the symbiosis between their personal and professional life and the inspirational power of nature.
Silja and Norbert, you’ve been working with Rolf Benz for a long time now. How did this collaboration come about and why do you work so well together?
Norbert: We’ve been collaborating with Rolf Benz for over 20 years. The first opportunity to present a design for an extending table arose back in 1997. The table was launched a year later and that was the start of it all. I always look back fondly at those early days. At the time, Rolf Benz himself sat down with me at the table and talked passionately about the DNA of his brand. It was a really special time.
Silja: Rolf Benz has continuously developed and regenerated itself over the years. We’ve always enjoyed being part of that process, right up to the present day. We’ve formed a very close and trusting partnership over the years which we greatly value. It’s undoubtably also because at Rolf Benz, with all of their innovative spirit, there were always clear principles that were never negotiable, such as their high quality standards when it comes to product design, for example. That connects us with the Rolf Benz brand and is a sort of common denominator.
Among the products you have designed for Rolf Benz to date, do you have a favourite item of furniture?
Silja: I personally love the classic Rolf Benz MIO sofa. It’s such a cosy sofa and there’s a reason why it’s been in our living room at home for many years. But I think that the new Rolf Benz KUMO sofa creation and the new Rolf Benz NOA chairs are really great, too.
Norbert: I don’t think I have an absolute favourite item. But my favourites definitely include the Rolf Benz 50, Rolf Benz MIO and the new Rolf Benz KUMO sofa ranges. In other words, sofas with character.
About Rolf Benz KUMO: what’s so special about it?
Norbert: Rolf Benz wanted an organic sofa range. That’s why we made sure that the outer sides of Rolf Benz KUMO flow into each other harmoniously and smoothly. The individual elements in each combination follow defined, curved lines. These lines are designed in such a way that the sofa can be positioned in the corner of a room but also away from the wall, that is, completely free-standing. We wanted to make sure it looks good wherever it is: in spacious, light-filled lofts as well as in smaller rooms. That’s why we consciously avoided upholstery that was too firm. Rolf Benz KUMO is a symbiosis of organic form and precise lines. It creates an airy and elegant look.
Silja: But what’s the point of good design if it isn't comfortable? That’s exactly what the inserted backrest cushions provide: sublimely comfortable sitting comfort. And that’s why the name suits it so well. “Kumo” is the Japanese word for cloud.
Did you face any particular challenges when designing Rolf Benz KUMO?
Silja: One of the biggest challenges was definitely working out the organic lines, with the fluid transition from the backrest to the seat. And, in fact, this required a lot of skilful craftsmanship during production. But there was another challenging aspect as well. According to the brief, all individual elements should also be able to stand independently in a room. That wasn't exactly easy, but it turned out surprisingly well in the end. The relaxation islands in their different sizes and versions in particular are virtually predestined for a strong solo appearance. The interaction between the individual elements can then create very attractive face-to-face scenarios.
Talk us through how you went from the briefing to the presentation. How do you do this?
Norbert: It’s a lengthy process. Everything is put on the table during a detailed briefing discussion. This includes the style of the sofa range, for example. We discuss which leather or fabrics should be used for the covers. We talk about which price category the sofa range should fall into. And of course, we examine the target group carefully.
Silja: Once all important points have been discussed with the design management team at Rolf Benz, that’s when we have a think about things from all possible angles. We usually spend a couple of days doing this.
Norbert: The first phase of approaching the design is sometimes also the most difficult. You’re constantly going back and forth, exploring different options. It involves a lot of research. We create preliminary sketches and work out the initial details with which the product can be characterised later on.
Silja: And eventually you get it: the magic moment when you suddenly think “That’s it!”. From that point on, the workflow is a bit more regulated but that doesn’t mean that our work becomes routine or any less exciting. Quite the opposite: Norbert starts building intricate models while I look in detail at the systematics of the sofa range.
Norbert: Lots of hard work will have been done by the day of the presentation. We will have worked out the design principle and clarified the feasibility of the details. This enables us to present extremely realistic models and layout plans which make a good and above all clear basis for discussions.
You both attach great importance to modelling. Why is it so important to you?
Silja: There are different ways of visualising an idea and showing how you approach a design. Norbert and I both love craftsmanship, that’s why we usually decide to build a model. The feel and the real 3D experience of a furniture model can’t be beaten, in our opinion, nor can the complex rendering. Our hands-on models aren’t just well received at presentations, they also give us the necessary assurance about proportions and feasibility.
Norbert: In actual fact, there are also practical reasons why we prefer building models. A key advantage is that you often face the same challenges during the model-making stage that can be critical during the manufacturing process. To make our models as realistic as possible, we use professional woodworking machines, metalworking machines, a coating machine and, of course, various sewing machines in our studio. Our 3D printer is always useful as well.
You live near to Lake Constance. How important are your surroundings for your work as designers?
Silja: We feel really at home in this rural region and enjoy being close to nature. A sense of peace and mindfulness has grown from this that gives us the strength for our creative work. It’s our personal way of life that somehow feels harmonious and good.
You live and work together under one roof. How does that work out so well for you two?
Silja: We always felt a great need to shape our environment to suit our terms. It’s really difficult to draw a line between work and leisure. But we don’t want to do that either, which is why we can sometimes both be found in the workshop or office on a rainy Sunday afternoon. We do avoid discussing business in our living room. That was really important to us while our kids were still living with us but we usually stick to this agreement even now.
Norbert: Don’t underestimate the enormous amount of time that we save from being so close to work. We have a 5 second commute – very few people can say the same.
What makes your design stand out from the crowd? What’s especially important to you in your work?
Norbert: Durability is an overused term, but we take it really seriously. People spend a lot of money on good furniture. That’s why they should also expect the furniture they buy to work perfectly and still look good even after ten years. We don’t want to create average upholstered furniture, we strive for high quality furniture with its own character. If you look at sofas such as Rolf Benz MIO, Rolf Benz 50 or Rolf Benz KUMO, you will soon see what we mean
Norbert, you were previously an arts and crafts teacher. How did you get into furniture design?
Norbert: I always liked making things as a child. My father was a professional carpenter and joiner so the conditions for this were perfect. I was interested in designing and building things myself long before I trained as an arts and crafts teacher. After nine years of teaching, I started my own business with my initial designs. My first design was a folding dining table that I made myself. We put it in the boot of our car and sold it to various furniture dealers. Eventually, I was contacted by the first furniture factory and I created various designs for tables, chairs, beds and shelves for them in the years that followed.
Silja, what are the advantages of working together so closely as a married couple?
Silja: The fact that you can always consult each other is certainly a major advantage. You can refine and develop ideas especially during the drafting process or when you are discussing new designs. Having someone else’s point of view can really help, sometimes. You can also support each other during every phase of the project. It’s a good feeling, especially when things are hectic and the pressure is on.
The current situation means that people are spending significantly more time at home. What influence does this development have on living?
Norbert: The amount of time that people have been spending at home recently has certainly made them more aware of their surroundings. The need to make our homes nice and cosy has grown significantly, as has our willingness to spend more money on it. Whether that will continue to remain in the long term remains to be seen.
What do you think about the issue of sustainability?
Silja: It’s really important to us. We try to make our work as sustainable as possible. In the first instance, we focus on durability when it comes to form and appearance and we take great care to ensure that our products are modern but not modish. Our designs avoid the use of veneered or composite materials wherever possible. Individual substances are easier to segregate and recycle later on. We no longer use energy-intensive materials such as aluminium for purely decorative purposes and use them only where it really makes sense to do so, for structural reasons, for example. When choosing our clients, we also ensure that they take the issue of sustainability seriously and into consideration. Rolf Benz has demonstrated its exemplary commitment to sustainability and naturally we are very happy about this.
Norbert: We try really hard to keep our ecological footprint as small as possible. Our solar power system generates the same amount as our entire annual electricity requirement, including our electric car.
KUMO means “cloud” in Japanese. What makes you feel like you’re on cloud 9?
Silja: I’m definitely on cloud 9 in our home and garden. I really enjoy being there.
Norbert: I have to agree. And sailing. It clears your mind wonderfully for new ideas.
Thank you, Silja and Norbert. We wish you continued success, a fair wind and smooth sailing!
→ More information about Rolf Benz KUMO