No half measures

Interior designer Cord Glantz of Geplan Design has created a “temporary home” at the b'mine hotel at Frankfurt Airport. Here, guests can sit down on furniture by Rolf Benz. In this interview, Glantz explains the concept to the publishers of Stylepark.

Franziska von Schumann: Mr. Glantz, “Half measures are not our cup of tea” is your way of putting it. Tell me about your approach to hotel projects such as the b'mine.

Cord Glantz: In our line of work, it is extremely important to be involved from an extremely early point in the planning phase. For us, it is not the right approach to first start once the architects are finished with their part of the work. The building arises as an aggregation of rooms and besides, the b'mine has been designed on the basis of a module. One aspect of an interior architect’s planning is to determine the locations of certain functional elements, such as where the kitchen should be located within a building. For restaurant businesses what is then required is short walking distances, a room must be clearly arranged for staff to be able to identify guests’ needs. Such comprehensive planning is only possible if the interior designers are involved in the process from the outset. We can also assume responsibility for construction site management and take care of photographic documentation once everything is complete. In other words, in a project, it is important to offer the target group what it is looking for from the word go. In other words, not to do things by halves.

Robert Volhard: In our preliminary chat you mentioned that you had already designed the layouts for the hotel a number of years ago. What was it about this project that fascinated you?

Cord Glantz: I was approached by the developers of the “CarLoft”, which is now the b’mine, about a joint project more than ten years ago and during our collaboration the idea took shape for a simple building structure with only a few types of rooms. Small rooms offering everything that guests need. Rolf Benz furniture is durable and well thought out, which means that it fits the concept superbly. The b’mine in Frankfurt is the first hotel in the chain open and is globally unique.

Robert Volhard: Were there other reasons why you opted for furniture by Rolf Benz?

Cord Glantz: We analyzed the target group and looked for a brand that would fit in with it well and would, moreover, be recognized by it. Rolf Benz and b’mine simply go together well. High quality. An appreciation of those fundamental things and a love of details. Moreover, durability guarantees the sustainability of interior design. On top of this, as a manufacturer, Rolf Benz was able to respond very flexibly to our requirements.

Franziska von Schumann: What actual adjustments were made to Rolf Benz’s design for the b’mine?

Cord Glantz: Among other things, we altered the seat height of the chosen furniture. We wanted to position sofas and armchairs with their upholstery at completely identical heights opposite one another. Likewise, we had our own ideas about the color of the covers and the base. Indeed, we wanted the latter to be made of genuine walnut, not only to be stained. Rolf Benz was able to comply with all these special requests of ours. Very few furniture manufacturers have the capability for such things.

Robert Volhard: “It’s the fish that has to take the bait, not the angler” is a German saying that you are fond of using, in other words, the design needs to be tailored to the target group. Which bait do you have planned for which fish at the b’mine?

Cord Glantz: After we had identified our target group – largely younger business travelers – we conducted surveys in order to find out what is important for such people when it comes to a hotel. Security is an extremely important aspect, as is public spaces with a generous feel to them, spaces that are comfortable and offer the opportunity to exchange opinions at spur-of-the-minute meetings. Based on these findings we went for a seat height that encourages communication, as well as for colors and materials for the rooms such as flooring consisting of solid wood and walls made of reconstituted stone in the bathrooms. Moreover, the rooms boast multifunctional surfaces that are easy to clean and designed so that visitors can relax during their short stays, as well as being able to cope if they are in a hurry.

Franziska von Schumann: The location was bound to have been crucial to the concept.

Cord Glantz: Yes, being close to the airport is fundamental, although the b’mine concept is likewise structured such that it can be applied elsewhere, too. The various types of room will be used in other cities and there is practically no intention to allow for regional variations in design. Frankfurt and its airport in particular are the
European hub, which is why this open hotel concept with its international orientation is particularly suitable here. There will always be enough guests for good hotels, even during the pandemic.

Robert Volhard: How much were you able to contribute to the decision that the restaurant be located on the 12th floor and is also open to guests not booked in to spend the night at the hotel?

Cord Glantz: That was a joint decision. The restaurant on the 12th floor with its fantastic panoramic view and the fact that the premises are also open for spontaneous visits was important to us because the out-of-the-ordinary is such a part of the b’mine’s USP.

Franziska von Schumann: In the planning phase do you exchange opinions with your twin brother about the project or are your desks completely separate?

Cord Glantz:We are identical twins and studied together but for a certain amount of time our professional lives took different paths. When I assumed responsibility for Geplan Design my brother Rolf returned to the company. Each of us has his own projects but we also make a number of joint decisions for can always rely on each other in that regard, we have that kind of blind trust in each other and the same way of looking at things. When I leave a room and he comes into it instead of me, he could finish off my sentence. That’s what’s so great about it, because I know that he makes decisions on my behalf and I do things the way he would want them. Furthermore, we complement each other very well. I am more of a chaotic type but he lends things a great deal of structure.

Robert Volhard: “When design doesn’t work it isn’t actually design” – that is a motto of yours. What is it about Rolf Benz’s designs that works so well?

Cord Glantz: When design doesn’t do anything to improve on functionality it really isn’t design. When producing industrial design, the function is important and, in our projects, we try to highlight this focus. It is a challenge to bring aesthetics and function into harmony with each other. Indeed, architects Herzog & de Meuron once said ‘People talk about architecture when people are touched by something.’ I find that a pleasing statement, one that also applies to the b’mine. After all, with our work, we are attempting to use light, materials and color to create a pleasant mood, one that will appeal to the guests.

Robert Volhard: On entering the hotel’s restaurant, the impression is that you have also thought about the acoustics aspect.

Cord Glantz: Yes, the restaurant’s ceiling is highly effective in acoustic terms, that was very important to us. When the acoustics aren’t right, the guests only stay for a short time and possibly don’t order that second bottle of wine. In the bedrooms and meeting rooms the acoustics are extremely important, as well. The reverberation time is measurable and, when rooms have long reverberation times, they are perceived as cool, however much effort is invested in their creative design. For this reason, acoustics must always be included in the interior design planning.

Franziska von Schumann: The b’mine hotel offers “car lifts”. In other words, vehicles are only separated from the guests’ beds by a pane of glass. At the same time, as guests, people do not want to get the feeling that they are sleeping in a garage. How did you deal with that particular problem?

Cord Glantz: That was primarily an architectural issue, after all, the car is parked on the loggia, on the terrace in front of the actual room. The façade has been acoustically insulated and people are not aware of ambient noise. The terrace itself is extremely sheltered so as to offer people plenty of space. The double door construction means that the smell given off by the car’s engine does not permeate the room. The “CarLifts” are practical. Firstly, because I no longer need to carry all my luggage up to my room from the underground garage and have everything permanently within my reach. Moreover, underground garages are usually confusing, their lighting design is not good and they don’t have a pleasant atmosphere. With the “CarLift” I can park directly in front of my room, get out into the fresh air and am right where I want to be. Thirdly, the elevator runs through the entire building. In other words, people could be presenting a car in the conference area on the 11th floor.

Robert Volhard: You have been an interior designer since 1993 – what would you say is particularly fundamental to a hotel’s facilities?

Cord Glantz: I think that in future we will be building hotels in a much more modular way. This will make it easier to manage construction speed, construction quality and ecology because a product can then be manufactured differently at the factory from the way that it can on the construction site. For me, individual trends are not of critical importance, because, as an interior architect I design the kind of rooms in which people should still be able to feel at home in two years’ time. As I see it, there have only been two trends in recent years that will make a real impact on a hotel design – the first, getting back to basics and the second, the search for a private authenticity. What is important is to be able to create the kind of result that fits in with its environment as a matter of course. And this is something that we have been able to achieve at the b’mine, together with Rolf Benz.

Author: Anna Moldenhauer, Stylepark
Picture gallery: 1,2,4 | Photographer: Jörg Puchmüller, Stylepark
Motive 1, picture gallery 3 | Photographer: Alexander Huber

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

AHOY IN HAMBURG CITY
THE NEW ROLF BENZ HAUS IN THE STADTHÖFE DISTRICT

Central, modern, attractive – after more than 10 years in the Stilwerk store in the Port of Hamburg, the ROLF BENZ HAUS moved to the new Stadthöfe district in the western part of the city in November 2021. Managing Director Alexander Raab has been working successfully in the furniture business for 35 years and is an enthusiastic furnishings expert. We spoke with the former Stilwerk co-founder about his redesigned Rolf Benz flagship store, the advantages of Hamburg city and the future of the furniture industry.

Mr Raab, you and your team have had quite a few busy weeks. You opened the new ROLF BENZ HAUS in the Stadthöfe district on 11th November, 2021. Are you happy with the result?

Absolutely. The presence of the Rolf Benz brand here in the new Stadthöfe district is really great. From experience, there are always some little jobs that need to be done for such an opening, and a few things still have to be finely tuned. But with the new ROLF BENZ HAUS, we were very, very close to hitting the 100% mark right from day one. Our visitors have been very impressed.

What do your customers expect in the new ROLF BENZ HAUS?

A unique Rolf Benz brand experience in a showroom that is approximately 400 m2, a size that is unparalleled in Europe. Of course, it’s certainly also related to the fact that there are some really impressive buildings here in the Stadthöfe district with extremely attractive retail spaces that are significantly different from the usual standard floor plans in retail. At every corner, you get the feeling that the property developers worked with great sensitivity and feeling for the architecture. The shops and retail spaces that are gradually opening up here in the Stadthöfe are definitely more than worth a visit for locals and tourists alike. It’s a remarkable area with plenty of style and charm.

It sounds like the perfect location...

It is. It’s really great. The Stadthöfe district in the western part of the city is located between Neuer Wall and Große Bleichen. These are the two streets in Hamburg with the highest-quality retail offering. Anyone looking for luxury and designer brands will find them here. The new ROLF BENZ HAUS fits in perfectly with this illustrious neighbourhood. In the past 20 to 25 years, many businesses turned their back on the city for cost reasons and moved out to the suburbs and the countryside. We are currently seeing a clear return to Hamburg’s inner city. I have every faith in this city location for the next 10 to 20 years, especially because providers of premium interiors are basing themselves here. This brings in attractive clientele, allowing high-quality furnishers to mutually benefit from each other.

The store concept for the new ROLF BENZ HAUS originates from Hamburg interior designers “Labsdesign” who also supervised the renovations. How well did you work with them?

Labsdesign did a damn good job and provided a fantastic design. The design studio has been a guarantee for success for Rolf Benz for years and stages our showrooms all over the world. Let me put it this way: if Labsdesign can manage to create impressive Rolf Benz flagship stores thousands of miles away in Asia, then they shouldn’t have a problem doing the same here in our wonderful Hanseatic city. After all, the Labsdesign team was quite literally playing at home. The interior architects’ office is just 10 minutes away from the Stadthöfe, so the conditions were as good as they could be. Our constructive cooperation with Labsdesign was based on trust. They are absolute professionals who don’t just have a knack for challenging product and spatial installations, they also have a thorough understanding of the retail sector’s requirements. And the necessary pragmatism. Ultimately, as a businessman, I don’t want to open a gallery, I want to sell high-quality products to my clientele in an attractive presentation space. We are more than happy.

You are Hamburg born and bred. What do you like about the Hanseatic city? And as a furnisher, what makes Hamburg so attractive?

Yes, Hamburg is my city. I live here, I work here. And, fortunately, there’s plenty of good business here. There has been lots of investment in new, high-quality building projects in Hamburg in recent years. Let’s take the HafenCity area as an example. Each new apartment building with between 40 and 60 residential units generates new potential customers for the furnishers in the inner city. The momentum in Hamburg’s housing market means that demand for exclusive interiors is growing simultaneously. We have all benefited greatly from this development in recent years and I’m certain that it will continue in the future as well. In short: we are in the right place at the right time.

Rolf Benz has been one of the pioneers of German design culture for over 50 years. Why do you think the brand is so successful? Why do people choose products from Rolf Benz?

Keep up with the times, all of the time - I think this saying from a Rolf Benz slogan hits the nail on the head. On top of that, the Rolf Benz brand is very well-known. Our clients are familiar with only a very few brands in the furnishing sector. In Germany, if you ask people about brands in the upholstery segment, Rolf Benz is usually the first one they mention. The brand stands for high quality, continuity and good, modern design that is “Made in Germany”. A name that people simply trust, and with good reason.

Sie arbeiten seit Jahren erfolgreich mit Rolf Benz zusammen. Was schätzen Sie an der Kooperation?

Die Verlässlichkeit und die Kontinuität. Auch und gerade auf Ebene der Geschäftsleitung und im Vertrieb. Die Unternehmensführung legt Wert auf eine langfristige Entwicklung der Marke. Und damit auch auf Kontinuität im Umgang mit den Kunden und Designern sowie in Sachen Produktentwicklung. Durch die gezielte Zusammenarbeit mit namhaften und international erfolgreichen Möbeldesignern wie Werner Aisslinger, Sebastian Herkner, Christian Werner oder auch Toan Nguyen hat sich das Sortiment in den letzten zehn Jahren enorm weiterentwickelt. Man hat neue Wege beschritten. Das hat sich aus meiner Sicht wirklich gelohnt. Die Kollektion präsentiert sich mit einem zeitgemäßen, frischen und modernen Look. Ist aber immer noch 100 Prozent Rolf Benz.

Wie würden Sie Ihren Wohnstil beschreiben und welche Rolf Benz Modelle passen besonders gut dazu? 

Mein Zuhause ist geprägt von einem sehr behaglichen, lässigen Luxus. Meine vier Wände sollen der Entspannung, der Ruhe, der Gespräche und der Lektüre dienen. Der Hochlehner Rolf Benz 594 von Sebastian Herkner und die Rolf Benz Outdoor-Kollektion YOKO von Toan Nguyen gefallen mir persönlich außerordentlich gut. Das ist Design auf absolutem Top-Niveau. Es sind Produkte wie diese, die dazu führen, dass seit einigen Jahren auch italienische Wettbewerber immer öfter auf dem Rolf Benz Messestand vorbeischauen. Das war nicht immer so. Eine großartige Entwicklung. Man darf gespannt sein, was da noch alles kommt.

Gibt es aus Ihrer Sicht die typischen Rolf Benz Kund:innen?

Die typischen Rolf Benz Kundinnen oder Kunden gibt es aus meiner Sicht nicht. Dazu ist das Angebotsspektrum inzwischen einfach zu facettenreich. Rolf Benz bietet mittlerweile ja eine riesige Produktauswahl: loungige Relax-Wohnlandschaften, hochwertige kubische Sofa-Klassiker, außergewöhnliche Multifunktionsmöbel, Stühle, Esstische, Betten und sogar eine Outdoor-Kollektion. Was aber alle Rolf Benz Kunden verbindet: sie schätzen die Marke und die hohe Produktqualität.

Das Thema Nachhaltigkeit ist in aller Munde. Wie stehen Sie als Einrichtungsexperte dazu.     

Unsere Kundschaft zahlt gutes Geld für gute Qualität. Langlebigkeit spielt hier eine ganz entscheidende Rolle. Gerade die Produkte von Rolf Benz sind von Haus aus für eine intensive und langjährige Nutzungsdauer ausgelegt. Wenn zufriedene Rolf Benz Kunden nach 15 bis 20 Jahren wieder zu uns kommen, um sich eine neue Rolf Benz Garnitur zuzulegen, dann gibt es aus meiner Sicht keinen besseren Beweis für Nachhaltigkeit. Im Übrigen bin ich davon überzeugt, dass die von Rolf Benz eingesetzten Materialien – von den Stoffen über die Gestelle bis zur Polsterung – einer Nachhaltigkeitsprüfung bestens standhalten.

Stichwort Online-Shopping. Einkaufen übers Internet wird immer populärer und hat in den letzten beiden Jahren zusätzlichen Schub erhalten. Welche Benefits bietet der stationäre Handel im Vergleich zu Online-Shops?

Der stationäre Einzelhandel bietet drei entscheidende Vorteile. Erstens: Das haptische Einkaufserlebnis. Unsere Kundinnen und Kunden können bei Rolf Benz zum Beispiel aus bis zu 200 Stoff- und 80 Lederausführungen den für sie passenden Polstermöbelbezug auswählen. Zweites: Man kann auf seinem Wunschmodell ganz real Platz nehmen und intensiv Probesitzen – oder auch Probeliegen. Das kann kein Online-Händler bieten. Und drittens: Wir befinden uns bei Rolf Benz in einer Preisklasse, in der die Kundschaft eine kompetente Rundumbetreuung erwartet. Vor dem Kauf, beim Kauf und nach dem Kauf. Diese vollumfängliche Betreuung bieten wir im stationären Einzelhandel. Da kann ein Online-Shop nicht mithalten. Hinzu kommt, dass sich immer mehr Menschen eine ganzheitliche innenarchitektonische Beratung und Raumplanung wünschen. Das erfordert nicht nur jede Menge Expertise, sondern auch eine intensive Auseinandersetzung mit den kundenspezifischen Lebensbedingungen, Anforderungen und Erwartungen. Die Informationen, die ich als Verkäufer im direkten Kundenkontakt von Angesicht zu Angesicht gewinne, kann ich dann entsprechend verarbeiten, um bedarfsgerecht auf die Kunden zu reagieren. So machen wir den Unterschied.

Sie sind ein renommierter Einrichtungsexperte und genießen in der Branche fast schon Kultstatus. Was fasziniert Sie am Möbel-Business und was ist Ihr Erfolgsrezept?   

Ich bin jetzt seit 35 Jahren im Möbel-Business aktiv. Was mich bis zum heutigen Tag begleitet ist meine Neugierde. Die Neugierde auf Kunden, auf Hersteller, auf neue Produkte. Aber vor allem auf die Menschen, die damit in Verbindung stehen. Und die sind in der Branche wirklich toll! Das war schon früher so und ist heute nicht anders. Mein Erfolgsrezept heißt Bauchgefühl. Auch darauf kann ich mich zum Glück bis heute verlassen.

Wie wird sich die Möbelbranche in den nächsten Jahren entwickeln? Was ist Ihre Prognose?

Ich sehe zwei Entwicklungen. Zum einen glaube ich, dass der klassische Stückeverkauf immer mehr über das Internet laufen wird. Zum anderen wird aber auch die Nachfrage nach kompetenter Planung und Beratung wachsen. Wir haben es in den letzten Jahren zunehmend mit einer Kundengruppe zu tun, die gezielt eine innenarchitektonische Beratung sucht, sich gerne professionell begleiten lässt und sehr offen ist für neue Inspirationen und Ideen. Die Anbieter müssen sich entscheiden, ob Sie auf einen Stückeverkauf über die Ausstellung und das Internet setzen oder den Fokus auf Beratung und Planung legen. Diese beiden Bereiche können übrigens wunderbar nebeneinander existieren. Der Kuchen ist groß genug.

Herzlichen Dank für Ihre Zeit, Herr Raab. Wir wünschen Ihnen und Ihrem Team viel Erfolg und weiterhin ein gutes Bauchgefühl bei allen aktuellen und künftigen Projekten.

ICONIC ALL-ROUNDER:
ROLF BENZ 594 BY SEBASTIAN HERKNER

Sebastian Herkner knows a lot about iconic design. Perhaps the most obvious evidence to support this is the new high-back seat, Rolf Benz 594, by the “Designer of the Year 2019”. The comfortable seating furniture with a finely balanced curved back, firmly upholstered seat shell and pleasantly soft seat cushions looks like a hug in furniture form. We met the award-winning designer in his studio in Offenbach and talked about inspiration, sustainability and life and work during these Covid-19 times.

Sebastian, you designed the Rolf Benz 909 dining table a year ago. Your new Rolf Benz 594 armchair has just been launched. How long did it take to develop it and what was your biggest challenge?

We worked on the armchair for a year and a half. The biggest challenge was definitely the unusual shape of the armchair. Right from the start, we wanted to create an iconic piece of seating furniture. Rolf Benz wanted a high-back seat with a unique look, an unmistakable design. You have to feel your way with that sort of task. You start by drawing, you make a few sketches and then you sit down at the computer. Working with the artisans and prototype engineers on site at Rolf Benz was especially crucial here.

The form finding was a multi-stage process. We made lots of real, upholstered prototype models with lots more drawing in between. Sometimes, we even drew directly on the prototypes with marker pen! Take a bit off here. Add a few degrees there. Change the contour here. Of course, the computer helps with all that. But ultimately, you have to experience the actual object with all your senses, quite literally you need to “sit with” the armchair for a while. Walk around it. Perhaps even kneel in front of it. Look at it from different perspectives. And gradually, you get that little bit closer to the final armchair. It’s a really exciting process but it’s time-consuming.

In your opinion, where does the armchair look best and what is it especially good for?

Rolf Benz 594 is a real all-rounder. It can be staged in many different ways and adapts well to different rooms and usage scenarios. It can be used as a standalone piece of furniture such as a cosy armchair for reading and relaxing. Or it can be positioned in a group of chairs, in an open plan office, for example, or a hotel lobby. For meetings, interviews or for small talk.

Which combination of materials do you like best for this armchair? Do you have a personal favourite?

That’s a difficult question, there are so many options. The armchair can be individualised in many different ways. However, since we have lots of concrete at home, the base frame made of natural oak would look really good. For the cover, I would probably go for something more structured or fluffy. I think bouclé is great, for example. Or even velvet. That also makes the whole thing feel lovely.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?

I find it really easy to find inspiration. I'm really curious and I’m observant. You have to be very open to pick up on different stimuli. It can happen anywhere. Even in your normal everyday life, you can always notice something exciting and suddenly discover a wonderful colour or an unusual combination of materials, for example. I also find inspiration in the studio. In the archives, or while talking with my team. In museums or on trips, too, of course. And sometimes, it also helps to watch craftsmen as they work to find new solutions. You simply have to remain open.

Are there any role models who have particularly influenced you and how you work?

I find it difficult to list certain designers or people. You quickly forget one or other of them. That’s why I prefer to refer to the artisans who so cleverly realise our designs behind the scenes. All of them at Rolf Benz do such amazing work and their know-how is incredible. It’s knowledge that has been passed down from generation to generation. That’s what I think is exemplary. We are extremely fortunate to have master craftsman training here in Germany. It’s a valuable cultural asset and I really appreciate it. 

Many successful designers move to Berlin. You, on the other hand, opened your design studio in Offenbach 13 years ago. What makes Offenbach the perfect location for you?

Offenbach might not be one of the most attractive cities, admittedly. It was more a case of love at second sight. It’s a small city. It’s manageable. But I feel happy here. It’s my home. My friends are here. On top of that, Offenbach is a very multicultural city and therefore full of inspiration. It has lots of great shops and restaurants with different cultural influences, all within a very small space. But of course, Offenbach has a convenient location right in the middle of Europe and it’s close to an airport. I’m very fortunate that I travel a lot. I can quickly get to Rolf Benz in the Black Forest by train. I can go on a day trip to Venice. Or to a trade fair in Paris. That’s a huge bonus. But, of course, things have changed a great deal thanks to Covid-19. These days, I’m on the phone more often or approve things over Skype or Zoom. That also works pretty well. It’s meant that I have got to know Offenbach again in recent months. The farmer’s market and the great things it has to offer, for example. That really adds to my quality of life.

You travel the world a lot. Did any country particularly fascinate you on your travels?

Travelling is a privilege. I really enjoy it. When I was a child, going Christmas shopping with my parents in Stuttgart was always a highlight. Today, the circle has widened a little, and I occasionally travel to Taiwan or Columbia. It’s incredibly inspiring. But I don’t think it matters how far you travel. What’s more important are the people you meet and what’s specific to the area. When I travel, I want to discover what’s special. The B-side of a city, just like a record. That’s what’s exciting. It could be in Taipei, or in Ulm. You don’t always have to go as far away as possible. Just have a good look around, wherever you are. Covid-19 is currently giving us all a chance to completely rediscover our surrounding area. I’m taking that opportunity.

What distinguishes creations by Sebastian Herkner? What’s important to you?

I pay special attention to materiality, colour, quality and craftsmanship. I notice that quality and longevity are becoming more important to people again. Sustainability is gaining in importance. This is good. I don’t want to make products that are trendy and then thrown away after 6 months. I want to make products that last. Life-long companions that would ideally also make subsequent generations happy. This also means products that can be repaired or, in the case of seating furniture, reupholstered. Our resources are becoming scarcer. We have to think differently and keep sight of the whole process. That’s what I think is so great at Rolf Benz. They still manufacture on site in the Black Forest. On other words, short channels, and of course, sustainable quality.

In your designs, you interpret characteristics from different societal and cultural contexts and create artefacts with a unique personality. Which observations went into the Rolf Benz 594 armchair?

Everyday life is becoming increasingly hectic. We run from A to B and don’t really take any notice of our environment. Our work processes are becoming faster and faster. We are attached to our cell phone, laptop and tablet and life is increasingly digital. Tactile experiences are becoming obsolete. Our high-back seat is a response to this development and is intended to be a place where you can retreat. Something real and tangible. The keyword here was cocooning. A place you can sink into. A place to sit back and arrive. To dive in and breathe deeply. Somewhere you can relax, contemplate, have a quick power nap or read a book – but of course, it’s also a great place to check your e-mails or surf the net. If that’s what you want to do.

Your list of awards is incredibly long. How does it feel to be “Designer of the Year 2019” and how important are titles and awards to you?

Of course, it’s an acknowledgement. Especially for the team. For the company. For the effort. For all the work that goes into product development. But I prefer it when I see my products on Instagram, for example, with the hashtag #SebastianHerkner. Then I can see where the products ended up. The context they are used in. Who treated themselves. Or even who saved up for it because they absolutely had to have the product. The background stories are exciting, and that means much more to me, actually. It’s also great when I go to a hotel and suddenly find one of my tables. Those are the best moments for me.

What do you like doing when you’re not creating pioneering designs?

Creativity is my passion. That’s why I don’t really think of work as a job. It’s more of a privilege. I get to do something that I really like doing. The variety is exciting. It’s not as if I’ve been working for 8 hours and come home feeling completely exhausted. Everything’s much easier when you can do something that you enjoy.

Can good design change the world?

Changing the world doesn't necessarily require good design. But a designer has a pretty big responsibility. They can influence how things are used. How we recycle them. For me, personally, it’s got nothing to do with creating hip products that lie on the shelf for a season and end up on the rubbish tip two years later. I think that we, as designers, have a certain responsibility, As a result, we can certainly also help shape the world a little. Less, but better. Buy less, choose better. I think we can change the world with that. Of course, designers alone can’t do that. But we can, of course, provide an impetus, encourage discussions and contribute towards making the world a little better with responsible design.

BERLIN LOFT STYLE IN STILWERK
WELCOME TO THE NEW ROLF BENZ HAUS

Kantstraße 17 in the Berlin district of Charlottenburg has been the premium address for exclusive furniture, selected design products and high-quality lifestyle items since 1999. The stilwerk concept store, located right next to Berlin’s Ku’damm, showcases 40 shops to a demanding, design-conscious public. ROLF BENZ HAUS was there right from the start and has been attracting visitors ever since. The store has just been extensively refurbished. We talk to long-standing manager and experienced interior design expert Alexandros Chomatopoulos.

Mr Chomatopoulos, the past few weeks have been particularly eventful for you and your team. Are you pleased with the results of the refurbishment in ROLF BENZ HAUS Berlin?

Yes, very. It was really worth it. We’ve made all sorts of changes, you could almost say we’ve turned the business inside out. The individual living scenarios are much less disjointed now, and we have consciously designed any that still are to make them less obvious. This makes everything feel much wider, more open and spacious, highlighting the loft character of our business. That’s a real advantage for our furniture. I have to say, I really like our new look.

How has the redesign been received by your customers?

Initial customer responses have been unanimously positive. The refurbishment took place while we were still open. We worked intensively on the store’s new look for two weeks, inspired by the international ROLF BENZ store concept. Our customers weren’t especially disturbed by the refurbishments, quite the opposite: sometimes I had the impression that many of them wanted to pick up the paint roller and join in. Lots of customers were really interested and wanted to know exactly what was going on. Very occasionally, people were afraid that we might be closing, but we were always able to clear up this misunderstanding quickly. We’ve been based here as ROLF BENZ HAUS in stilwerk in Berlin for 21 years. We are the international flagship for the ROLF BENZ brand in Germany’s capital, as it were, and will continue to be so in future. The only difference is that these refurbishments have made us even more attractive to our customers.

ROLF BENZ has been one of the pioneers of German design culture for over 50 years. How do you explain this success?

“Made in Germany” is still an important factor for many customers. The company’s background in the Black Forest is also highly esteemed, I think. What’s most important is certainly the extremely high quality products that ROLF BENZ has been reliably providing for decades. Let me give you an example: time and again, we have customers come to us who bought a ROLF BENZ sofa 15 or 20 years ago. The furniture is still in good shape and doesn’t even need to be reupholstered. They just want to have a new cover. The sofa is still perfectly functional, even after so many years. ROLF BENZ fits in perfectly at a time when sustainability is becoming increasingly important. Of course, the timeless ROLF BENZ design is also a significant factor contributing to the company’s success, not to mention first-rate functionality. Sofas from ROLF BENZ are never just “sitting machines”, they are perennially elegant.

The ROLF BENZ range now includes an enormous product selection for diverse lifestyles: relaxed living areas for relaxing, cubicsofa design classics, flexible multi-functional furniture – and even chairs, dining tables, beds and accessories. Do you think there’s a typical ROLF BENZ customer?

No, I don’t think so. That might have been the case before, older people often came to buy high-quality ROLF BENZ furniture for their living rooms. But you can’t make sweeping statements these days. In my view, ROLF BENZ with its versatile range now appeals to a wider audience and different age groups. Of course, ROLF BENZ also picks up on certain trends, but the furniture is never over-the-top trendy. You can always see the ROLF BENZ signature clearly in every item of furniture. In any case, all ROLF BENZ customers have high standards when it comes to quality and design. It’s precisely these customers that are attracted to stilwerk in Berlin.

Do you have a favourite product, Mr Chomatopoulos?

Let me think about that, they have made so many incredible products.

If you’re asking me about my current favourite, then that’s obviously the ROLF BENZ LIV sofa system from Italian designer Luca Nichetto. It really is fabulous. International design at the highest level. Not only is it exceptionally elegant, it’s also incredibly flexible. I get really excited about it.

How would you describe your personal style of living?

My living room has a desk, media furniture, a sofa and a cupboard. That’s it. Less is more. That might sound a little trite, but it’s really important to me and that saying sums up best how I feel. What I really don’t need is a crammed-full apartment. I prefer individual, high-quality pieces of furniture that I love. So I’d rather go without that third side table or fourth lamp and prefer to have those things around me that I really want to keep for a long time.

Thank you for the inspirational conversation, Mr Chomatopoulos. We wish you and your team continued success in the newly designed ROLF BENZ HAUS Berlin.

Pictures: Sandro Jödicke | whitedesk

VALET STAND, VALID DESIGN

Some things are nice to look at. Some things are practical. And some things are both: nice to look at and practical. The Rolf Benz 908 valet stand clearly belongs to the latter category. Whether used as a lamp holder, a stand for the dressing room or wardrobe, or as a holder for scarves or bags, it always looks exceptionally elegant whatever its role and can easily stand on its own as a sculptural piece of art. The dapper all-rounder is based on a design by the Cologne-based design studio kaschkasch, founded in 2011 by Florian Kallus and Sebastian Schneider. We spoke with the two trained carpenters and product designers about their work, their love of craftsmanship and the future of interior design.

Hello Florian, hello Sebastian. Tell us, how did your cooperation with Rolf Benz come about and what is it based on?

Florian Kallus: We’ve been in contact with Rolf Benz for many years and we regularly discuss our work and new ideas. Companies like Rolf Benz – with their in-house production – are always a blessing for us as designers. It’s fantastic to experience and accompany the craftsmanship at the German site. Our collaboration with Rolf Benz is lots of fun. The prototype meetings are always extremely productive and very friendly as well. The details that we discuss in these meetings can be tried and tested immediately, which is a great advantage. When we presented our design for the valet stand Rolf Benz 908, the people at Rolf Benz were immediately enthusiastic – we could get started more or less right away.

Sebastian Schneider: We always try to find partners who are on our wavelength. Partners who share our appreciation of good design and how we always try to get the best result out of each design. With Rolf Benz, we felt that they were the right fit from the very beginning. We were immediately impressed by the company’s high quality and professionalism.

 

Where does the inspiration for your work come from?

Florian Kallus: For me personally, anything can be a source of inspiration. A good conversation, a sudden thought, interesting architecture, a detail in road construction or an artist’s work. For the valet stand, we were inspired by Pablo Picasso and his one line drawings. That’s a very strong series. After seeing those drawings for the first time, I couldn’t stop thinking about them. Basically, free art is a rich source of inspiration for me. Although it is usually very different from design, there are still some parallels.

Sebastian Schneider: It’s pretty much the same for me. Sometimes I find inspiration in normal everyday things. For example, when I inspect the rubbish bin in the pedestrian zone closely and everyone around me is wondering, what on earth is he doing? Sometimes I’m inspired by Florian, if he shows me a sketch of a mirror, for instance, and I spontaneously see a lamp in it. And sometimes the specific work process creates inspiration, if a project takes a completely different direction than intended. However, design work is much more than inspiration. Ultimately it’s also craftsmanship. Little by little you have to work towards your goal – that’s how it is for us, anyway. Inspiration by itself isn't enough. You don’t just have a good idea and the rest takes care of itself, it’s not that simple.

Florian Kallus, Design Studio Kaschkasch

„For the valet stand, we were inspired by Pablo Picasso and his one line drawings. That’s a very strong series. After seeing those drawings for the first time, I couldn’t stop thinking about them. “

The keyword here is versatility: thenew furniture range Rolf Benz 931 (coffee table, shelving, serving trolley) and the valet stand Rolf Benz908 are extremely versatile and can be used in different ways. Does an object always have to fulfil several functions for you?

Sebastian Schneider: No, sometimes that can even have a negative impact on a design. Generally, though, function and user friendliness play a central role in our designs and we often discuss this in the team. I like multifunctionality, but only when it’s done subtly and casually.

Florian Kallus: I think that a chair isn’t just a chair. Depending on how you use it, it can also be a valet stand, a bedside table or a doorstop. That’s why I consider multifunctional furniture to be desirable.

Where would you use Rolf Benz 908 or Rolf Benz 931? Are these pieces of furniture intended for a certain furnishing style?

Florian Kallus: I think the valet stand works almost anywhere in the home, whether that’s in a walk-in wardrobe, a bedroom or a living room – there are no limits to how it can be used.

Sebastian Schneider: The boundaries between different living spaces are becoming more and more blurred. Today, the dining room, living room and kitchen are often in one and the same room. Different living styles are increasingly being combined. And in these times of working from home, even the office chair can be found at the dining table. Furniture from the Rolf Benz 931 range is extremely flexible thanks to its rollers, so it can be moved easily from A to B. I don’t see it being used in a special location or in a specific environment. The furniture should be used wherever its owner feels is right and where it looks good.

Quarantine, contact restrictions, working from home – people have spent significantly more time at home in recent months. To what extent does this development change our homes? What does thefuture of interior design look like?

Florian Kallus: That question was on our minds even before the pandemic. I personally think that rooms will become even more versatile in future. Even though I can easily think about designs while sitting on my sofa, I believe that clearly defined rooms – such as our studio – help one to stay focussed. I wouldn’t want to compromise on that by any means. As is so often the case, the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle. One thing’s for sure: it will become even more flexible but remain just as exciting, in any event.

 

Pictures: Thomas Wiuf Schwartz

Chic in Japan
ROLF BENZ goes Tokio

Pushing, shoving, grumbling? Not in the Land of the Rising Sun. It’s good that the Japanese are so exceptionally polite and disciplined, especially since the streets of Tokyo are pretty overcrowded. With a population density that is twice as high as that of Berlin, the Japanese capital is one of the most densely populated areas in the world. As many people live in the metropolitan area of Tokyo as in the whole of Canada: over 38 million. It’s not just people who are crowded into Tokyo’s fashionable luxury district, Aoyama. The density of select fashion and interior labels is also remarkably high.

The Who’s Who of international luxury brands

Discerning shopping fans will find everything their luxury-loving heart could possibly desire in Aoyama and the neighbouring district of Omotesando. The top-class shopping experience is surrounded by urban planning highlights from renowned architecture greats such as Tadao Ando, Kengo Kuma and Fumihiko Maki. Added to this are cultural hotspots such as the well-known Nezu Museum or the Blue Note Tokyo jazz bar. The elegant shopping district was enriched with another attraction on 24th January 2020: a ROLF BENZ flagship store, the first on Japanese soil.

Stylish living environments “Made in Germany”

ROLF BENZ presents stylish living environments that are “Made in Germany” over 300m2. The store concept is based on a design by Studio Labs Hamburg, a long-standing partner of ROLF BENZ. The imposing flagship store isn’t only intended for well-heeled individuals, its target group also includes architects and designers who are from or work in Japan. The utmost importance is attached to individual advice. Store employees who were specially trained in Nagold assist customers with all matters relating to their project plans. They are always extremely polite and courteous, naturally. As Japan-like as in all ROLF BENZ brand stores throughout the world.

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imm cologne 2020
New living ideas for the new decade

New Year’s resolution: more mindfulness. Easier said than done. After all, it feels like the world is turning at supersonic speed in 2020 already. The new decade of the 21st century has only just begun yet the first international furniture fair of the 2020s has left visitors breathless once again.

imm cologne 2020 was attended by 1,233 exhibitors and over 128,000 visitors from all over the world, and ended in the Rhine metropolis on 19th January. But what does the enormous show for the international furniture sector leave behind? Countless impressions. Exciting sources of inspiration. And the gratifying recognition that many furniture manufacturers have once again thrilled the public with avant garde thinking and progressive design.

Yet again, Rolf Benz was a breath of fresh air in the cathedral city with initial furniture concepts for a new era. Here’s an overview of the highlights.

Black Forest quality and Italian chic

At the international furniture fair in Cologne, the Rolf Benz stand was a must for anyone looking for trendsetting living areas. Not least because of its visionary Living Concept, Rolf Benz LIV. Even before the trade fair, Rolf Benz LIV won the Stylepark Selected Award for imm cologne 2020 which serves as an important trade fair guide.

Consisting of modular sofa elements, shelving and coffee tables, Rolf Benz LIV exudes cosmopolitan attitude with a touch of luxury. The Living Concept, which was premièred in Cologne, was created together with Italian design office Nichettostudio. “We wanted to create a sofa system that adapts to the multiple requirements of contemporary living rooms. It should offer endless possibilities so the right combination can be found for every situation,” explains designer Luca Nichetto. The ultra-flexible sofa system combines geometric precision with relaxed comfort. Seat cushions, sofa backs and side sections can be individually configured while integrable shelving offers versatile design options.

A coffee table that harmonises perfectly with the new sofa system was also presented in Cologne. Rolf Benz 901 picks up skilfully on the geometric design vocabulary of Rolf Benz LIV and is available in a square or rectangular version in two heights. The Rolf Benz 902 side table, which can easily be moved with one hand, also fits in perfectly with the overall image, presenting itself as a flexible everyday companion in any area of the home; just like Rolf Benz 902 it offers table tops made of natural stone or clear glass.

Deluxe dining

The hunger for new dining concepts was also satisfied at imm cologne 2020. The cosy yet elegant Rolf Benz 600 shell chair and its almost sculptural table equivalent, Rolf Benz 929, catered to the discerning public’s taste. Design duo Hoffmann & Kahleyss from Hamburg were responsible for designing the attractive dining ensemble.

The designers gave the classic shell chair a new, unique look whilst ensuring consistently high levels of ergonomic comfort. The seat shell is available in umbra grey or anthracite plastic – or alternatively in five possible colour variants covered with full-grain leather – and comes with stitched seat and backrest cushions. The shell can be combined with a fixed or rotating wood or metal frame as required. Different cover and frame versions provide plenty of freedom to express your personal taste.

Just like the Rolf Benz 600 shell chair, the Rolf Benz 929 dining table is a real showstopper. The table top is available in solid wood or natural stone and comes in three sizes. The table column made of perforated metal in umbra grey, black or steel (matt finish) has a subtle transparent impact and conveys a charming sense of lightness.

Performing art

Let’s go from supper to servant. Inspired by Pablo Picasso’s line drawings, the valet stand which Cologne-based design studo kaschkasch designed for the Rolf Benz Accessoires collection can almost pass as a modern work of art. The Rolf Benz 908 flexible servant is available in three different finishes and consists of a single skilfully bent, well-proportioned steel tube. The two ends of the tube are located in a solid steel base. Whether it is used as a blanket or lamp holder, as a stand for the dressing room or wardrobe, or as a holder for scarves or bags, the flexible servant successfully performs all of its tasks with grace whilst always cutting an exceptional figure.

We’ve made a start. What else will the 2020s have to offer when it comes to interior design? We will remain mindful and keep you informed.

Universal Beauty

Luca Nichetto is one of the most sought-after designers in the world. Hardly any other designer stands for modern comfort like the Venetian residing in Stockholm. Now he has designed the “Liv” sofa system for Rolf Benz. We met him in his studio for this interview.

Fabian Peters: “Liv” was premièred at imm cologne 2020, a new sofa that you have designed for Rolf Benz. This name has a special significance for you doesn’t it?

Luca Nichetto: Absolutely! "Liv" is actually the name of my daughter. "Liv" also means "life” in Swedish. The name seemed especially appropriate because our sofa invites you to really live with it.

Rolf Benz introduced an ultra-modern sofa system last year with its "Addit" product by Werner Aisslinger. What are the company’s hopes for "Liv"?

Luca Nichetto: "Liv" should fit in with completely different user habits. Rolf Benz wanted a sofa system that works anywhere in the world and in almost every environment. In Scandinavia for example, sofas are traditionally relatively high, whereas in Italy people prefer them to be lower and more casual. Both should be represented by "Liv".

Was there something like an underlying concept with which you approached this challenging task?

Luca Nichetto: During the design, it was especially important for us to take full advantage of the strengths of Rolf Benz. We wanted to develop a modular system that combines German engineering skills with a touch of Italian design. In addition to the unbelievable quality of craftsmanship, we were especially fascinated by Rolf Benz’s ability to offer its customers almost every conceivable configuration of a piece of furniture. We’re familiar with this concept in the automotive industry perhaps, but I’ve never seen it with a producer of upholstered furniture before. I suspect that it’s unique worldwide.

"Liv" can be configured in virtually any size. Can the sofa in all its variations still create something like a uniform aesthetic effect?

Luca Nichetto: Above all, "Liv" should create a sense of lightness. The sofa should almost seem to float, nothing about it should be heavy or bulky. For me, the design was less about aesthetics and more about conveying a feeling. "Liv" should exude precisely the comfort that you feel when you sit on it, whether that’s as a seating landscape in a 200 m2 living room in a villa in Miami, or as a two-seater in a luxurious micro-apartment in Hong Kong.

Designing a sofa that’s equally at home on every continent and which can be delivered in an almost unlimited number of combinations – isn’t that "Mission Impossible"?

Luca Nichetto: Yes, it is a bit "Mission Impossible"! (Laughing) But as a designer, I’m always trying to create something that pleases people all over the world, and I think that’s a good ambition. After all, it pushes me to work as hard as I can to achieve my goals. I think that every designer needs this self-belief, the belief that they can create beauty for everyone. Ultimately that’s the point of my designs – irrespective of how many versions of them are available – that they reflect my personality, my experiences and my beliefs.

What is the significance of the technical and craftsman expertise at Rolf Benz for your design?

Luca Nichetto: This knowledge is one of the key requirements for our designs. We could only design certain details such as the legs and the metal frame in this way because we knew that the necessary expertise was available at Rolf Benz to produce such parts with maximum precision. For me, these elements clearly show typical German quality consciousness, which should be just as recognisable from "Liv" as the Italian designer’s characteristic style.

How important are colour and materials to you?

Luca Nichetto: The choice of colours and materials are central to my design process. I can’t imagine developing a design without having established these two points beforehand. For me, colours and materials are never interchangeable.

One of the most remarkable things about your designs is a distinct flair for colour. How did you develop the colour scheme for "Liv"?

Luca Nichetto: I believe that nature is always the best designer. A close friend of mine, the photographer Massimo Gardone, takes wonderful pictures of flowers. A few years ago and together with the Scandinavian Colour Institute, we developed a range of colours from his nature shots, on the basis of which we have been developing our designs ever since. For "Liv" we wanted the colour scheme to convey a sense of warmth which is why dark red and ochre tones feature heavily.

You have designed other pieces of furniture in addition to the sofa.

Luca Nichetto: Along with the upholstered elements, we have designed two tables that pick up on the sofa’s design vocabulary and materials. Our coffee table rests on a frame that is derived from the sofa’s supporting construction. A smaller side table, which also has a metal frame, adds a more playful note to the collection. I always try to enrich a large piece of furniture, such as the sofa in this case, with smaller designs that put a different spin on the design idea.

And the sofa itself can be enhanced with add-on elements.

Luca Nichetto: That’s right! You can enhance "Liv" with storage shelves. They can take the place of the armrest or the backrest. The insertion plates made of natural stone or glass – the same materials that we also use for the table tops – make the shelves visually appealing. These add-on elements create a space for your books, iPad or even your child’s dummy. With "Liv", it really was our intention to create a sofa system that can be tailored to almost every aspect of life.

Author: Fabian Peters, Stylepark
Picture gallery 1: James Stokes, Stylepark
Picture gallery 2,3,5: Sandro Jödicke, Whitedesk 
Motive 1, picture gallery 4: Alexander Huber

Boatmovie
A BREATH OF FRESH AIR IN THE PORT

Whether it’s armchairs, sofas, coffee tables, city villas, country houses, concept stores, restaurants or hotels – the relentless “labsdesign” design studio can’t be pigeonholed and surprises us time and again with its unusual ideas. The latest trick from the multi-award winning designers from Hamburg is their own photobook called “Boatmovie”, a tribute to timeless furniture design and a declaration of love for the Port of Hamburg.

“In addition to our commissions, we’ve been taking time out for our own photo and art projects every now and again,” explains studio founder Sebastian Labs. “At some point we had the idea of staging some of the furniture that we’ve designed for ROLF BENZ in an entirely new context and to get some fresh Hamburg air. So we packed the furniture items onto our studio’s barge and criss-crossed the Port of Hamburg searching for spectacular locations. Also on board were the ROLF BENZ 641 armchair, the Rolf Benz 945 upholstered footrest, the ROLF BENZ 384 and 394 lounge armchairs, and THE ROLF BENZ 985, 927, 923 and 933 coffee tables.”

“The port area, with all its diverse, authentic and sometimes almost poetic unrefined edges, is an element of our creative work,” says Gunther Kleinert from labsdesign. “We like using our barge to change how we look at things and to come up with new ideas outside of the office. As part of the Boatmovie photo project, we chose to stop off at locations where you might not expect to find chic designer furniture. Restaging the furniture items often required some acrobatics and physical strength!” says Kleinert.

We think it was worth the effort and are looking forward to the next catch of fresh ideas from the Hanseatic City.

Au vu du résultat, nous estimons que ce déploiement d'efforts valait la peine. Aucun doute, la ville hanséatique s'affirme comme un inépuisable creuset d'idées neuves.