• In Conversation With: Sebastian Herkner, designer of the year

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    At just 37 years old, designer Sebastian Herkner who is known for straddling the boundaries between modernity and tradition, becomes  designer of the year at Maison & Objet. In between Herkner’s press calls and panel discussions, editor Hamish Kilburn caught up with the man of the moment discuss the evolution of his pieces…

    What makes Sebastian Herkner a name to remember in the congested industry of interior design is his ability to effortlessly fuse together tradition with creativity. His approach to design first became commercialised in 2006, after completing his studies at the University of Art and Design at Offenback, when he set up his own studio. His first landmark design, the Bell Table, took no less than three years to find the right manufacturer because of Herkner’s design being ‘ahead of its time’, the double-edge sword of being a leader with creative vision. The table consists of a steel and brass platter that nestles on a hand-blown glass base that was produced in a centuries-old Bavarian glass factory.

    The bell table by Sebastian Herkner

    Image caption: The Bell Table

    His appetite for a challenge and his desire to explore unchartered territories has not only led him to design glasses, bicycles and perfume bottles or make forays into the world of interior design, but also to embark on an internship with fashion designer Stella McCartney during the course of his studies. “I was interested in the manufacturing processes used in fashion, and understanding how colours are put together” he explains. The flair for combining colours he honed whilst there now underpins his signature style. “Colour is often the very last thing designers think about. For me, it’s always the starting point for the whole design process”. He does admit, nonetheless, that “it can take years to find that perfect colour combination”.

    “I want my products to become companions, which I believe is very important these days in order to create timeless pieces.”

    Fast-forward 15 years from when he opened his first studio, and more than 120 product launches later, Herkner is today centre stage at one of the world’s most reputable design fairs, Maison & Objet, being dubbed the ‘designer of the year’, a title that feels not only thoroughly deserved but also one that feels totally appropriate for the man who never looks back. “My designs are not driven by target groups, they are more driven by quality and functionality, while mixing new technologies and materials with craftsmanship and colours,” Herkner explains. “I want my products to become companions, which I believe is very important these days in order to create timeless pieces.” These ‘companions’ sit in harmony at the show, exhibiting the designer’s journey.

    Clip Chair for De Vorm

    Image caption: Sebastian Herkner’s Clip Chair for De Vorm

    Be it in his studio, surrounded by a six -strong team that herald from all four corners of the world, or during his frequent trips to China, Colombia, Thailand, Senegal and Canada visiting local manufacturers , design houses and craftsmen, Herkner has a longstanding habit of quenching his thirst for ideas elsewhere. “Different cultures, skills and lifestyles all fuel my inspiration” he explains . He also finds his inspiration in traditional materials, such as ceramics, leather, marble and also in art. Another of his iconic pieces, the “Oda” floor lamp (Pulpo , 2014), bears testament to that . Resembling a reservoir of light, the design was directly inspired by photographic images of water towers captured by Bernd and Hilla Becher. Every single source of inspiration is perfectly in tune with his quest for authenticity, his desire to use sustainable materials , and his sense of respect for the time it takes to create a truly stunning piece.

    Bulbous glass light on floor

    Image credit: “Oda” floor lamp (Pulpo , 2014)

    Quick-fire round

    Hamish Kilburn: What colour are you finding interesting at the moment? 
    Sebastian Herkner: Salmon pink (in Matt)

    HK: What is the one item you cannot travel without:
    SH: My phone. I am addicted! 

    HK: Where is next on your travel bucket list? 
    SH: I would love to go to Peru. Big cities, unfortunately, look all the same. 

    HK: Is there a trend that you hate? 
    SH: When people choose to infuse ‘soft Skandi’ in their interiors. I love the Scandinavian look and feel, but I feel as if people should use it with more courage and strength. 

    HK: Would you change anything in the last ten years?
    SH: No, nothing. 

    For a designer who is known for being ahead of his time when it comes to his ability to combine functionality with technology, I am somewhat taken aback when Herkner suggests that the industry has to some extent gone too far. “Smart homes is one thing, but i believe that furniture will remain still because they are designed for human beings,” he explains. “We need somewhere to sit, and I do not believe there is any need for charging sockets in the sofa – in the table, perhaps, but not the sofa.

    Herkner’s recent accolade gives him a platform to unveil some of his latest creations whilst simultaneously showcasing the manufacturing processes that have always been so close to his heart.

    Main image credit: Sebastian Herkner/Gany Gerster 

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  • AUTHOR

    Hamish Kilburn

    All stories by: Hamish Kilburn