Cover German designer Sebastian Herkner is renowned for his contemporary designs that exude an authentic appeal (Image: Courtesy of Sebastian Herkner)

German industrial designer Sebastian Herkner shares with us how people and culture influence his designs and discusses the recent decor pieces that have caught his eye

Authenticity. A fitting conceptual description that outlines German designer Sebastian Herkner’s impressive oeuvre, which ranges from product design to interiors and exhibition spaces. Whether it’s the materials, craftsmanship, or his creative process, the renowned design powerhouse approaches it all with considerable ingenuity and finesse.  

“Designing is a very emotional process driven by my experience, intuition and ideas,” says Herkner. “I’ve always created in a very responsible way, from the very beginnings of my career. I want to know where the production is located and who is working there. I want to know where the materials are coming from, and how long they last.”

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The award-winning German designer has always had a keen interest and affinity with materials, colours, and forms. He first studied product design at the Offenbach University of Art and Design in Hessen, Germany, before taking up an internship with British fashion label Stella McCartney to hone his perception of textures and fabrics.

In 2006, he set up his namesake studio; 15 years on, the established practice is recognised as one of the best in the field, having designed for an array of notable international brands and institutions.  

Designing is a very emotional process driven by my experience, intuition and ideas.
Sebastian Herkner

Herkner is not influenced by trends; instead, he favours spaces that resonate character, or “individual interiors with a personal touch”. This shapes his personal design flair; Herkner’s work carries strong elements of emotion and authentic consistency that draw you in. The design maestro is often keen to pair contemporary techniques with traditional craftsmanship. 

This bona fide factor has seen the designer clinching numerous accolades throughout his illustrious career. Yet, it’s the connection to both people and culture that continues to inspire him.

“I am a curious and open-minded person, often running around with open eyes to find new inspiration. The biggest pity, though, is that cities these days look very similar to each other, with the same brands within them,” Herkner explains. “When it comes to finding food for my creativity, I prefer the smaller streets in authentic neighbourhoods. During lock-down when we couldn’t travel at all, my memory kept me working; I started sketching the wonderful experiences I had over the last decade from traveling the world.”

The designer focuses on creating contemporary works that exude a timeless appeal. “I want my products to become companions for your life. Something you want to invest in, like an artwork or apartment; a product to cherish, pass on, and re-use.”

Here, he shares more about his design process and the most memorable points of his career; the tastemaker also picks out five furniture collections that he has been inspired by lately. 

How have you been coping with the pandemic? 

Sebastian Herkner (SH) I do not like the situation of working from home, and especially not 10 hours a day. I need to go to the studio, to meet with my team, to work hands-on in the material lab, and to build prototypes. Product design is about senses and using touch and feel—it does not work in a digital way.

Product design is about senses and using touch and feel—it does not work in a digital way
German designer Sebastian Herkner

Could you tell us more about your creative process?

SH It always starts with a personal conversation with the client. I prefer to visit the client to understand their DNA and what is typical for their approach; I want to see the workshops and talk to the craftsmen. My idea of designing is to find the best design for the brand; it has to show my design philosophy whilst giving a strong brand vision.

The design process is about communication on several levels. Between myself and my pen, my idea and my team, handwriting notes and the computer, and also between my studio and the client. It is a lot of work to find a good and unique balance between crafting and technology, tradition and innovation, and colour and material, to name some parameters.

Materials play a key role in many of your designs. How do they influence your work?

SH I love real materials which last forever, like glass, marble, wood. I love their natural beauty, and I always work very respectfully with them. For example, (being mindful of) the fact that marble mining will end one day. I do not see it (sustaining) in (products like) a bathtub where we cut off and mill more than 70 percent of the marble element, that’s a waste of material.

Look at the fashion industry, and how often they change the interiors of their boutiques. They remove beautifully crafted marble floors and wooden furniture, just to create a new interior designed by the new art director.

What has been the most memorable point of your career thus far?

SH There are many of these unique moments: working on baskets with women in Zimbabwe, visiting a pottery in Colombia, and developing a bench with an almost 90-year-old man in Taiwan. I love these intercultural projects. It is a huge privilege to travel and discover a country and its culture with the people there, cooking together, listening to local music, watching the birds in the forests. I love to inhale inspiration in this manner.

Who are the design icons that have had the most impact on you and why?
SH I’d like to mention the craftsmen all over the world, and especially the ones I met in Japan, Taiwan, Italy, and Colombia. They are my heroes because they’re able to transform a simple sketch into something vivid and exceptional. Without these glassblowers, carpenters and rug weavers, real beauty would be missing in our life.

What’s one piece of advice you have for an aspiring designer?

SH The most important thing to constantly remember is that you need to feel comfortable where you are. There is no need to move to the big design capitals like Milan, London or Paris. You can be a great designer also in small cities like myself working from Offenbach, Germany.

Which are some decor pieces that you've been inspired by lately?

1. Man of Parts Savignyplatz dining table by Sebastian Herkner

SH I love the sculptural design of the table, (inspired by) an artwork by Henry Moore that combines space and material. Savignyplatz is a table with different perspectives, from all angles. The way the table orients itself with voids and organic bevels help connect its mass to those around it.

We call the table Savignyplatz ("platz" is the German word for "place" or "square") because the table aims to be a part of people’s life and the center of the home—as a dinner table but also as a meeting place.

2. Stellar Works Host wardrobe by Sebastian Herkner

SH A host takes care of his guest, with the aim of making his stay as comfortable as possible. Likewise, the intention for this wardrobe is to give free space for a guest’s belongings. It is a stage for one to place clothing, jewellery, and other pieces in a personal way.

Host is partly on wheels to allow greater freedom in moving the piece around the room, especially when space requirements change. The open design allows Host to be used for a multitude of purposes, with an added small tray for personal items such as jewellery and watches. For a hotel room, Host also features enough space for a suitcase and generous hanging space.

3. Man of Parts Via del Corso chair by Yabu Pushelberg

SH This lounge chair by Yabu Pushelberg has an iconic character. It embraces the user with its soft armrest that also extends and ends at its front legs. The round seat gives amazing comfort for the perfect evening. It is a great centerpiece but also a quiet lounger in your reading corner.

4. Flos Noctambule by Konstantin Grcic

SH I am really fascinated by this lamp by Konstantin Grcic, which plays with a great concept. The light itself is not really in the glass spheres, it is inside the connecting elements. This modular concept is really surprising and shows light in a new way.

5. Glas Italia Bisel tables by Patricia Urquiola

SH Like candies or jewels, this table collection by Patricia Urquiola uses multi-layered and multi-chromatic glass in a fascinating and magical way. The Bisel pieces interact with the light in an enchanting, everchanging way, depending on the incidence of light on the surfaces. I love the fact that the product can change its appearance during the day.

6. La Manufacture Allié stool by Luca Nichetto

SH My friend Luca Nichetto recently launched this little companion. Allié is a two-in-one design, both a stool and an occasional side table condensed into a small object with a ton of character. A totem of bold aesthetic, with hands resting firmly on its hips.

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