Interview : 1
Grant Gibson [GG]: How has the pandemic effected your practice?
Sebastian Herkner [SH]: For the first month and a half we stayed at home. I have a team of six people and we tried our best to work on our current projects across Zoom, Skype and WhatsApp. It has been a new experience because usually we’re in the workshop. We’re next to each other; we have lunch together; we discuss all the projects; we sketch together. We have a normal studio life but now everyone was sat in their own kitchen. It was a big change.
GG: What initially piqued your interest in the AHEC project?
SH: It’s something that’s really ‘now’. Some people say it’s the new normal. It’s certainly a new way of communication. I really miss going to workshops because as a designer it’s in my DNA to go and visit craftsmen. But this is a different way. Benchmark is communicating very well. It showed a video that gave a tour of the workshop and they sent us a beautiful box of the materials. So it’s a different kind of dialogue and a different way of developing a project. It’s an adventure.
"it’s a different kind of dialogue and a different way of developing a project. It’s an adventure."
GG: And what is it you love about timber as a material?
SH: In the box of timbers we received there were beautiful colourways and beautiful treatments of the surface. One of the first things we did was choose three colours. We got really inspired by the materials themselves. Timber is honest, which is very important for my design. We really want to use the power of the craftsmen to mill it, to carve it. It will be a statement piece. In this instance I don’t have to think about industrialisation or about price. It’s a great opportunity as a designer. There’s a huge freedom to be really creative in a very personal way and not consider the market or a target audience.
"It will be a statement piece. In this instance I don’t have to think about industrialisation or about price. It’s a great opportunity as a designer."
GG: What can we expect from you, Sebastian?
SH: There’s the topic about how we see our personal table at home with a seat. At home we have a long table on which we do everything. I work there, we eat our lunch and our dinner. It’s the centre of our home. It’s a very important typology. My team and I are looking at creating a table that is really the centre of life.
GG: When a project like this comes into the studio, how do you approach it? What is your process?
SH: Once I received the sample box, I started sketching on paper with the rest of the team and discussing what we could do to showcase the material. It’s a discussion with the team, we talk all the time. Ultimately it’s a question of combining those three hardwoods in the setting of a table and a chair. The design isn’t complete but it’s on a very good track. We know the direction, we know the shape and we know some details. We just have to define it. Normally table tops are very flat and straight, like a board. People really like tactility, something to touch. In our online world – and especially now – we can’t smell each other, we can’t touch each other. At home we need something that has a tactile quality – it could be a velvet sofa or, in this case, a wooden table.
GG: You have to place a a lot of trust in Benchmark I guess. Is it strange doing everything digitally?
SH: Yes that’s true. For me design is really about using all your senses. It’s about touching, about seeing, but it’s also about the smell. I really miss the smell of the workshop and I can image there’s a beautiful smell of wood at Benchmark. But with lockdown I’m missing that element of the process.
GG: Do you think the lockdown will effect the way the studio works in the future?
SH: Yes, I think it might. It has definitely put some of our thinking into focus. We’ve missed being in contact with our Italian and south European clients – they’ve had a longer lockdown than we have in Germany. They were at home for three months, for me it was six weeks, I’ve been worried about the small suppliers in Italy, they are so important. They specialise in small craft details. I hope they can survive. We have an opportunity to work with those people and make sure they thrive in the future.
GG: What else are you up to at the moment?
SH: The world might have been paused but we haven’t stopped. There are new projects and other things to finish. I must be on the phone half the day, just talking with press people, with dealers and agents, with producers. Just to be in contact. It’s about knowing what situation they’re in and to discuss meeting later in the year. We don’t know how long this situation will go on for but I’m very happy that we have something to do. Have been staying at home for weeks and months, I’m really looking forward to seeing my friends, colleagues and family again to have a kind of normal life but of course it’s not normal like before.