Benedikt Stonawski and Hauke Unterburg (f.l.t.r.)

Not made to stay in the shop window

Benedikt Stonawski and Hauke Unterburg founded ante up – a studio for circular product and furniture design – in 2020. In addition to design, they have since worked as consultants for companies on the topic of eco-design principles, sustainable materials and production methods. We met them for an interview on the occasion of the Vienna Design Week.

Anna Moldenhauer: What exactly did you show at Vienna Design Week?

Hauke Unterburg: The Vienna Design Week has launched the new format "Ums Eck". The aim is to enhance street corners - in Vienna they are called Grätzl – in the city with alternative interventions. Our project is a pilot of the Vienna Design Week and the Vienna Chamber of Commerce for a new approach. Specifically, it is about an area between Wattgasse and Ottakringer Straße in the 16th district in Ottakring, which is mainly characterised by concrete and steel. That's why we named the project "Otta x Watt". A few tradespeople's shops are empty there. In addition, the local supermarket has moved away, so there is a lack of customers.

And you enliven this area?

Hauke Unterburg: Exactly. Normally, the appropriate street furniture is chosen from an existing catalogue. But since there is no space on the narrow pavements, we instead thought about how to quickly upgrade this area even with minimal intervention. The result is a piece of furniture that is mounted on street and traffic signs. We used the same system of clamps that the city uses to fix signs and bins. Residents can now meet at the standing table and the seating and leaning option helps older people who have to wait at traffic lights. The collection includes four objects: A seat, a leaning option, a standing table and flower pots for greenery. The street corner has not yet been landscaped by the city, except for two trees, and our planting system offers an easy way to do this.

What material does the furniture consist of?

Hauke Unterburg: It' s made of wood. We wanted to add something organic to the area dominated by concrete and steel. For this, we chose thermowood, i.e. regional ash, which is heated and thus becomes robust and dark in colour. We also treated it with a natural oil. As a result, it has similar properties to tropical wood without the need for long transport routes.

Thermowood is dimensionally stable, very rot and weather resistant and extremely durable.

Hauke Unterburg: We also don't need an environmentally harmful finish, such as lacquering. This is in line with our understanding of making all projects as recyclable as possible. To make it look more organic and to counteract the hardness of the rest of the materials on site, we rounded off the wooden boards.

Do you see a chance to talk to the city of Vienna about integrating your collection into the urban space on a larger scale?

Hauke Unterburg: Yes, because of the cooperation with the Vienna Chamber of Commerce, we are already in talks with the city, since they basically commissioned the project. We have now produced the furniture and the magistrate's offices only have to approve the location.

"Otta x Watt"

How did the collaboration between Benedikt and you come about?

Hauke Unterburg: We met here in Vienna during an internship at Thomas Feichtner's studio and already realised that we could work well together. We met again in Milan when Benedikt exhibited at Rossana Orlandi and I exhibited at the ein&zwanzig competition. Two and a half years ago we founded ante-up.

And that was right before the pandemic.

Hauke Unterburg: Exactly, we registered the company and two weeks later the pandemic started. Fortunately, we managed this difficult time well, because we had very diverse clients in terms of topics - so "only" half of the orders fell away.

You offer product conception and development for companies, as well as consulting for circular product design. You also give design thinking workshops, convert analogue ideas into digital forms and have your own model workshop. Apart from the economic factor in the pandemic, what is the advantage for you of having several pillars?

Hauke Unterburg: From the very beginning, our goal was to create circular, sustainable products. When we started our own business, we quickly realised that as pure service providers for companies, we were not very involved in the decisions regarding supply chains and production routes. Therefore, we decided to design, produce and distribute our own products in parallel, where we can make all decisions in terms of circularity. In the process, we went from being two designers to two entrepreneurs.

Is there a distribution of tasks between you?

Hauke Unterburg: We do the design together, a lot of it is done in dialogue. We have divided the daily business a bit, Benedikt takes care of the financial side, I take care of the marketing - so everyone has their own area of responsibility.

Is there anything you wish you had known when you started ante up?

Benedikt Stonawski: With regard to the economic side of a company, we have learned a lot.

Did your previous studies at the Staatliche Hochschule für Gestaltung Karlsruhe and the Design Academy Eindhoven prepare you for self-employment?

Benedikt Stonawski: No.

Hauke Unterburg: It helped us a lot to read a lot about the topic and to attend or participate in events like the Sustainability Experts Cluster of Design Austria, the Club of Rome lectures, the Vienna Design Week or the Circular Economy Forum. It is important to be part of discussions to understand such a fast developing topic.


You combine traditional craftsmanship with modern production techniques. Why did you decide to go this way?

Benedikt Stonawski: We are both adept at working with traditional manufacturing techniques. At the same time, as a sustainable, circular product design studio, you have to be open to everything in order to be able to develop sustainable products and concepts.

Hauke Unterburg: The "Opponent" stool, for example, is constructed in such a way that there are no leftover pieces that would normally accrue with round shapes. Provided only with dowels and natural oil, it is perfect for the natural cycle. In parallel, our "Bivalve" collection, which consists of a tray, a bowl and a cup, is 3D printed from bio-plastic and food industry waste. The colour of the objects is thus created by adding coffee residues, wheat or granulated mussel shells. All the objects are built from two shapes that merge into each other, giving the structure its strength and function that the thin material could not otherwise provide.

Looking at your very different projects, one could assume that your team consists of 20 people. How do you do that?

Benedikt Stonawski: With a lot of work. We have a great passion and many ideas for products. Our aspiration is to manufacture them regionally and offer them at a comparatively affordable price. We want to establish a brand that corresponds to our idea of circular design in every respect.

Is it important to you that people associate the products with you as a person through the design language?

Hauke Unterburg: We designed a collection of bottles for a spice manufacturer - an industrial product whose design will certainly reach many people without them knowing that it came from us. We have great fun finding new materials and the best design language for a product. That's why we refrain from putting a reference to us in most of our products. We want to be in people's living rooms, not in shop windows. Nevertheless, with every new addition we make sure that our products fit together in the overall picture.

Circular design, produced locally without compromise, that's a challenge. How have you been able to solve each of these?

Benedikt Stonawski: Through a network. As start-up founders, we are very active in the young entrepreneur sector in Vienna, which also leads to new cooperations. It also has to be said that Vienna is a great place to work with design because a lot is happening here and you get support. Design moves the change towards sustainable use.

Your designs are very sculptural and offer several perspectives. They arouse the curiosity of the viewer. Did you already have this effect in mind when you designed?

Hauke Unterburg: That depends on the product and often results from the design process. For the "Opponent" stool, we wanted to achieve a rounded seat without having to accept leftover pieces. To achieve this, we tried out at least twenty different versions, including free forms. We found the play of light and shadow in the final form very interesting, as well as the different perspectives and alignments. The challenge of the production led us to the form.

Benedikt Stonawski: Parallel to the added value, there needs to be a "wow effect" that arouses curiosity. Sustainable products that are produced locally have their price and for that we want to be able to offer the customers something in every respect. We work a lot with the tools of design thinking, research, test the processes and learn a lot in the process - for example, which product aspects users value most, which we can then highlight.


Is there anything you would like to see from the industry?

Hauke Unterburg: Transparency. When we ask about production in research – where things come from and to understand the supply chains - we often notice that the producers are not familiar with this question.

Benedikt Stonawski: What is positive is that in our experience, companies are also starting to change tack and, for example, offer a rental service for their products.

When you advise companies on circular design, where do you start?

Benedikt Stonawski: Many entrepreneurs are already familiar with the topic, but do not yet have the "big picture" in front of them. We analyse what the problem is in each case and how to work together from there. Many want to start directly with the solution and that is very bad.

Why is it wrong to start with the solution?

Benedikt Stonawski: Because then you invest a lot for this idea and often don't let up even when important factors like sustainability turn out not to be feasible along the way. In addition, the companies learn that we as designers do much more than just determine the shape and colour.

What projects are you working on at the moment?

Benedikt Stonawski: Besides "Otta x Watt", we have designed an aquaponic system for a restaurant, among other things. Then we are working on a bottle design and in parallel on a new product that will be 3D printed. We always have a big list of projects, each of which we check to see if they meet all the factors – like the possibility of producing them regionally and offering them at an affordable price. In the end, we decide what the core projects are that we can implement.