Carpet design as the pinnacle
Interview with Steffen Kehrle
Dec 1, 2013
In the dye factory of Dura with Steffen Kehrle: He uses a firefighter tube to get this sprinkle pattern on the fresh tufted carpet. Photo Atelier Steffen Kehrle

Nora Khereddine: Chairs are said to represent the pinnacle of design. But why chairs and not floors?

Steffen Kehrle: That’s right, chair design is considered the pinnacle of creative achievement. Mind you, I don’t really subscribe to that view. Sure, it’s more challenging to design a chair than a flowerpot, but I firmly believe that flowerpots and indeed floors have the same relevance as chairs. The only difference is that a well-designed chair will do more for your reputation as a designer. Floor design is not a priority, and this sadly includes the way in which it is perceived. I must confess that I previously had no penchant for floors. However, once you start looking into this area of design you will soon realize that floors are in fact the foundation: We walk, we sit, we dance on them. They provide the stage for whatever we do, they are the base for our furniture. This is what makes this topic so interesting and it opens up a whole host of new perspectives. Take road surfaces, for example, which could be approached from an entirely different angle. And once you begin thinking about things in new ways there is no reason why floors coverings should not be elevated to the pinnacle of the discipline. It bears considering, however, how “the floor” could be perceived as an independent topic in its own right. The partnership with Dura gave us the opportunity to examine the “world of flooring” in detail for the first time. That’s what I love about my job: You can venture into unchartered terrain and use the bits that you know to come up with fresh ideas.

Having this kind of superficial knowledge is both dangerous and useful: It takes the help of a proficient partner to deepen this knowledge; that said, my partner may appreciate that I am not a specialist who can only focus on one thing, and see things with different eyes. It’s possible that I have an idea that to begin with seems rather unusual for my partner, but that as we move through the design process and with his specialist input leads to an exciting new project. That’s when things start to get interesting.

Did you approach the carpet project differently than you would designing a piece of furniture?

Kehrle: No. It’s quite common that we know very little in the beginning and, to be honest, I hardly knew anything when I embarked on the carpet project. So I decided I’d pay a visit to Dura and gain some hands-on experience. This gave me the opportunity to experience carpet production live, to see in detail what is involved, witness the expertise the company has. So it was that I found myself amidst gigantic tufting machines in these old factory halls and suddenly my head was awash with ideas. We then did a feasibility study and then approached the company with this unorthodox, slightly eccentric idea. The result is a project that is free and open, and very special.

Now we are doing what we refer to as “industrial one-offs”. We formulated the name – “industrial one-off” – as part of the project. The beauty about this collaboration is that we have developed a sense for what flooring involves. I talked with Dura and told them that I discerned a great lot more potential emerging in the course of the collaboration. Dura can look back on several decades of carpet manufacturing. Different designs demonstrate what could be accomplished on the basis of the company’s expertise. I have made several suggestions and Dura has been happy to take them on board: For instance, “rugs” are going to be the new focus. At the next Domotex in January 2014, in addition to its core products Dura will primarily concentrate on rugs. For us this is of course a great compliment, which shows that we are taken seriously.

Would you say that your collaboration with Dura is like hitting the jackpot?

Kehrle: I think you’ve hit the jackpot when you get to know someone and you realize that you can communicate constructively and, more importantly, work together productively. Because in such an environment it’s not a problem if an idea doesn’t work out. On the other hand, when you see that the ideas you have set in motion are being taken up, then you really do feel like you’ve hit the jackpot. Then again, you can never tell if a project is going to be successful or not. I firmly believe that success is not something you can measure by ticking off a few boxes. Of course business success is important, but nonetheless a project can also help to make a company like Dura more visible to potential customers. The same applies to my firm: A project that may not seem profitable at first sight can still be important if it puts the company in the limelight.

Floor carpet as a wall hanging at the Domotex 2013. Photo © Julian Baumann
Colour explosion by Steffen Kehrle for Dura. Photo © Julian Baumann
Steffen Kehrle for Dura takes a new way in working… Photo © Julian Baumann
…the result are “industrial one-offs". Photo © Julian Baumann
Sketches. Photo © Atelier Steffen Kehrle
Carpet or water color? Photo © Julian Baumann