Diez & Domotex or From the ground up: there’s still some life in flooring design
by Uta Abendroth | Jan 7, 2013

Opening its doors in Hanover on January 12, Domotex aims to offer its best clients a new platform to present themselves and their products in an entirely new way. This forum, the special exhibition “Flooring Deluxe”, is the brainchild of Stefan Diez. He invited a number of artists and designers to help with the orchestration of the “Concept Rooms”, which are intended to create focal points in the two most important trade fair halls – 6 and 9 – over 1,000 square meters. Uta Abendroth managed to speak to Stefan Diez beforehand about his trade fair design, the meaning of flooring today, his experimental approach and designers in search of something.

Uta Abendroth: What is the spirit and purpose of “Flooring Deluxe”?

Stefan Diez Trade fairs have now become so expansive that it’s impossible for the visitor to see everything. A special exhibition allows us to provide an overview – and that is what visitors will now find in two central areas in halls 6 and 9. During a visit to the “Concept Rooms” visitors will experience the essence of Domotex.

Can you tell us about your design project for exclusive product presentations? In actual fact it consists of two projects: On the one hand, the architecture for the special exhibition, which must be identifiable as the nucleus of the trade fair and should also have a strong physical presence, and on the other, the question “How do you get the content in there?” What solution have you come up with?

Diez We started out by taking a look at the hall layout. That’s when we noticed that it actually resembles Manhattan. Trade fairs are often built to look like modern cities based on a strict orthogonal grid. The area in the center is empty and opens up like a plaza. So the true heart of the fair holds – nothing. When it came to “Flooring Deluxe” we were faced with the challenge of creating such a void while presenting something there at the same time.

And how have you filled this void?

Diez In both halls we have made use of the entire area in the center from stand to stand. We even had the carpet taken up, expanding the area around it by a good three meters. In this case, we broke away from the orthogonal structure and placed diagonal partitions in the middle, which are extremely flat and barely three meters high.

And these then hold mini stands?

Diez No, that is precisely what we wanted to avoid; it is the reason we decided not to leave the design up to the individual companies. The “Concept Rooms” have been designed in a similar way to a house of cards, which allowed us to create highly dynamic spaces with lounges or roof terraces on top. The rooms aren’t closed off, but transparent. They constantly open up new perspectives; you can both look and walk through them. This aspect was of great importance to us because in our opinion such an exhibition should not be “frontal”. The visitor is actually able to experience the “Concept Rooms”, engage with them. Only this way can the many building blocks be pieced together to form a coherent whole.

Who will be responsible for the arrangement and design of the 10 “Concept Rooms”?

Diez We called in ten graphic designers, typographers, illustrators, designers and artists for the task: Mirko Borsche from Munich, Martin Wöhrl and Martin Fengel from Munich, Mark Braun from Berlin, Normal Studio from Paris, Sarah Illenberger from Berlin, Steffen Kehrle from Munich, Jörg Boner from Zurich, Tomás Alonso from London, Brynjar Sigurdarson from Reykjavik and Sebastian Wrong from London.

How did you end up working with these creative professionals in particular?

Diez I chose people whose works told me that they were still in search of something. I made a conscious decision not to engage with the current generation of designers because I have the feeling that many of them are no longer searching. What we often see today is an eternal cycle of “resampling”. I find it rather disappointing, not to say completely off-putting, that the design world spends most of its time looking to the past. In my opinion, such an approach is completely missing the mark. And we certainly can’t meet the demand for “avant-garde” this way. Therefore it is imperative to work with people who are prepared to take the subject of “flooring” seriously. And I believe that we have found designers for this project who were really up for a challenge. Furthermore, I find it astonishing that of the whole group it was the two artists involved who provided the clearest and most stringent presentation projects of all – I certainly wasn’t expecting that.

And how did you match up the designers with the 14 companies?

Diez We purposely chose pairs we thought would work well together. Experience was a decisive factor here, because some of the companies had absolutely no idea what to expect. In these cases we took special care to match them with designers who were already familiar with such projects; after all, it ultimately depends on the exhibitor’s willingness to go along with their ideas. They have to count on the fact that we’re not poking fun at them, because self-criticism certainly plays a part with regard to some objects.

How did that work?

Diez Let me give an example: Tomás Alonso collaborated with the laminate flooring manufacturer Classen. For Alonso, working with the company threw up the question as to why such flooring so readily seeks to copy “nature” and indeed does so very well, why we can’t just let nature be and do our own thing. So he began to experiment, had wooden structures scaled to colossal proportions and then imprinted. The result looks fantastic, but there is also a certain irony to it. Thus the challenge is to come up with something that suits both partners.

Were many aspects discussed with the manufacturers?

Diez Indeed, and these discussions are still underway, which is both beneficial and necessary for the entire project. There was only one case in which the manufacturer refused to cooperate with us because they wanted to work exclusively with their own designers. I hadn’t expected that such a project would still pose such a huge challenge for some people.

What else is there to see?

Diez Normal Studio worked with images such as microscopic pictures of blood cells. Using the CNC cutting technique they were able to cut these patterns out of carpets with different piles, rearrange them and in doing so bring together the advantages of a carpet that runs from wall to wall with those of a classic runner. Mark Braun looked at the theme of “embossing”. Once laid, parquet flooring features a kind of “moderation” because it doesn’t have direct contact with the wall itself but with the skirting, the stove or the fireplace, for example. It has fallen victim to the high rates charged by tradesmen and is therefore one type of flooring that could find a new approach in the form of embossing. Brynjar Sigurdarson experimented with the possibilities afforded by mixing colors, considering ways in which one could incorporate the room into the design. And Mirko Borsche looked at how patterns are created or rather how one can achieve a certain three-dimensionality by arranging carpets in layers.

It all sounds very experimental?

Diez Indeed, that’s the wonderful thing about exhibitions like this. You can be very metaphorical – and of course they’re great fun, too!

Is that what attracted you to the project?

Diez What interested me the most about the project was its experimental nature. It also made me realize that we spend far too little time thinking about flooring. It is a really important topic and I found it to be a very welcome one. Moreover, I have now realized that no matter what the task at hand, if you take it seriously and really get your teeth into it, you can always find something about it that interests you personally. If designers focus on furniture design alone, the field will be one-dimensional and barren sooner or later. We have to start afresh, to open design up to new areas and show its true potential.

Do you like rugs?

Diez A rug can do wonders for the structure of a room: There is a rug on the floor, with a sofa on it and a side table and lamp in front of it. It is like a little island in the middle of the room. This principle of customizing a rug for a special room works today in many different ways. Some of the “Concept Rooms” are dealing exactly with that.

Do you have a favorite type of flooring?

Diez My favorite flooring? Oh God… If I were to build myself a new house, I would choose different types of flooring. In a summer house I would lay a stone floor, perhaps these Solnhofer tiles, the flooring I grew up with. It is fantastic flooring, although it’s really far too soft. Wood would also play a major role – then there are some areas I would say just do not work without carpet.

Would you like to continue your collaboration with Domotex?

Diez It would be nice if we could realize the project not just once, but several times over the coming years. That way it would have the potential to create a real dialog. If we would have more time I can certainly imagine that a number of concrete things will result from these experiments…

…that one design or another could lead to a collection?

Diez Perhaps. But that is not the aim here. I am not interested that the “Concept Rooms” are only a build-up of aesthetic projects. Maybe our idea won’t be a success. But we’re not worried about that. I would rather be behind a spirited failure than a halfhearted attempt.

Thank you very much and all the best for the fair!

The different “Concept Rooms” will be designed by:

Brynjar Sigurdarson + Robusta
Jörg Boner + Beaulieu
Mirko Borsche + Balta
Martin Wöhrl and Martin Fengel + Kaindl and Edel Group
Mark Braun + Baltic Wood
Normal Studio + Balterio and Vorwerk
Sarah Illenberger + Tisca Tiara
Sebastian Wrong + Fletco
Steffen Kehrle + Power Dekor and Dura
Tomás Alonso + Classen