The art of upholstering furniture

A soft feel and clear lines at the same time: for Freifrau, designer Hanne Willmann has added a sofa and an armchair to the style-defining Nana product family.
by Linda Pezzei | 11/16/2022

Hanne Willmann's debut within the Freifrau family of designers clearly promises iconographic potential: by now, the industrial designer born in northern Germany has added the Love Seat and a sofa to her cloud-like Nana chair. "Of course, it doesn't work to simply scale the elements arbitrarily from chair to sofa or armchair. In order to guarantee the very highest seating quality in all variations, the individual elements had to be adapted not only in their ergonomic design. Above all, we wanted to retain the distinctive details and at the same time not lose the lightness and straightforwardness of the design despite the change in size," Willmann explains the challenges of this task.

After stations in Barcelona and Istanbul, Hanne Willmann's studio in Berlin stands for an experimental design, a great passion for small details and a rather stringent and clear style. How does this fit in with the feminine, lush design language of Freifrau? "Making the femininity of the Freifrau brand visible in my design was a wonderful challenge for me. My design is often very straightforward - for Freifrau, on the other hand, I wanted to be as soft as possible without becoming decorative," says Willmann, who sees her design as a successful symbiosis of the two worlds and as a "collaborative work": "The idea for a product comes from me, of course, but it has to fit the manufacturer. It has to transport its history and values and include the manufacturing techniques. As a result, all my works are symbioses of my vision and the brand as I see it and as the respective company sees it."

The top priority of the Nana product family for Willmann is the high promise of comfort, which the chair presented in 2021 was already able to fully live up to. During the design process, everything soft and voluminous served as inspiration, which ultimately turned out to be not only extremely cosy but also elegant and refined when cast in a clear, simple design language. For the designer, a design must be clear without being too loud: "The Nana offers comfort. You can see that from a distance of 100 metres. At the same time, the design is not clumsy, but precisely coordinated. All its defined curves are coherent." In order to be able to scale this comfort, each individual element was customised for the sofa and armchair. "Despite the visual proximity, with the sofa and armchair we have designed two independent products that also function independently of each other," says Willmann, whose perfect combination of the product family is a lounge situation with Nana as a chair in the dining table setting: "Next to it is the sofa with two armchairs, where you move to after dinner for a glass of wine or two and still sit like you're on clouds."

There is no "good design" for Hanne Willmann, but rather many good approaches: "For me personally, it is important that design is honest: sustainable, authentic materials, clear forms, nothing decorative without added value. I love design when it has surprising details that are not so obvious at first glance. With the Nana, for example, I find that the vertical recesses in the seat and back subtly turn these large round shapes into finely defined curves." It is precisely in this understanding of design and craftsmanship that the natural harmony between the designer and the Freifrau brand is reflected, because such a consistently conceived design requires an equally precise and detailed implementation in order to ultimately convince with such lightness in its simple elegance at first glance.