Martina Metzner: At the last Domotex you masterminded the “Flooring Deluxe” project, whereas in the next edition the concept is giving way to “Innovations@Domotex”, a platform exclusively devoted to cutting-edge products. You have been involved, namely in the capacity of chairman of the jury. Can you describe this new development in just a few words?
Stefan Diez: It’s a step forward and a small step back. Let me explain what we took away from hosting “Flooring Deluxe” last year: Designers have a lot of catching up to do when it comes to “floors”. As regards manufacturers, we noticed that there is considerable uncertainty about collaborating with designers. Which is surprising, if we bear in mind that floors play a central role in interior design. However, there is a reason for this reluctance, and that is that suppliers of floor coverings don’t really have any face-to-face dealings with end consumers, and instead tend to interact directly with skilled craftsmen. The vocabulary of a floor layer is known far better than that of a designer.
What is “Innovations@Domotex” all about?
Diez: Last time we went with a very design-oriented, artistic approach. Now, the projects were very exciting, but it was hard to discern any tangible benefits for the manufacturers. For this reason the Domotex organizers teamed up with Stylepark to create “Innovations@Domotex” – these are special zones destined to display the “best of” the products on show at the Domotex. Our intention is to make the range of services more accessible and exciting to users and designers. Let’s be honest: Do you know any consumers who are hell-bent on finding out all about faster floor-laying techniques, that the carpet is not likely to suffer from storage or that the covering has antibacterial qualities? It’s difficult for consumers to make the connection between this and modern interior design. And in order to bridge this gap they would need to have a different vocabulary at their fingertips. Which is precisely what we are offering with “Innovations@Domotex”.
What exactly was your job at “Innovations@Domotex”?
Diez: We appointed a jury consisting of designers, interior designers, media representatives – all of them professions that clearly look at products from a user’s perspective. The jury then selected the best, most innovative products. So if I’m now visiting the trade fair as a user, all I need to do is go to these three special zones to get at-a-glance info on the highlights. And if I’m keen to find out more I can get in touch with the manufacturer. So on balance we provide old-school preparation in the traditional sense.
How did you like working with the jury?
Diez: To be perfectly honest, it was super-exciting! What made it especially interesting for me was the fact that I had paid very little attention to floor coverings in the past. Which meant that for me the area gained all sorts of new aspects, took on a different relevance. And once you are familiar with something it has a stronger presence in your everyday thinking. Personally I have learned a lot from my work on the jury. And I am convinced that we’ll manage to encourage others with our enthusiasm.
You mentioned “new aspects”. Was there a moment when you went aha?
Diez: There were those hand-woven carpets for example. Traditional qualities and crafts techniques were advanced specifically in order to make them. That is something that deserves admiration nowadays. On the other hand, there are new materials that represent new manufacturing techniques. Take vinyl fibers, for example, which are woven such that the result is a blend between a carpet and a robust floor covering. We are familiar with this kind of thickness only from natural fibers, or woven textiles with threads that seem accordingly large. Now these are trailblazing trends. Then of course there’s the area of replication, digital printing, relief effects. Or products that have a natural texture to them and similar materials, creating artificial surfaces with an authentic look-and-feel.
Can you name some products that made a special impression on you?
Diez: There were quite a few. One of them has to be “Floor to Heaven”: Cologne-based designer Michaela Schleypen uses a tufting technique to create three-dimensional surfaces that might actually bring sea urchins to mind. Another pretty amazing thing is the synthetic surfacing by Bergo Flooring that can be used as tennis flooring. It’s really pretty cool. Only the color references a lawn; apart from that, it is decidedly unconventional and authentic.
Among the innovations you selected are several sustainable products, in other words, they have been inspired by “green ideas”, for example, using recycled materials. Is this an interesting and also a relevant aspect?
Diez: I consider sustainability as pretty standard nowadays. So this aspect is nothing to write home about. On the contrary, I firmly believe that products that are not sustainable should essentially be banned. That’s the logical next step. With carpets, for example, which contain synthetics, abrasion and fine dust are aspects of this kind of sustainability.
“The values that have long since begun to change in society are rarely adequately translated into modern products,” is a statement from the speech you gave on the occasion of the “60 Years of German Design Council” celebrations in the Frankfurter Paulskirche. Did you find these values in the products displayed at “Innovations@Domotex”?
Diez: I guess I have a heightened awareness in this regard. What I addressed in my speech is a two-way phenomenon – which affects both the consumer and the manufacturer. The one has to be willing to take the plunge, the other needs to join in. Or put differently: Who is doing the pushing? Today’s consumers are hard to pigeonhole. One reason is that major companies nowadays only think on a global scale. And once you have stopped imagining real people with real personas and have replaced them with a global mass, it becomes far more difficult to design products with an edge. So you often end up with a boring compromise. As regards consumers I have to say that many consumers in recent years have let themselves be fobbed off by getting products with old values, materials and designs at ever cheaper prices. The same thing has happened to salmon. First it became affordable and then you found yourself eating it for breakfast every day. The label says nothing about the quality.
In other words, luxury is no longer special.
Diez: That is what I was getting at with my critique. We are living in a kind of luxury playback. Luxury items are affordable for everyone. However, this reduces the very notion of luxury to absurdity. Moreover, there is hardly any talk of a new form of luxury. Because nowadays real luxury is only found in the kind of upper elite that is of no relevance to the industry as a target group. Of course there are exceptions, Apple is one of them, which is touted as a great example whenever one is needed. Basically, we face a veritable morass of everyday objects – irons, toasters, kettles, cutlery, porcelain etc. All these items are well designed and reflect the values of a young generation.
Let’s ponder the notion of luxury for a moment. What do you consider luxurious when it comes to floor coverings?
Diez: There is traditional luxury, of course, and in the world of carpets it is measured in knots per square meter. Or materials such as silk and wool. Modern luxury is heading in a direction that I find far more exciting. Take this Astroturf, for example. Now in my humble opinion the luxury here is the company’s willingness to blaze a new trail.
What is your personal favorite when it comes to flooring materials: synthetic, wood, cork or stone?
Diez: I would always consider the material in relation to the room or building. Handmade rugs are definitely a new favorite. The beauty about them is their flexibility, they can be positioned anywhere in the room. And the space defined by these rugs moves with them and creates the opportunity to structure the surroundings without the need for walls.
Following years of a timber floor craze, is there an off-chance that we’re going see a carpet revival?
Diez: Yes, I think so. Parquet floors don’t really work without carpets on them. Which means the carpet has potential, provided the customer understands it and knows its qualities. In my opinion, the reason why carpets experienced such difficulties in recent years is that you need to know a thing or two about a carpet to consider them as an option. By contrast, when it comes to wood, we all know the differences between real wood parquet, ready-to-lay parquet and herring-bone parquet. Many real-estate companies and landlords have come to regard timber floors as a quality standard. However, a good carpet can be just as expensive. Mind you: It can also be incredibly cheap. For consumers it’s hard to tell the difference. In other words, you cannot adequately describe carpet in just a word in a property description. It’s a very complex product.
This brings me to the final question: You’re really networked designers and creative minds. What piece of advice would you give to your colleagues and friends heading to the Domotex?
Diez: It’s extremely difficult for non-insiders to find their way around the 16 halls that make up the Domotex. For this reason the “Innovations@Domotex” has done the cherry-picking for them. At the end of the day you are sure to have some fun and learn a lot. You will not go home frustrated.
Room in a room – handknotted carpet in Tibetian style by Mischioff. Photo © Mischioff
Going a new way – „Sea Urchin“ by Floor to heaven heaven (Michaela Schleypen). Photo © Floor to heaven