Mathias Hahn at the booth of Zeitraum at imm cologne. Photo © Zeitraum
Overview oft he five basic elements of the „Kin“ family by Zeitraum. Photo © Zeitraum
Cabinet „Kin Big“ is available in oak or American walnut, natural or stained with color. Photo © Zeitraum
„Kin Tiny“ is available in four different sizes. Photo © Zeitraum
Thanks to the smooth shape around the „tip on“ handle you feel the massive wood. Photo © Zeitraum
By a „tip on“ technique the doors can be opened. Photo © Zeitraum
The additonal shelfs and inset drawres are also made of massive wood and very precise. Photo © Zeitraum
Decent and spacy: „Kin Tall“ is available with one or two doors. Photo © Zeitraum
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Mathias Hahn is one of the few Germans who have stayed in London after graduating in Design from the Royal College of Art. His portfolio includes tables, chairs, luminaires and smaller household utensils for the likes of Another Country, Asplund, Ikea, Ligne Roset, Marset and Vertigo Bird. He has already developed the “E8” and “M11” tables for solid-wood specialists Zeitraum. And now he has added a family of various storage unit formats that goes by the name of “Kin”: chests of drawers, sideboards, small and large cupboards. In conversation with Martina Metzner the designer talks about all the various details and why “Kin” can be a lifelong companion.
Martina Metzner: You once said that as a matter of principle objects had to have a readily legible sign language alongside their purely formal and material qualities. So what sign language does “Kin” speak?
Mathias Hahn: We always perceive things in their cultural context. Which is why we use and interact with objects that seem familiar to us. Product design is therefore a little like language. What is important, especially if the object’s overall language is highly reduced, is for the details to be precise and convey what you want to say. In the case of “Kin”, it’s the handle. We opted for a “tip on” mechanism, otherwise typical of kitchens or monolithic surfaces, and which pops out when you tap it. My intention: How to make certain this act of opening gets celebrated?
Was this clear from the outset?
Mathias Hahn: For me, yes. In the course of time, it all developed further and I tried out different shapes and looks. First up, it’s a graphic element that gives the overall proportions direction and instills the furniture with character. Second, the overall feel is very tactile thanks to the milling, which softly turns the surfaces into a circle. Here, you can really feel the solid wood. That’s a detail you couldn’t achieve with veneer or MDF. It is the only place where I touch the cupboard, interact with it. Which is why I felt it so important to emphasize the point, to include a real experience.
How did you come up with the name “Kin”?
Mathias Hahn: The basic concept was to get away from a classic modular system for items of storage furniture, i.e., not to design the wardrobe and sideboard in keeping with some rigid typology, but to create different volumes that covered a range of scales of storage space for a variety of home contexts. For example, there’s a cupboard for the kitchen. If it no longer fulfils its intended function there, then you can outfit it with a base frame and slot it into a different context, such as a living room. In other words, “Kin” is a family of individual furniture items that can stand alone but can likewise be combined. That’s where their name comes in, as they are kith and kin.
You live in London in a small apartment. Was designing “Kin” something that met your personal needs, too?
Mathias Hahn: Well, I don’t design directly for myself (laughs). I think a lot about everyday rituals. I try to consider the whole gamut, as it were, before starting with the actual product design. I always ask: What objects are relevant for people such that they will like using them, for a long time at that? The cutlery drawer is a great example. Different kinds of cutlery accumulate there and mix, and every one of us has a favorite spoon or fork among the array in the drawer. It’s all entirely intuitive, but there are reasons. And that interests me.
Can a designer even influence such processes?
Mathias Hahn: Often there are quite personal stories involved. I want to create scope for them, with “Kin”, too. I don’t want to tell people they have to use this cupboard for tableware or for clothes – I want to create storage units that people like because they say “it fits precisely into my life at this point and I can use it in such and such a way.”
What was it like to develop such a large, complex solid-wood furniture program together with Zeitraum?
Mathias Hahn: In the beginning we swapped ideas. Then we decided that the collection did not really feature a lot of furniture items for storing things. I wanted to tackle the topic because it is so complex, has real depth. There is an immense amount of development effort involved, as all the details have to be thought through.
You closely studied how people store things. Has this changed compared with the past?
Mathias Hahn: Two generations ago, a solid wooden cupboard was something you bought for life. It was made especially and came with a high price tag. Such items often remained in the family – remember those classic German walls of built-in cabinets. So I asked myself whether that typology was at all still relevant? Today, people’s home circumstances change faster and more frequently: People move into their first apartment, then add a partner, found a family. And then the family may break up, the children move out, the fittings need to be adjusted for the old and frail. My question was: How can a cupboard system do justice to these changes?
You’ve already designed tables and glass containers for “Ikea PS”. Do manufacturers shy away from working with you?
Mathias Hahn: I don’t think it’s a problem. On the contrary. Moving a well thought-out product that boasts the right choice of materials through to mass production is something that speaks in a designer’s favor. Sometimes I tend to do more experimental things, and then return to mass products. For me, what was cool about the Ikea project was identical to what’s great about other projects. Of course there’s a difference as regards the quality and the choice of materials. I had to focus on a certain price limit. The challenge is different if you collaborate with a renowned workshop to make items that will only exist in an edition of ten.
You’re part of “Okay Studio”, which you established about ten years ago with designers Shay Alkalay, Tomas Alonso, Jordi Canudas, Peter Marigold, Yael Mer, Oscar Narud, Hiroko Shiratori and Jorre van Ast in London. What’s the current state of collaboration?
Mathias Hahn: From the outset, each person worked independently of the others. Each has his or her own clientele and preferences. We met when studying at the Royal College of Art. It’s first and foremost a league of friends where we can swap insights about design. We now have separate office spaces, but a shared workshop.