Cuts a fine figure everywhere
Just a stool? The “Add Stool” Steffen Kehrle developed for Stattmann Neue Moebel has only recently been launched. Now Kehrle is standing in the middle of the Munich office, where we meet with him and Nicola Stattmann. The two have known each other for many years. For the young label, Kehrle has among other things designed a series of small “Wall Shelves” and the “Plug Shelf”, which can be assembled and dismantled without tools, screws or adhesives thanks to its clever, perfectly devised concept comprising boards and columns with diagonal wooden dowels.
Stattmann Neue Moebel was founded in 2011 by the siblings Nicola and Oliver Stattmann. Its basis: the family cabinet-making business in Münsterland, now already in the fourth generation. It pursues a clearly defined program, has a collection that relies on intelligent, contemporary design, innovative structures, high-quality craftsmanship, new materials and technologies, the highest ecological standards and regional manufacturing, not to mention products characterized by honesty and endurance. The label recently became known well beyond the design scene proper when Herzog & de Meuron – Studio Besau-Marguerre and WRS Architekten selected two of its products to furnish Hamburg’s Elbphilharmonie, namely the solid ash “Profile Chair” and “Profile Table” by Sylvain Willenz. Custom-made for the Elbphilharmonie, and varnished in various shades of white to harmonize with the ambient color scheme there, the tables and chairs stand in the orchestra café, the dressing rooms for the soloists and conductors, meeting rooms and offices, not to mention in the orchestra’s rehearsal rooms.
Steffen Kehrle explains that back in the days when he was still a student at the University of Applied Art in Vienna he largely made furniture, but has always enjoyed taking on projects that are as diverse and interdisciplinary as possible. Kehrle is easily bored, and is forever on the look-out for new challenges, which first does not make it easy to find the right partner and second sometimes results in projects running over longer periods. His recent project for Stattmann Neue Moebel, the Add Stool, also took a fair amount of time, in fact over two years. He explains: “It is simply because we set really high standards both for ourselves and our work.” That is no different for Nicola Stattmann. She also attaches great importance to furniture thought through down to the last details.
An all-rounder was needed
Admittedly, in the case of the stool the design process took somewhat of an unusual course: “Nicola,” Steffen Kehrle recalls, “had said to me it should be a stool that could also be an occasional table and be easily moved around the apartment. She had a stool at home, the sort of thing you might find in a farmhouse, which had accompanied her for a long time. So she said: See if you can come up with something similar, made of solid wood of course, but don’t let yourself be too constrained.” Nicola Stattmann adds: “Yes, I had this small red stool at home, which I have had for ages; it stands next to my chair, when I want to set down a cup of tea, or next to my bed, if I need somewhere to stand medication. So I said: I’d like something exactly like that for Stattmann Neue Moebel, an all-rounder!”
Steffen Kehrle was initially inspired by precisely this special item of furniture. What he came up with is obviously a highly sculptural design, a small work of art in two versions. But when the two of them examined the first models they realized the idea was wrong: “Yes,” says Nicola Stattmann, “we both said ‘failed’ at the same time. I realized: That is not it. And Steffen felt exactly the same.” Kehrle confirms: “That can happen, even in the middle of a project: Okay, we misunderstood each other, so we start all over again. Succeeding with a project, one that works both for me and my client is always a complex matter, and yes it’s fine for something to go wrong now and then.”
You must be able to stack a stool
One aspect Nicola Stattmann insisted was imperative was: “You must be able to stack a stool. Whether you use them in restaurants, cafés, or kitchens – to my mind, you’ve simply got to be able to stack stools. We not only work for the super luxury segment, and that also goes for the prices. So we also need to sell reasonable numbers – and being able to stack the product plays an important role in this regard. Not to forget, we want furniture to be built logically, and have as few parts as possible.”
The resulting detour certainly paid off. If the first design had not been off the mark, the “Add Stool” would not have come about in its present form. And the way the duo handled the initial misunderstanding says a lot about their approach to design: Only if you are capable of drawing the right conclusions from a mistake will you find a successful solution. Nicola Stattmann, who is a product designer herself, explains how she views the process: “I know what I don’t want a piece of furniture to look like, but not how I do want it to look. I know what a product must be able to do, whether a design fits in with our kind of production. My focus was never the design, but on the strategy, production, material and technology.” And she continues as we “had realized what we don’t need, we could say: We need a real stool, an all-round item that can be put to more than one use, is not just for sitting on. From the start we at Stattmann Neue Moebel have said our furniture must work everywhere: the benches can stand in the hall, the nursery, a restaurant, and bathroom, but also in the kitchen. The chairs also have to work everywhere, as do the shelves. We need furniture that’s suitable for everyday use.” And Steffen Kehrle chips in: “That is the exciting thing about our job: to observe and consider how the working world is changing, how living spaces or kitchens are altering. Everything is in a state of flux, so as a designer you always have to ask: ‘What kind of products could play a real role in all these changes?’ Though it is legitimate to adopt a fashionable approach to product design that would not sit well with Stattmann.” Nicola Stattmann puts it like this: “I would like our furniture to be lasting. I only want to include items in our collection that I can still consider to still be good in ten years’ time. The mobility of furniture is key in this context.”
That sounds so convincing that you wonder why so few items of furniture are so universal and practical, so logical. Is it down to industry, to designers? “Of course,” says Steffen Kehrle, “there are products that meet these criteria” – and referring to his work on Add Stool he comments: “When I look at the various stools on the market I can identify a number of successful examples – not only the famous ‘Stool 60’ by Alvar Aalto. There are also good stools by Max Bill, the Eames, Jasper Morrison or Ilmari Tapiovaara, not to mention the tractor seat by the Castiglioni brothers.” He continues, with a smile: “It is not as if we are claiming to have designed the first brilliant stool, that would be presumptuous.”
Original and individual
Nonetheless his Add Stool manages to deviate from its various predecessors. What makes it original and individual is not just the fact that the ash wood comes from controlled sustainable forestry and every piece of wood has different grain patterns and slight color deviations, which in itself makes each stool unique. Its surface is stained with water-soluble pigments and sealed with wax, which lends it a silky touch, another special Stattmann feature. Another outstanding characteristic of the Add Stool is the structure: It consists of just two parts, plus the seat area. Three identical molded plywood sections make up the frame to which three identical legs are added. “If the stool is to be stackable, the legs must flare outwards from the seat,” explains Nicola Stattmann, “which required a simple part, and a straight leg. That is achieved because the segments forming the frame are shaped accordingly at the point where the legs are attached. In production that means: The bentwood segments are initially thicker; the slots are then cut out of the solid wood. All the parts are scaled so we can also produce the stool in larger numbers and on request with an upholstered seat area.”
However, the round frame structure not only consists of three bentwood segments, it also appears very lightweight, and stands out thanks to several details. For example, the line that outlines the circular seat, continues down the trapezoid legs, and then moves up again, in other words it effectively takes in the entire stool, so that the legs are organically integrated into the overall form. “That is what I mean by beautiful,” explains Steffen Kehrle, “the stool not only testifies to high craftsmanship and technical competence in working solid wood, it also reveals formal expertise. Beautiful is a word we like to hide behind. What is more important is for the project to be practical, new, top, be technologically sound – and meet all the other parameters. Nonetheless, it is really important that customers find a product appealing. Balanced proportions, attractive details, all other criteria come together here, even though in the end nobody can say exactly what beauty is. Now we will see, whether the stool manages to become a ‘universal piece’ and anchor itself in people’s memories including those of architects and interior designers.”
One thing can already be said about it now: Add Stool comes over as well thought through and original, yet looks good in many different settings. Its appearance is striking, yet subtle so that thanks to the color range available it is not simply practical but also cuts a fine figure. All characteristics which would suggest this stool really has the makings of becoming the first contemporary design to match the classic by Aalto from 1933. A stool and nothing more? At any rate a faithful companion. “You buy yourself a stool,” says Nicola Stattmann, “and then it acts as your companion for the rest of your life. That is our understanding of craftsmanship and design.”