The first thing people marvel at when they see the furniture of Sebastian Herkner and Reinhard Dienes is its industrial, institutional cool — bare wood against metal against richly colored glass, in shapes evoking old spotlights and torches and desk chairs. The second thing is how these hip, talented designers — whose debut collection this year caught the eye of Wallpaper, DAMn, and Monocle — landed in Frankfurt, a middling city of 650,000 without a glimmer of Berlin’s cachet; imagine Dan Colen painting from Baltimore, or Christopher Kane packing up his studio and heading back to Glasgow. Not in a million.
Herkner + Dienes, who met while students at Frankfurt’s Academy of Art and Design Offenbach and teamed up a year ago to show their mostly separate work together, say they stay in their adopted city partly because they’re big fish in a small pond. Herkner worked in London for Stella McCartney; Dienes has won design prizes exhibiting everywhere from Belgium to China. But back in Frankfurt, they don’t have to deal with the social temptations and competitiveness of the larger cities, which gives the designers precisely the time and space they need to make work that’s sophisticated enough to have come from any of them.
SEBASTIAN HERKNER Design hero: It’s too difficult to choose one designer. But my art hero is Joseph Beuys. I’m fascinated by his political attitude and of course, his happenings. Like the Golden Hare, when he melted a golden tzar’s crown into a mold, recasting it as a rabbit sculpture.
First thing you ever made: I created a sorting system for apples with my older brother in the garden of my grandparents’ house. We built a system of canals and hoppers to sort the various sizes, but it never worked.
Item you wish you’d made: Something simple and common, like the ballpoint pen.
Favorite shop: The hardware store.
Design hero: A combination of Naoto Fukasawa and Jasper Morrison. But also I have an art hero: Van Gogh.
Album most played while you work: When I work, I mostly listen to classical music on the radio.
What inspired you to become a designer? When I was a kid, I broke apart everything I got my hands on to see what was inside and try to do something new with it. It never worked; sometimes I think I still owe an apology to my parents for that.
First thing you ever made: When I was 12, I tried to make a small water mill that could produce enough energy to power an LED. Didn’t work.
As I walked the Tendence gift fair in Frankfurt this summer, Iris Maschek appeared to me like an oasis of glam in a desert of practicality. There she was, surrounded by clocks and soaps and clever ceramic jugs with customizable chalkboard labels, dressed all in black and perched in a cool mid-century rattan chair against this gorgeously baroque Rorschach-like backdrop: A specimen from her very first wallpaper collection.
When I was 19 and my family was moving out of my childhood home, my best friend and I hosted a joint garage sale. I dragged out all the crap the house had accumulated in the 50 years since my grandparents had built it, and she brought over a car’s worth of items her parents no longer had space for. Rummaging through her things, I rescued a Louis Vuitton bag from the '80s, the classic children's book The Lonely Doll, and an ashtray with rounded corners that spoke to my then-fledgling love for mid-century design. The box it came in said "Radius One."