Up and Coming
Herkner + Dienes, Furniture Designers

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.Herkner_Belltable

Item you wish you’d made: Something simple and common, like the ballpoint pen.

Favorite shop: The hardware store.

REINHARD DIENES
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.

Favorite shop: The hardware store.
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Sebastian Herkner's living room reflects his love for natural materials.

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In April, Herkner + Dienes debuted at Salone Satellite, the influential young designers' platform in Milan, with a booth constructed from the shipping crates they'd sent their furniture to Italy in.

Sarah Morris, Black Beetle [Origami], 2006

HERKNER
Last great exhibition you saw: Sarah Morris at the Museum of Modern Art Frankfurt. I like her use of reflective surfaces, grids, and garishly elegant color combinations. Her art reminds me of a big kaleidoscope.

Herkner's Bell Table will be produced by the Spanish company ABR

HERKNER
Favorite material to work with: I prefer to work with natural materials like glass, brass, or wood. You can see and feel how they react when you form or cut them. But I also like combining traditional materials and manufacturing technologies with newer, high-tech ones.

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HERKNER
Fictional character who would own your work: Doctor Snuggles, the hero of my childhood: He’s an inventor who has unusual adventures with his friends in a psychedelic world. The show's fantastical scenarios usually involved Doctor Snuggles inventing something outlandish — such as a robot helper or a diamond-making machine — and supporting characters who were mostly anthropomorphic animals.

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HERKNER
Favorite everyday object: My toothbrush.

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DIENES
What you keep around your studio for inspiration: Lots of photography. The picture I always look back at is of Marilyn Monroe in New York (1949), by Andre de Dienes. It’s one of the first photos of her — it helped make her famous. It’s so natural, simple, and pure, and it has nothing to do with the later images that everyone knows. It’s just a beautiful 19-year-old woman.

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DIENES
Favorite material to work with: I go through phases. Last year I was in love with polypropylene plastic, now I’m in love with American walnut in combination with steel.

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DIENES
Item you wish you’d made: Juice Skin, a series of fruit juice packages by Naoto Fukasawa. The banana package is really awesome. You can see it in one of my favorite books, Designing Design by Kenya Hara.

Herkner_Kant3

DIENES
Favorite design object: The Kant work table from Nils Holger Moormann, designed by Patrich Frey & Markus Boge in 2002. It’s so simple and easy to understand. Those are the most difficult things to design.

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DIENES
Favorite everyday object: My watch — a €10 Casio F-91W — and my fountain pen.

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DIENES
Last great exhibition you saw: KATACHI, at the Museum of Applied Arts in Frankfurt, about the relationship between Japanese craft and industrial design. (Katachi is the Japanese word for form.) There were objects from the 1300s until 2007, my favorite being the chasens, bamboo whisks used for making tea. It’s amazing how they’re made, by twisting the same material in different directions. You can use one of these whisks often, and it won’t lose its form — all these properties from a very simple item made from bamboo. Incredible.