From birth, Daniel Heer was groomed to take over his family’s leather- and mattress-making business. He learned the necessary skills early on, honing them through an adolescence spent at the Heer workshop in Lucerne, Switzerland, watching his father and grandfather work. His post-secondary education focused on one thing and one thing only: how to ply his trade. And then when he moved to Berlin at age 20, he left it all behind, to the obvious dismay of his parents. “There was always this question of would I come home, or would I stay abroad? And what would happen to the family factory?” Heer, now 32, recalls. Then it struck him — if he knew how to handcraft leather goods and horsehair mattresses exactly as his great-grandfather had done upon founding the workshop in 1906, couldn’t he carry on the tradition somewhere new?
In fact, Heer credits the move itself with giving him the motivation to set up his own workshop two years ago, where he now makes, all by himself, both mattresses and his own line of bags inspired by his grandfather’s. “I never would have done this in Switzerland,” he says, despite the fact that he studied saddle-making and upholstery, not design. “Sometimes you have to go away to find out how important family traditions are.”
His compromise was to take his arm of the business in subtle new directions, using the same age-old techniques but with contemporary updates like modern fabric coverings and his AMPM daybed concept, with which he launched his mattress service at Art Berlin Contemporary. When his father — who still runs the family workshop back in Lucerne — came to visit him in Berlin, Heer invited all of his friends to attend a father-son mattress-making workshop, and he found it fascinating being able to introduce his dad to his own point of view. “For my parents it’s old-generation work; they do it more like a habit,” he says. “If they talk about a bed, it’s always a mattress with a blanket and a pillow and a covering, so it was interesting explaining to my father the concept of AMPM, and what it actually means for me to make a horsehair mattress and bring it into a new context.” We asked him to explain it to us, too, so he walked us through his fabrication process.