Despite what most people imagine, you don’t just find 3,300-square-foot apartments in Berlin these days — they have to find you. In Judith Seng and Alex Valder‘s case, it was a newly divorced friend of a friend, abandoning the loft in which he’d lived and worked with his musician wife, and searching for someone who could fill the sprawling space. Seng and Valder, two process-oriented product designers with a habit of accumulating furniture off the street, signed the lease immediately. In May, they moved their home from a 1960s Socialist housing bloc on the historic GDR boulevard Karl-Marx-Allee, then packed up their separate studios, creating a common office in the apartment’s would-be living area. There’s a dishwasher and a fancy Duravit bathtub, a spare bedroom and a roof terrace. Space may be abundant and cheap in Berlin, but this is not the norm. Friends seeing it for the first time routinely gape.
Now, the couple — who met in 1995 while seated across from each other during a college entrance exam and who went on to study design together at Berlin’s UDK school, with Enzo Mari as a one-time professor — work at neighboring desks less than 40 feet away from where they sleep. “If it makes sense, we collaborate,” says Seng. “And of course we influence each other’s work because we discuss everything. But we prefer to keep it that way, so someone always has the outsider’s viewpoint.” Seng, best known for her wood furniture half-dipped in colorful high-gloss car paint, can usually be found behind her computer, preparing for one of the classes she teaches or doing research and ideation for various clients. At the moment, she’s helping the artist Mathilde ter Heijne develop a conceptual barter shop for an upcoming exhibition, as well as beginning a project in which she’ll “design” a dance performance from top to bottom.
Valder, on the other hand, recently quit an eight-year desk job as managing director at an exhibition-design company to focus on his own work, and he spends his days whizzing around the apartment excitedly building things. Currently on the boards is a series of spindly stools and tables called Boekkle — “the cute word for ‘trestle,'” he says — and the workshop is full of corresponding cardboard models. “Alex is a maker guy,” Seng explains. “His old colleagues always had to drag him out of the workshop, saying, ‘That’s not your job, you’re supposed to be managing the company!'” Consequently, the apartment is full of items Valder has spontaneously rigged for various purposes, not to mention dozens of examples of the pair’s professional output. I may be biased — I’ve spent the summer living in their guest bedroom — but I think it’s one of the better examples of someone’s space reflecting their creative outlook. Seng and Valder recently offered Sight Unseen the official tour.
The story of Stefan Scholten and Carole Baijings began, like many Dutch stories do, in a church. In the late ’90s, Baijings was working for an agency whose headquarters were located inside one of the country’s many abandoned houses of worship. Scholten, a graduate of the Design Academy Eindhoven, had a burgeoning design practice nearby. Scholten was asked to design a small bar for the agency’s office, and “the rest is history,” says Baijings.
For more than three years, the Argentinean sisters Sol Caramilloni Iriarte and Carolina Lopez Gordillo Iriarte kept a design studio on the second floor of a building in Barcelona, handcrafting an eponymous line of leather bags in relative privacy. Sol, 32, was working part-time as a set designer for films; Carolina, 25, had just finished a year apprenticing under her friend Muñoz Vrandecic, the Spanish couture shoemaker. Called Iriarte Iriarte, it was a modest operation. Then in June, fate intervened.
Had you peeked into London gallerist Libby Sellers's diary for the week of the Milan Furniture Fair earlier this month, you would have seen all the requisite stops on the circuit: Rossana Orlandi one afternoon, Lambrate and Tortona the next, plus a stop at Satellite and a time out for breakfast at the Four Seasons with Alice Rawsthorn, her former boss. There was time made for shopping — Sellers is a self-admitted clothes horse, having transformed most of her London apartment into a walk-in closet — and for a visit to the 10 Corso Como gallery and bookstore. But despite what you'd expect from one of the world's most respected supporters of emerging design, who for the past two years has commissioned work from and produced pop-up exhibitions with talents like Max Lamb and Julia Lohmann, Sellers did not walk away from the fair with an arsenal of new relationships to pursue. Her scouting is done before she even gets there, in graduate degree shows and over the internet, so that in Milan — unlike the rest of us — she gets to relax and enjoy the show.