An All-Female Welding Team Built Studio Kuhlmann’s Gorgeous, Stainless Steel Ode to Lucid Dreaming

Lucid Dreams, the new solo show from German designer and welder Hannah Kuhlmann, is an ode to unconscious depths, afternoon naps, and theta state reverie. On view at St Vincents gallery in Antwerp through mid-May, these pieces evoke an atmosphere somewhere between illusion and reality, following a kind of dream logic where the unexpected is encountered and absorbed. Lucid dreaming, after all, is when you realize you’re dreaming in your dream. “I wanted to capture the essence of those moments of heightened awareness within our subconscious,” Kuhlmann says. “The title Lucid Dreams speaks to the surreal experience of being both asleep and awake, where the mind wanders freely and perceptions shift.”

Known for her steel tube lighting fixtures, Kuhlmann has expanded on those forms and come up with something unanticipated — a bit like that dream where you discover another room you didn’t know existed in a house you know well. Combining the mechanical feel of metal with the softness of fabrics and floral shapes, she’s created a series of objects that are like companions, characters with personality.

There’s the Pillow Queen chair, whose steel tube frame is covered in cushiony cotton and wool, as if wearing a beribboned gown with a regal train; the Ladybug daybed, outfitted in gray vintage leather, with six dangling ties for each of her “feet.” The Power Napper sideboard is fitted with a foldable lavender wool mattress that can be attached by knobs of calming rock crystal and blue quartz. To dress her steel structures, Kuhlmann worked with costume designer Holle Schlickmann and she also collaborated with goldsmith Lisa Scherebenko on jewel-like details in the light fixtures. The flower-like Lady Glove, Thulip, and Crocus lamps are made of hand-cut metal sheets welded together, and they operate on a touch-dimmer, emitting their soft glow when you make contact. The Lily of the Valley is a lamp and nightstand in one, made for drifting off to sleep.

To realize this project, Kuhlmann assembled an all-female welding team, working out of her Cologne studio, mostly with stainless steel. It’s a material that holds a lot of meaning for Kuhlmann, who notes that it’s relatively young, dating to the early 20th century and yet its impact on our world has been indelible and ubiquitous. Kuhlmann’s pieces are hand-polished, a time-consuming process, but one through which “they acquire their distinct and unique appearance, a characteristic that would not be achievable through industrial production,” she says. “To me, they embody a fusion of ancient science fiction and low–tech Art Nouveau aesthetics.” She infuses a highly industrial material with a very human warmth. Which isn’t unlike a dream itself, where the everyday meets the unusual and what seems ordinary is rejuvenated and transformed.