Design in Germany has long been about industrial craftsmanship with little attention paid to luxurious interiors. These days, designers are trying to build on a tradition that has taken a backseat to functionality.
Cars, beer and bread. Sure, these are all products synonymous with Germany. And whether it’s the latest BMW engine or beers brewed according to strict purity laws, German products are said to be designed systematically and methodically, with a rigorous and refined approach to quality.
Bauhaus - the famous German design school focused on the idea of creating a "total" work of art - is similar. Its style became one of the most influential currents in 20th century design by welding a link between fine art and industrial craftsmanship.
But take a step back. What about the mise-en-scène? Pulling together all elements to create a cozy interior that tells a little something about the people who dwell inside, while adhering to savvy aesthetic? This, according to experts, is still missing from the German home.
Beyond Bauhaus, Between Time
When it comes to home staging, Germany stands shrouded in the shadows of Italy, France, Great Britain, and the United States, with little tradition in seeking an expert opinion.
"In Germany, it's more [common] that you do your own home concept. You do not ask for your own interior designer," says Berlin-based interior architect Gisbert Pöppler, who is currently exhibiting a showcase of design, fine art and boutique home furnishings at Wallstrasse 85, a beautifully dilapidated ruin and long-time favorite among architecture aficionados in Berlin.
"In New York you have your psychiatrist and your interior designer," laughs Pöppler. Co-curated by vintage furniture dealer Erik Hofstetter, "Between Time" is a sumptuous collection of still-life tableaux that spans the 20th century of design trends from Chinese Art Deco carpets to pieces by Italy's premiere furniture manufacturers.
The idea behind the showcase is to bring the art and craft of interior design to the German public. The nation is a forerunner in production, no doubt, but German design brands are still a far cry from trendsetting, while Germany's interiors have yet to be decoratively splashed upon international walls.
"The famous interior designers from the US, Great Britain and Italy focused more on the interior itself. In Germany, interior design or interior architecture is totally different because we are focusing very much on the object - a piece of furniture, for instance, a sofa or a shelving system," says Andrej Kupetz, general manager of the German Design Council. "The main purpose is always: How can we produce furniture in an industrial way?"
The world's best chair
Interior design in Germany has always been built around craftsmanship, with the Bauhaus era ushering an industrial approach into the design world.
Likely, the most famous chair in the world - what Andrej Kupetz calls the first industrial design object - was created by German entrepreneur Michael Thonet in Boppard am Rhein. Chair Nr. 14 (better known as "Konsumstuhl Nr. 14") was built in 1859 by refining an industrial process that used steam to bend beechwood. With its form almost entirely dictated by the production process, it is still called the "chair of chairs" today, with some 50 million produced up until 1930.
"Nowadays, the problem for young designers who try to get into the interior design market is they are still trained as industrial designers," explains Kupetz.
With no iconic or fashionable legacy to uphold, "a lot of interior architects and designers end up in furniture stores doing kitchen planning or other systems planning because Germans like the system idea in their furniture," Kupetz continues. He uses the example of the minimalist Conseta sofas by Cor. Manufactured back in the 1960s, Conseta are still the most successful couch design in Germany.
"The idea that your home could be a stage to express your ideas of living - this is something that Germany was never familiar with," says Kupetz. "The interior architect in Germany is not a decorator."
A protected term in Germany
World War II brought the development of industrial design in Germany to a standstill. And only since reconstruction in the 1950s can a tradition of German interior design really be traced back. After the war, the demolished buildings needed to be built up again. So what better opportunity to apply new design concepts in a society that was finding itself again?
"Interior design regarded as a discipline of its own that focuses on the quality of interiors apart from architecture was discussed quite early," recalls Rudolf Schricker, vice president of BDIA, or German Interior Architects Association, which was founded in 1952.
By the 1970s and 80s, German universities were offering students the option of completing a bachelors or masters degree in interior design. Today, the certificate is still a requirement in the industry, in addition to practical experience. In the business, the final aim is to become a member of a professional association. Since Innenarchitektur (literally, interior architecture) is a legally protected term in Germany, not every interior designer is allowed to call him or herself an Innenarchitekt without fulfilling the demanding training process.
Naturally, this is the reason that an increasing number of people call themselves designers rather than interior designers.
Socially responsible design
Rudolf Schricker says that interior design has long been struggling for an independent reputation - to step out of the shade of the dominant architecture. "Interior design in Germany is now getting emancipated," he states.
Today, the focus of interior design is about being relevant to society, with a new generation of designers seeking to find the deeper meaning of design by applying it to social contexts. In fact, it was German interior designers who led the development of quality interiors for handicapped or elderly persons.
"Now, acting responsibly is essential, rather than appearing glamorous," says Schricker. "It almost seems that there is a development similar to the triumph of universal design worldwide: very close to people, not superficial at all, meaningful, honest, durable - important to every single person."