UNSCRIPTED with Sebastian Herkner: Patience in the Era of Ephemerality

The prolific German designer opens up about his early creative pursuits, views on ‘slow’ design, as well as his growing collection of souvenirs at home, on this week’s UNSCRIPTED.

by Jerry ElengicalPublished on : Jan 14, 2022

"For me, it’s important to understand that design is an investment. So if people invest a certain amount of money in a product, they really cherish it.”

- Sebastian Herkner

A designer at the forefront of blending craft, culture, and tradition with technology and innovation, Sebastian Herkner’s career as a product designer has seen him develop numerous collections with several prominent design brands, including Cappellini, Moroso, Ligne Roset, Thonet, pulpo, and Pedrali, among many others. Encompassing the domains of product design, furniture, lighting, and, more recently, interior design, his practice is a unique fusion of the handmade and fabricated - rooted in a deep reverence for cultures across the world, and the innumerable artistic traditions and techniques derived from them. The prolific German designer has been a recipient of many accolades over the years, including being recognised as the 2021 EDIDA Designer of the Year and the 2019 Maison et Objet Designer of the Year. In his UNSCRIPTED chat, Herkner reveals more about his childhood, early creative endeavours, love for cooking, and fondness for bringing different cultures into his home - through the many souvenirs accrued from his travels across the globe.

  • Sebastian as a child | UNSCRIPTED with Sebastian Herkner | Interviews | STIRworld
    Herkner as a child Image: © Studio Sebastian Herkner
  • Herkner describes his younger self as brimming with creativity, spending most of his time drawing, sketching, and building things in his small atelier | UNSCRIPTED with Sebastian Herkner | Interviews | STIRworld
    Herkner describes his younger self as brimming with creativity, spending most of his time drawing, sketching, and building things in his small atelier Image: © Studio Sebastian Herkner

For Herkner, growing up in the countryside of Germany was a period filled with activities such as building treehouses, exploring the neighbourhood on bicycles with his friends, and going on camping trips with his family. Describing his room in his childhood home as “very woody, in the style of my parents", he proceeds to share that much of his adolescence was actually devoted to creative pursuits in a neighbouring room that served as his personal atelier. “I spent most of the time in my small atelier, sketching, drawing, building things, and repairing chairs, so maybe it was more like my personal space than my actual room,” he explains.

  • A photo of Herkner shortly after he graduated from university | UNSCRIPTED with Sebastian Herkner | Interviews | STIRworld
    A photo of Herkner shortly after he graduated from university Image: © Julia Katharina Ziegler
  • Visiting Thonet’s production facility | UNSCRIPTED with Sebastian Herkner | Interviews | STIRworld
    Visiting Thonet’s production facility Image: © Evelyn Dragan

These early sparks of creativity would eventually be turned into a robust flame, on being brought into contact with design museums in Denmark and other parts of Europe while accompanying his parents on their travels. Combined with his early artistic endeavours, these formative experiences gradually instilled an understanding of the design world in his teenage self, leading him to enroll and study design at the Hochschule für Gestaltung (HfG) Offenbach in the city of Offenbach am Main, near Frankfurt, in 2001. During his studies, Herkner also interned at the London office of celebrated English fashion designer, Stella McCartney, between 2003 and 2004, remarking that it was an "amazing experience, working very closely with Stella in a studio that was, at the time, relatively quite small.” He notes that McCartney's boldness in pioneering vegan fashion before it became trendy, was a valuable lesson, as it taught him to be brave while fighting for his own principles.

  • Bell Table for ClassiCon, 2012 | UNSCRIPTED with Sebastian Herkner | Interviews | STIRworld
    Bell Table - ClassiCon, 2012 Image: © Studio Sebastian Herkner
  • Taru for Ligne Roset, 2021 | UNSCRIPTED with Sebastian Herkner | Interviews | STIRworld
    Taru - Ligne Roset, 2021 Image: © Studio Sebastian Herkner
  • Stellare Grape Pendant Lamp - pulpo, 2019 | UNSCRIPTED with Sebastian Herkner | Interviews | STIRworld
    Stellare Grape Pendant Lamp - pulpo, 2019 Image: © Studio Sebastian Herkner

Herkner eventually set up his own studio in Offenbach in 2006, aiming to explore local and international crafts while devising means of balancing them with emerging material technologies and fabrication methods to create something truly unique. In his view, patience, quality, and attention to detail are values he holds dear in a world that is suffering due to wasteful consumption propagated through trends such as fast fashion and furniture. He elaborates, “There are too many throwaway objects in the world. I think it’s so important now to think about products which are more ‘slow', you know? We have the idea of slow food, we have the idea of slow fashion now. And I think it’s also the time to consider slow products in our design process.”

  • Kontur - Vibia, 2021 | UNSCRIPTED with Sebastian Herkner | Interviews | STIRworld
    Kontur - Vibia, 2021 Image: © Studio Sebastian Herkner
  • 118 Chair - Thonet, 2018 | UNSCRIPTED with Sebastian Herkner | Interviews | STIRworld
    118 Chair - Thonet, 2018 Image: © Studio Sebastian Herkner
  • Pipe - Moroso, 2015 | UNSCRIPTED with Sebastian Herkner | Interviews | STIRworld
    Pipe - Moroso, 2015 Image: © Studio Sebastian Herkner

Interestingly, Herkner’s own process often commences with visits to a brand’s production facility, in order to ascertain their principles, skills, and working methodologies. He pays particular attention to the workers and craftspeople employed by the companies he collaborate with, always looking for avenues to celebrate their skill and push them to innovate. In fact, he has continually expressed an outspoken admiration for the artisans who bring his product and furniture designs to life everyday, never losing sight of the inherently collaborative nature of his process.

  • Working on The Bridge Bamboo Bench with Ming-An Wu for A New Layer II: Design Stories from Taiwan, 2018 | UNSCRIPTED with Sebastian Herkner | Interviews | STIRworld
    Working on The Bridge Bamboo Bench with Ming-An Wu for A New Layer II: Design Stories from Taiwan, 2018 Image: © Studio Sebastian Herkner
  • Herkner’s process always commences with visits to production facilities and interactions with craftsmen | UNSCRIPTED with Sebastian Herkner | Interviews | STIRworld
    Herkner’s process always commences with visits to production facilities and interactions with craftsmen Image: © Studio Sebastian Herkner
  • He is an avid collector of souvenirs, which contributes to his growing design collection at home | UNSCRIPTED with Sebastian Herkner | Interviews | STIRworld
    He is an avid collector of souvenirs, which contributes to his growing design collection at home Image: © Studio Sebastian Herkner

An avid collector of design pieces and souvenirs, Herkner’s home is decorated with an ensemble of items drawn from Colombia, Zimbabwe, India, and various other corners of the world, in keeping with his inclination towards exploring and embracing new cultures. Elaborating on creative similarities between cooking and designing, he states that his life revolves around creativity in its many forms. Herkner also views the idea of 'home' as more than just an accommodation or a single location, sharing that he feels most at home in the company of good friends and family.

  • At home during lockdown in 2020 | UNSCRIPTED with Sebastian Herkner | Interviews | STIRworld
    At home during lockdown in 2020 Image: © Studio Sebastian Herkner
  • At work in his studio | UNSCRIPTED with Sebastian Herkner | Interviews | STIRworld
    At work in his studio Image: © Studio Sebastian Herkner
  • Herkner is fond of cooking and views it as an extension of his creativity | UNSCRIPTED with Sebastian Herkner | Interviews | STIRworld
    Herkner is fond of cooking and views it as an extension of his creativity Image: © Studio Sebastian Herkner

All this and more: tap on the cover video to view the full conversation.

All photographs © Studio Sebastian Herkner, unless stated otherwise. Images may not be downloaded, copied, reproduced, or used in part or whole without obtaining permission. The photographs in this video are not licensed for personal, commercial, or public use, or use in the public domain in any form.

UNSCRIPTED:
Curated by Pramiti Madhavji (Consultant, Content Adviser, STIR), UNSCRIPTED is a STIR-original series of quick-witted video interviews with leading design professionals who give us an undiscovered peek into their lives. A melting pot of quests, revelations and quirks, the series releases a new episode every Sunday as designers reveal unheard and unknown nuggets from their lives, in response to 30 questions.  

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