CityFurniture went to visit stefan schöning in his workplace in the center of Antwerp. We enter a white and light space where, very similar to his designs, aesthetics and practicalities are perfectly balanced. He welcomes us with a warm smile and a cup of fresh coffee and shows us around, before we sit down to talk about his work and inspirations.
Is designing developing your own identity?
It sure is. Designing is always a search, mostly for solutions for a certain problem. The solutions aren’t always right at hand; therefore you often need to search in different fields. This results into cross pollination; you’re going to use things from certain fields into other fields. This diversity sharpens your creativity.
Next to developing your identity as a designer, do you feel like it’s also part of your own, personal development.
Changing as a designer is unavoidably linked to a personal change. It’s more of a subconscious process. Only recently I came to realise that I developed a style of my own. I never followed any particular style movement. I think it’s very typical for Belgian designers. Whereas, for example, in the Netherlands, you can easily recognize a designer from design collectives such as Droog.
You created your own signature.
That’s right, of course I was inspired by some of my big examples from earlier generations Castiglioni for example or more recently Jasper Morrison. I can strongly relate to their work.
How important is your intuition, your gut feeling when you design?
It depends on the assignment. If it’s an object or piece of furniture I’m designing I will more likely listen to my gut feeling than when I’m really looking for solutions and have to stick to the facts. But it’s always part of the process. I do a lot of sketching and drawing. A very intuitive process.
Is this sketching, intuitive brainstorming where you get most of your ideas?
Yes, I have books full with ideas. Sometimes they remain unused for a long time, but then one day it’s exactly what I need. Of course you have different types of assignments. The dedicated assignment, where a customer comes with a specific question. But a lot of ideas just come from “nowhere” , for example experimenting with a different use for materials like I did with the folder chair. That was more of an experiment; how to work with paper, manipulate it and then create something that looked like real origami. Of course after this creative process you still have to be able to put it into production. Because after all we are designers and not artists. I really see myself as an Industrial Designers.
How do you translate your lifestyle, philosophy into your designs?
To me it’s all about simplicity, modesty, elegance and proportions that are well studied. It’s finding the right balance between aesthetics and functionality. It’s a challenge, that to most people might seem very evident, but really isn’t. One of the last projects I did was a set of cutlery inspired on the Slow Food movement. I wanted to incorporate the philosophy of taking the time to cook, eat, step away from fast food and share and enjoy food with friends and family into the design. The shapes are really soft, there are no hard transitions.
Your work space is very white, open and organized. How important is this for you?
I like to design from a white, clean sheet. You have designers that can create fantastic things in chaos. I need purity.
And in your mind? Is it chaos or is everything calm like your surroundings?
Good question. I think there’s a lot going on in my head, that’s maybe why I need my work space to be calm and clean. The designing process also means making constant decisions. Sometimes you have to be very rational and that’s not always possible in a chaotic environment.
One of your very first projects was the folder chair. They say a chair is the most important piece for a designer. It’s almost a tour de force to find the right balance between aesthetics and ergonomics.
True, there are already so many chairs and you have to deal with the right measurements and what not. Still it is the most important piece for any designer. It really was a turning point in my career when I introduced my folder chair in London, Milan and Paris. In the meanwhile, I designed many other chairs, that were even more of a commercial success. Some of them have been selling for 10 years.
You also did the corporate identity for the Belgian Railways NMBS. How different is it to design on such a large scale?
It’s very different, because you design for a country. Millions of people will be confronted with your work. It’s one of the biggest challenges I had to face so far.
What was your biggest achievement so far?
The nicest thing about my career is the recognition I get from the general public. I’m now preparing a new model for the annual Salone del Mobile in Milan. I already posted some pictures and already got amazing, positive reactions. That’s always nice as a designer. Also of course the big projects like for NMBS, it opens doors.
Is there a dream project you still want to realize?
It’s funny you ask. When making the documentary for Canvas, they asked me the exact same question. I answered I would love to design cutlery. While shooting I received the assignment to design the set of Slow cutlery and it was incorporated in the documentary. I think I’d like to do more projects in public spaces, parks or nature reserves.
When I look at your mood board I can see a lot of nature. Are you often inspired by nature?
Yes of course, it’s very inspirational to look outside. I did a Cactus shaped coat hanger once. That’s a very clear example. (smiles)
Does music inspire you?
Yes, I listen to a lot of electronic music, like Aphex Twin, but also a lot of Jazz. It’s often very chaotic. Somehow there is something about free jazz that calms me down. Although it might have the opposite effect on most people.
And how important are friends and family?
I’m a loner actually, already as a kid I liked to be alone. But the last couple of years I enjoy the company of loved ones more and more. This year I even gave a party, for my 45th birthday, for the very first time! I usually really don’t like to be the center of attention. But I enjoyed it.. (laughs)
Visit stefan schöning online : stefanschoning.com