It feels like only yesterday that we were happily handing out drinks tokens in Cologne’s Corkonian bar.
We had reason to celebrate too. We’d enjoyed a great three days at Orgatec, where we’d found plenty of friends – some old and some new. Undoubtedly one of the most interesting and influential people we met at the show was leading industrial designer Andreas Krob.
Andreas was on hand to chat with us on the impressive Wiesner Hager stand – where his new skill table system was receiving a great deal of interest. It’s easy to see why – the skill mobile table system can be effortlessly adapted to rapidly changing communication scenarios. A comprehensive range of table formats ensures there is always a solution for a broad range of applications – from an O-shape for conferences, to a U-shape for seminars and a ‘block’ for workshops. The range also comprises elegant and stylish conference tables for static meeting rooms. In addition to numerous different tabletop formats, there are three elegant frame versions available with V, T and C legs.
And that’s not all. Chatting with the engaging Andreas, we’re certain that the name Skill isn’t a bold statement of his own realised abilities. There is, however, plenty of it on show here – but more about that a little later.
Andreas was born in Niebüll, Schleswig-Holstein, we learn. He studied industrial design at the Muthesius Academy of Fine Arts and Design in Kiel and then. following an exchange semester in Italy, he worked on a freelance-basis and later held various roles with international companies in research and development. In 2002, Andreas moved to Switzerland, where – together with his wife Uta – he founded the prolific b4K Bureau4Dimensions Krob) design studio.
b4K looked to unify the proficiencies of both the architect and the industrial designer, providing sensitive design solutions to challenging and innovative undertakings in the areas of design and architecture.
The studio has gone on to work for leading furniture companies throughout Europe, including Bene, Thonet, Martin Stoll, Interstuhl and BN Office Solutions. We begin, however, by asking Andreas about this latest collaboration with Wiesner Hager. ‘As a freelance designer with your own studio you are always looking for potential partners to work with,’ he tells us. ‘There are some companies who you simply cannot work with because they have a different sense and understanding of design. I’ve known Wiesner Hager for some time – several years. I think you need that special point of contact. With Wiesner Hager I always felt that there was always a way we could do something together.
‘I had an idea for a seating system and thought that maybe this could work for us. I spoke with Wiesner Hager for several months and they were extremely honest with me. They liked the system but didn’t feel it was for them. We kept talking from that initial point of contact – and what started as a seating system has now become a table system!
‘They have a very good understanding of design and they know what will work for them. It is important, whether there is an emotional connection, a conceptual connection or a technically driven connection, that there is an understanding. I think this was a really good mix of those things. It is, however, vital that there is a genuine understanding.
‘My first real job was to work as an assistant for product design with Philipp Thonet, and then with Foster we made a seating system…’
‘I studied first industrial engineering and then industrial design. I worked with Giancarlo Piretti’s studio in Bologna and worked with Castelli before moving to work with the development department at Tecno, so I recognize that it is really, really important to keep following your design all the way through to production. In a way, the most important people are the R&D department – because they are able to destroy the best idea if there is no understanding of what the designer is trying to achieve.
‘My first real job was to work as an assistant for product design with Philipp Thonet, and then with Foster we made a seating system, which was really interesting. I worked as an R&D manager with Haworth in Berlin – so I switched completely in some ways. Haworth is a great company but I felt that was a very long way from the real design and engineering process. It was more of a management challenge – that wasn’t me. I wanted to be involved in the engineering and design departments. I wanted to develop new ideas and find new solutions. That was when I realised I wanted to work in smaller design firms – where there was constant conversation between design and engineering, where people worked very closely together. Wiesner Hager works in this way.
‘I have never had a project like this one. Normally you have all these meetings and ideas go backwards and forwards and lots of changes are made. With Skill, the idea of the closing mechanism was at the heart of the project, and from there everything was very clear – there was a clear structure and things started to work immediately. Maybe there was a bit of luck as well!
‘The engineers at Wiesner Hager are a very good team and they are able to understand what we are trying to achieve. Again, maybe the size of the team is very good – as I said, I have worked for big companies who have too many people trying to change things. I think quite often design is a question of respect.’
We love Andreas’ honesty and enthusiasm, and move on to discuss the wider world of furniture design – and specifically what differentiates the furniture we all know and work with every day of our working lives. ‘There is a big difference between designing office and designing furniture for the home,’ Andreas considers. ‘When designing furniture for the home you are more emotional, whereas furniture for the office is much more professional. There is far more to think about. You have to consider so much.
‘You have to think about the free space,’ Andreas continues, using his Skill table as a perfect example. ‘Then you have to consider the different tabletops you need to work with. When you fold these tabletops you then have to consider the space beneath and around. Then you have the castors – you need a certain amount of stability – and then there are the materials you want to use…you have to consider all these things and then pull them together. One idea will then impact on another you have had – so you have to think as an engineer as well as a designer.’
‘There is a big difference between designing office and designing furniture for the home,’
A fundamental aspect of b4K’s work is that it has always gone beyond simply creating a piece of furniture. Andreas reinforces the point that he pays particular attention to the way the item functions in a space as well as ensuring that its development and finished appearance is of a superior quality. Each item is crafted with an understanding of its function and significance, meaning there’s nothing arbitrary in the finished design’s form.
There’s certainly nothing arbitrary about the new table system in front of us. The real key to the system is the clever closing mechanism, which informs the form of the frame and the legs.
This perfectly shows Andreas’ natural ability to fuse engineering and design. ‘The biggest challenge is to make the finished product unique and also as simple as possible for the user at the same time – but if it is too simple then it can be stupid!’ Andreas laughs.
Andreas tells us that he now has the best of both worlds in his adopted Switzerland – the passion of the Italians and the technical ingenuity of the Germans. We can see both these things in Andreas. Switzerland clearly suits him