neunzig° design

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2016 is, of course, an even year. For us that means two things. It’s a major international football tournament year and, more relevantly, it is an Orgatec year.

Once again, come October, the good and the great of the furniture industry will descend upon Cologne to get a first view of the latest workplace products, trends and design superstars.

Back in 2014 we first met with Barbara Funck and Rainer Weckenmann – collectively known as neunzig° design – whosae nooi multipurpose chairs for Wiesner Hager were receiving critical acclaim from all-comers.

The pair first met at the university of Schwäbisch Gmünd in Germany, where they graduated in Industrial Design. In 1994 Rainer won the Bavarian State prize with his degree dissertation and gained further recognition at the Braun prize. In the same year the duo opened the neunzig° design studio in Ulm.

They began designing for kitchenware manufacturers Auerhahn and WMF in their native Germany, and leading European lighting manufacturers Belux, Osram and Zumtobel Staff.

“We always search for innovation – for a special kick”

A major breakthrough for the studio came through their work for Boffi, for whom they designed ceramic accessories for the Deep White bathroom and the Folio washbasin – which received a prestigious IF-Award.

It is the studio’s work with Wiesner Hager that has turned our own heads – nooi, however, is not the first collaboration between the leading Austrian furniture manufacturer and neunzig° design. ‘We have worked together for some six years now,’ Rainer confirms.

‘Our first project was Macao, and then we went on to design POI,’ Barbara recalls. ‘More recently we have redesigned PARO and of course we designed nooi – which was a lot of work. It took a great deal of thought to get the chair right and to get the chairs to work  together in a row. We really wanted to do this with out the use of an extra tool. Normally you have an extra tool that is not part of the chair but this is not really clever or interesting. We wanted it to be the chairs themselves that join together – without them looking overdesigned.

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‘This is the thing about simplicity – it is often very difficult to achieve, it is difficult to design simplicity into a product. When you do achieve it, though, it is great!’

nooi is, on the face of it, a simple stacking chair, but with an ingenious interlocking frame that links the chairs together. Simple and intelligent, setting up chairs in different scenarios is child’s play with neunzig° design’s brilliant concept. nooi is the perfect solution for auditoriums, cafés, canteens and waiting areas, as well as seminar and training rooms.

‘This takes a lot of work,’ Rainer admits, ‘but this is the way we like to work. We are always interested with things and behaviours of daily life. Our aim is to create individual products for individual people.

‘We always search for innovation – for a special kick, something that makes the product stand out from others, something that touches us deep in our heart, with all the emotional qualities we love in our friends. Qualities such as humour, intelligence, individuality. We trust in qualities like love, respect and responsibility and the power of beauty.

‘We are convinced that small pleasures are often what makes us happy. We are inspired by the vision that design helps people to feel and to act better.

We try to concentrate an idea to the essential and to form a personality by accentuating certain qualities. We search for aesthetics without compromises – the pure and perfect shape based on natural geometry.

‘Minimalism and simplicity in form, combined with perfect function, are key.

In a way, the design process is comparable to cooking. Besides the creativity of the cook, the careful choice and harmonization of ingredients are of vital importance. The more perfect and sophisticated the interaction between single features, the more culture is created.

‘Sometimes calculated disharmony or a surprising contrast is the special spice.’

With this in mind, we ask how the pair choose their clients. ‘We like to work with things that have a connection to daily life – from cooking and normal furniture and office furniture through to lighting and bathrooms,’ Barbara tells us.

‘Every three years we try to find another area to work in,’ Rainer adds. ‘At the moment we are looking at designing a bicycle, for example. We are lucky that we have the freedom to be able to do this.’

‘It is important for us to be able to work in these different areas, different sectors,’ Barbara agrees. ‘Every time we work on a new project in a new sector we learn a lot. We get to see new ways of designing, new tools to help with the design and different ways of working. Each project we work on helps inform what we do next.’

‘You have to treat this a little bit like a hobby though,’ Rainer grins. ‘If you just work in one sector you can work faster and faster and faster and you can earn more money! We’re not here to just make money. This is about fun and passion. We’re happy to spend a little more time on what we do.’

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We move on to ask about the successful, continued collaboration with Wiesner Hager. ‘It has been something of a discovery for us,’ Barbara says. ‘We found a little company who are not too corporate and who really cares about quality. When we met them we felt we had found an ideal partner.’

‘We wanted to make our own chair,’ Rainer recalls. ‘When we had made this chair – which again was a bit like a hobby for us at the time – we decided we needed to find a partner to take this forward. We found this in Wiesner Hager.’

‘If you look at a map, you see Italy and Germany – and between the two is Austria,’ Barbara explains. ‘The Germans are very straight and very functional. The Italians are very emotional and passionate. Wiesner Hager is a little bit between the two – it has a little bit of both. We really liked that.’

‘We really liked the people also,’ Rainer adds. ‘What was also very nice for us what that, with our first chair, Wiesner Hager produced something that was very close to our original concept. Often with big corporate companies you design something and it loses a lot as it goes through the production process. With Wiesner Hager we know we can talk directly with the owner. We are not talking with a lot of people on a lot of levels before a decision is made.’

‘There are a lot of companies out there who want to take your design and change it,’ Barbara agrees. ‘They often end up destroying the design. This is a question of respect and Wiesner Hager shows its designers a lot of respect.’

So what is currently in the pipeline for the pair? Well, currently Barbara and Rainer are working on a new office furniture programme for Wiesner Hager – which will be introduced at Orgatec this year. We can’t wait.