Martin Hirth interview

The Meander has a chat with the German product designer Martin Hirth.

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i. Martin Hirth
ii. Chaplin lamp. Steel, ash wood, textile coated cable, 2012
iii. Ostsee coat, spring/summer 2012, manufactured by airbag craftworks A2
iv. Loveless school chair. Fabric, wadding, steel, 2011

All photographs © Martin Hirth 2012

I saw your 'Chaplin' lamp online recently and was instantly intrigued. Can you tell us a bit more about it?

Thank you. Sure. The inspiration for Chaplin was born on a bicycle tour across the countryside. At an idyllic campsite I saw an upturned bowl on a fence post.

This was the initial idea for an adjustable floor lamp, in which the arrangement of the shade works without a technical hinge. Using balance alone, it is possible to turn the shade around and set it in several positions for the spotlight.

It was very important for me to keep the design in a geometrical and graphical line. Also I only wanted to use natural and pure materials, such as deep-drawn steel, ash wood and textile-coated cable.

In April this year, Chaplin got the Design Plus award at the Light+Building Fair in Frankfurt, Germany – and I'm very happy about that.

You're living in Germany; did you grow up there?

Yes, I grew up in a small village in the Black Forest, in the south of Germany. 

Since I'm studying product design at the Academy of Art and Design Offenbach, I'm living in Offenbach. It's a multicultural city, close to Frankfurt, with its very own character. But I like this city a lot.

"At an idyllic campsite I saw an upturned bowl on a fence post."

Would you describe yourself as a product designer? 

It is written on my business card, yes.

What's the story behind your beautiful 'Ostsee' coat?

We had a cooperation project between a small fashion manufacturer and our university. This company, airbag craftworks, mainly produces record bags. But they also have a beautiful clothing line.

I developed a women's coat with a simple geometrical pattern. It features a very high collar, a hidden button band and a cord that can transform the straight silhouette. It should look straight, but also comfortable. The fabric is a very light one, in deep blue.

The design has marine influences, and Ostsee is the name of sea in the northeast of Germany. The company liked this coat also and it fits perfectly with their whole collection, so they now produce them.   

Is fashion design of interest to you?

Sure! But at the moment the main focus is on furniture, so I don't have the time to sew the fashion-things I want to.

Sometimes I sew clothing for myself. I love to take inspiration from fashion, like the colours I choose for furniture.

Maybe in the near future I want to realise a fashion project with my girlfriend, Sophia. She's an illustrator and graphic designer.

You work at Sebastian Herkner's studio. What is your role there?

Designer and project assistant. I work on different aspects of the whole design process, from sketching ideas to 3D models.

I started over a year ago, as he asked me if I wanted to do an internship at his studio. Since then, we’ve worked together. It's a lot of fun to work for big companies such as Moroso and so on...

How would you describe your work process?

Constantly in development. It is a never-ending process between searching, generating and realising the ideas.

What are your biggest influences in design today?

The environment ­– that every product will be sustainable. We need long-life products, which don’t only follow trends.

In the end, the material and the production should be authentic and environmentally friendly – they are my biggest influences.

"We need long-life products, which don’t only follow trends."

Your 'Loveless' school chair series was featured as one of the 28 products created by up-and-coming designers during imm cologne’s [D³] Contest. Can you explain the concept of the series?

It is a conceptual work about sustainable furniture.

Bulky items are collected on the street – and a common piece of furniture there is metal-framed chairs. Then, beautiful elements with their very own aesthetic are applied to revitalise the old, damaged chairs.

So these used school chairs get warm colours and warm fabrics and also comfortable wadding, enabling us to forget the source and background of the old material.

They are kind of ready-made parts, but not in the industrial way – more in the storytelling way, like nice vintage stuff. Anyway, there is the advantage of prefabrication, so that no tools or molds are needed. So the energy use in their production is very low – or rather non-existent. 

Refurnishing the frames of the chairs, just fabric and wadding are needed – nothing further. The upholstered parts will quilt and fold up or they will wrap or braid as a tube around the frame.

When were you first exposed to good design?

Phew! That’s difficult. My parents dressed me as a small child very well and 'hip', if I look at my childhood photos…

Also my father worked for a high-class furniture company for over 30 years, so the contact with good design was there at an early stage.

Does anyone else in your family share your love for design?

I think they are all interested in design and they appreciate good design, but I don't think they love design like I do.