Michael Schoner is a fantastic product designer from Germany, based in Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Trained as an architect and inspired by graphic design and photography, create Micheal Schoner amazing projects on the border of architecture and design. In the following interview he gave me answers about his work, his inspiration and his life in Amsterdam.
Hi, please tell me a little bit about you and your work
Hello! I am trained as an architect but switched to doing my own design office in February last year. I had worked for NL Architects and got to do some Interiors while being there and some customized furniture. It is much more immediate then waiting for a building to be finished.
I’m often interested in twisting perception or creating double or multiple meanings or just humor. If I can laugh about it, but it has a certain sincerity to it, I know the project is good.
What is the idea behind your objects?
There is not one common idea behind the objects but more common operations of cutting a volume or folding something that repeats. I work a lot with cardboard, foam and my 3D program works easily with Boolean operations and slicing. It automatically makes things more simple. Funny enough that is a way to give the objects some kind of character or spirit.
Your objects are often multifunctional and play with the expectations of the user. Why?
One of the first things we got taught in architecture school was to always turn and flip everything on its head. A floor plan becomes a section, what is horizontal becomes vertical. What does it do then? How does that make you feel towards a space? We build boxes and boxes full of experiments trying to distill some specious principals out of that.
On the other hand I like humor and a double meaning of things. If it oscillates between two answers. I don’t like just shaping things.
How important are the following terms for you: form, composition and color?
Pretty important - only the color usually comes last. It can however completely change the feeling of an object.
On your website you show also illustrations. How important is the visual expression
of a piece before you've thought about the function?
The illustrations are mostly a bit older I did them a lot of times to show a use of a building and make it more personal, they were also an outlet and a playground.
I value the visual expression greatly. The creation of a clear cut comes in quit some cases first for me, there are also some shapes that in the end will never find a function.
Do you have your favorite piece? And why?
No, once I work on a project its the dearest and at a certain moment I had enough of it. With time I get a new relationship to it.
There are the dead darlings or sketches that I didn’t work out yet, but they still make my brain work. It’s nice to rediscover those.
How important is the craftsmanship in your work?
I have been a planner for most of my life. I could think of solutions, but they where usually executed by other people. Only recently did I get more and more confronted with the reality of craftsmanship. I realize how important it is to come to the right solutions. I’m building all the wooden prototypes, but with metal I’m still far behind.
... and then there is this shortcut 3D printing that makes you think you got something while actually it is just a print out.
Where and how you were trained, and how has the training influenced
you and your work?
I studied Architecture at TU Darmstadt. There was a professor Pfeifer and his Assistant Hamm that kept me on my toes and demanded me to transform and filter the things I found out. Also I spend a lot of time in the sculpture department and learned to play with volumes and composition and proper drawing. There was a very good atmosphere between the students of self-organization and being able to use the building 24/7. I learned a lot from fellow students. There where some freaks that would work out a project for over a year - very inspiring. I got a good toolbox there it also made me think very architectonical.
An old Furniture maker here in the Kerkstraat once told me Architects always want to construct things. For me that’s true!
Do you have role models or icons?
There are so many good people out there and usually once you think you did something new you discover that someone in the 30ies or 40ies already did it.
At the moment in design I would probably say Friso Kramer, Ettore Sottsass and Enzo Mari, but the world is too big to fix down onto a few names.
What does it mean to you to live and work in Amsterdam, The Netherlands?
Amsterdam is quite international, but also the dutch capital, so it draws lots of different people and nationalities. There is a good scene of designers and artists fueled by institutions like the Rietveld and the Rijks Academy. Then you have the locals with their straight forward down to earth culture. People will say whats on there mind and if necessary quite loud. You have a good bar culture where everybody meets and people like o get comfortable. Amsterdam is a place to work concentrated, but still get new input.
What does it mean to you to you being a designer?
Saving me from going extremely nervous. I have drawn and build things since I was a kid and if I wouldn’t have that outlet and had to work at a bank I bet I would explode.
Do you have your own philosophy?
I’m in search of simple forms. I’m fascinated with construction, geometry, space, mass and voids and how to make emotionally significant objects through simple design operations.
What influenced your designs? What is your inspiration?
In Amsterdam lots of friends are graphic designers or photographers.
I love both fields.
Talent or hard work? Which do you think will make it?
Sticking in there and working hard on your talent.
How do you work and how has that changed?
A certain basic setting has remained, but maybe I’m becoming more humble.
What is for you the most important factor in the design process?
Good music will drive you further
Design for the individual or for the mass?
Design for the individual in the mass. You give a piece of yourself and hope that some people will pick up on it and interact with it. Its a communication from human to human. One of my designs the “boom bench” communicated with people from very different cultural or sociological background then me, but they loved it and used it a lot. That is important!
How has knowing to appreciate art and design affect the way you live?
Oh, you should see our house, it’s a mess! Art and design should be appreciated but never be taken too serious.
Where would we find you when you’re not at work?
On the couch with my girlfriend and her dog Toto, the scruffy west-highland terrier.
If you are not doing design what will you be doing?
Sculpture - if I could handle the freedom
© Michael Schoner
Interview: Stephanie Passul