Living Large

Nils Holger Moormann's Alpine Universe

According to Nils Holger Moorman, consequence, attitude, and transparency are the necessary qualities for a successful life. As well as his easy-going nature and desire to forge ahead, he possesses a curious combination of wit, practicality and a love of gardening. A reflection of its founder, these basic ingredients have come together to create a furniture label with a rather effective non- conventional approach. Near the company headquarters, in the luscious mountainous landscape of the Alps, every facility needed for production is accessible. In this ultimate setting, Moorman also beautifully manages to separate his work paradise from his home paradise.

Aschau, near Lake Chiemsee, is an idyllic village situated in the Bavarian Alps, surrounded by high mountains and green meadows, where cows graze under big trees. In the middle of this picture-book landscape is Nils Holger Moormann’s company headquarters, in an old timber house. But during the weekends, this furniture label founder doesn’t go to the office, instead he prefers to stay at his home in Aschau, an old farmhouse on the edge of a mountain creek, encircled by exuberantly growing bushes. On this specific, sunny Saturday, he has to mow the grass in his garden.

DAM: Cooking or gardening, which is of more interest?
Nils Holger Moormann: Actually I’m a dilettante, but I have a lot of fun with both. I love nature above all. My late partner was a landscape architect with green fingers. She told me once that there are no weeds only wild herbs. Since then I adore the garden, even if I never honestly got deeper into it. I like to let things grow in their own wild way.

DAM: You work as a designer, an entrepreneur and a gardener. It’s difficult to give you a correct title.
NHM: Maybe I am an ‘occasionist’, or a universal crazy nut. I have a bit from every profession, as if two movies were playing in my head. One is covering the creative side that I am living from and that makes me happy. The other is more rational and calculated. Both movies are in good contact with each other. You know, I’m a contradictory person. That’s my secret.

DAM: As an autodidact, how did you roll into design?
NHM: Through a lot of insane detours, I discovered design as a personal passion. I fell into the realm of design in the 80s, when I was 28 years old. It was a perfect moment: nobody knew about design, the word itself was exotic and unconsumed at that time. I was fascinated by the connection between the aesthetics of things and their long decay time. Coming from a fashion dynasty, I had always been interested in beauty, proportions and colours. With design, however, this was different. Thus, an intellectual world opened for me.

DAM: Your furniture seems to ignore the debate on functionality that was crucial in Germany. What is your attitude towards this?
NHM: I think I am a typical German, in a way. By following the path of the Ulm School of Design, in any case, you cannot fail. But in my eyes, there is an important aspect to add. A collection must not be too correct. A bit of a wink and some humour is necessary, even to treat materials in a strong and sincere way. I’m happy that our furniture is not too perfect and rigid. In the end, things still have to be alive.

DAM: Most of your furniture is fabricated in plywood or MDF. Can you tell us about your experiences with this material?
NHM: We do not have our own fabrication facilities. We produce everything within a radius of 30 kilometres from our office in Aschau. I don’t like keywords like sustainability or ecology, but in my opinion there is no sense in sending things across the world, back and forth, to distribute them. My dream has always been an extended workbench, where you could realise projects together with craftsmen. By using plywood and MDF, we are very much concerned with the question of surfaces. Personally, I don’t like it when surfaces are completely closed and don’t give an idea of their substrate. Over the years, working with plywood planks thousands of times and more, we have discovered their spirit.

DAM: There are several pieces like the Bookinist that you developed on your own. Do you see yourself as a designer?
NHM: I’m not a designer, even if I play with things and think about all sorts of nonsense. The Bookinist is an example of that attitude. I built it for myself because I needed a seat for reading and wanted an alternative to those uncomfortable upholstered armchairs. For the Milan furniture fair we were looking for something on which people could sit down at the stand, so we spontaneously decided to build two more Bookinists. Suddenly we received many requests for this chair, which had not been planned for production. I am not proud of my design, personally. I consider it rather childish. My part is more the one of consultant, who has experiences with different ingredients and might know how things can work.

DAM: Until recently there was not a chair in your collection, but now there are two of them. Where does this change come from?
NHM: It is not the product itself that I was keen to develop. Chairs are the most difficult things to produce, because they have to bear this cruel, static, incorrect way of sitting, on the one hand –when your boyfriend sits on your knees, for example… And on the other hand, there is a very constrained market for chairs. In fact there are billions of them, but in the end it’s always the same ones that are sold. I wanted to avoid the production of chairs, actually. Anyway, I fell in love with the Pressed Chair and the Zipfred. They are so radical and responsible that I had to smirk first and then I had to bow in respect of their concepts. I knew that the Zipfred was not really a serious project. But I found it very important to convey the concept behind this. The Pressed Chair, however, corresponds exactly to my philosophy, making the best possible out of the least possible. Reducing until the very end –that’s for me a classical invention. If we really can produce the chair, as planned, that will be wonderful.

DAM: You have a very clear philosophy for leading a company. What is it exactly?
NHM: There are three important aspects: consequence, attitude, and transparency. If you follow these aims in your life, you will not fail. Many people misunderstand the making of furniture, they want to make money instead. But in this constellation there is something important missing: to make people happy. The crème fraiche design became an attitude within the design world. Do you know what this is? Someone who does not know how to cook takes crème fraiche for everything, and it works somehow, even if it disguises the original taste. The same effect exists in the design world. With ingredients like crème fraiche, a company can work in some way. But the goal is to understand things, to approach them until they begin to light-up from the inside out.

DAM: How do you develop ideas – from your own needs?
NHM: Strangely enough, there are periods where I have many ideas. When I have to go for long business trips, my colleagues sometimes stick a post-it note in the car, wishing me a good trip with no jams at all. That’s because I begin to sketch when I am stuck in a jam, and to think about new projects. I don’t know how to sketch, and my problem is to find a way to make my ideas clear to others.

DAM: About aspects of money – it almost seems like money has no role at all for you?
NHM: We all think too much about money. Of course it is important for a company. But if you evaluate everything only from the financial point of view, you will destroy a lot. Dreams are so vulnerable! You have to admit them, follow them, even if you might fail. To achieve this freedom, we operate strictly economically in other domains. In Milan during the Salone, for example, our whole team stays not in a hotel but at a campsite a bit outside the city. Thus we save some thousands of euros that we can then spend on making another fancy catalogue.

DAM: This year at your stand in Milan, you presented 11 novelties, all covered with white fabric and announcements about the upcoming years. What’s behind this joke?
NHM: That was great, wasn’t it? We showed a light called La Funsel from Giacomo Illuminati, scheduled for 2018. ‘The burner’ was the fire extinguisher, obligatory for every stand – we put it on a platform, like a sculpture. I want to have fun during a fair. There is nothing more boring than furniture, furniture and furniture again. I want to be inspired instead, I want to see people, make contact with interesting ideas. The rest is hard work and serious business. But that comes all by itself. Life is brutal enough for that. #

Interview: Sandra Hofmeister

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Dr. Sandra Hofmeister

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