A product designer in Germany, Katrin Sonnleitner works on her own oddities as well as commissioned interiors and furniture—in between, she teaches at HfG Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design
Your furniture design takes commonplace household items—rugs, cupboards, drawers—and deconstructs them into unlikely-looking but still functional objects.
Once, I deconstructed some chests of drawers and ended up surrounded by broken pieces, totally frustrated, thinking this would take me nowhere. I realised taking things apart only creates something new if I rearranged the parts, or added or changed ingredients. That is how the pieces Möbelette and Immöbel came to life.
Playing around with the familiar and reinterpreting things involves an experimental approach. Mostly I don't know exactly what the outcome or the character of the piece will be.
I like shifting and moving things. Change signals activity and the development of something. Some of my objects animate the user to interact with them in a special way.
You're based in Germany and did one of your internships in Barcelona. How does your European background influence your work?
Both my grandparents fled from Austria to Argentina during the war. So my parents grew up in Buenos Aires and later went back to Germany. Although I was born and grew up in Germany, there has always been a strong link to the Argentinean culture in our family (the Spanish language, cuisine and customs).
My godmother lived in England in a fascinating house stuffed with antiques. And we often went to Vienna, where my mother's parents had returned to.
Different ways of living or thinking have always been normal for me. Moving around different cultures and contexts might have led to an open-minded perception.
A lot of your work uses secondhand or surplus materials, and craft and handmade elements. Did you consciously reject the idea of minimalist design?
The question is always: where should the project go? Is it an artwork only to be exhibited or a small edition or should it be mass-produced?
Whether there is a customer involved from the beginning or whether I work on something that grabbed my attention somehow, it is essential to find the appropriate materials, production methods and, above all, skilled and thoughtful people to accompany the process with their opinions.
When I start working on my own projects, I focus on bringing things to life, and let stories or thoughts become three-dimensional realities that can be experienced by other people. The process of designing also involves dealing with history. Sometimes it includes archetypically shaped parts that help establish a connection to the experiences of people.
You've worked with some interesting partners, including the Institute of Polar and Marine Research. Will you continue to collaborate?
I have always been fascinated by the natural sciences: such as microscopic organisms, structures or mechanisms you find in plants. I would love to intensify collaborations with scientists, who often dedicate their time to a highly specific field of study. Watching them experiment and hearing their stories is an endless source of inspiration and imagination to be translated into a space or a useful product for everyday life.
Get a permanent
Local design studio The Church brought Semi-Permanent to our shores in 2004, and is firing up the 2010 event on August 20 and 21.
It’s always an outstanding experience, so get your creative juices flowing with such speakers as Andrew Gordon of Pixar and Karen Walker and Mikhail Gherman, Dick and Otis Frizzell, New York illustrator Jessica Hische, animators Buck.TV from New York, interactive agency Poke from London, and many more.