A city once defined by division, Berlin has become a space of blurred and shifting boundaries. Here, the periphery has become the center, work has become play, and home and office seem to be merging into one. With Samsung QLED TV we visited VAUST studio in their Kreuzberg space to speak about the beauty of such coalescence.
Just beyond Admiralbrücke, the famed Kreuzberg bridge filled with locals drinking at sundown, is the showroom of the experimental design studio VAUST. Conceived by three friends, Joern Scheipers, Bartosz Navarra and David Kosock, the studio’s wide-ranging work is based around a haptic love of materials, friendship, and passion. We met the trio in the plant-filled, high ceilinged loft space that is both the home of Bartosz and the showroom for VAUST, where we discussed the hybridity of their practice and of their space.
How did you all meet?
D: We’ve known each other for almost 12 years! We lived in a shared flat back in our study times and stayed friends.
We’ll note that you’re still friends! How did VAUST come about?
D: Yeah, and we always had this idea of doing something together—because back in the shared flat, we were always going to fleamarkets looking for nice vintage furniture, so we have always been into decorating rooms—so the thing that connected us, next to friendship, was this interest in space and objects, and actually the idea that lead to VAUST came about over a coffee, with us saying, why not? Why aren’t we doing furniture, interior art stuff? This was three years ago, and we started it without actually having a plan, we just started drawing furniture and objects and developing an idea of what it would be as we went.
You describe yourselves as an experimental design studio, where design meets contemporary art. That’s a lot of boxes to tick with your practice! What areas have you come from, did you study together?
B: Well, I was always old [laughs], so when I moved to Berlin I already had my company. So I was the only one who didn’t study in Berlin, but that’s how we met in the shared flat.
D: I came to Berlin to study in Weisensee at the art academy—back in the day I was into fashion, and I was going to do haute couture, and that’s basically what brought me here.
J: And I came to Berlin to study architecture.
B: I mean, to be honest, my background is chemistry [laughs], and then I studied business, but I always wanted to do something creative—but because I grew up in a family of doctors, I thought I should become a doctor, even though I never wanted to be one. So when the opportunity to do something creative presented itself, I took it. In 2004 I founded a communication agency, so that is more my background than chemistry.
"So, when the opportunity to do something creative presented itself, I took it."
Like many homes in this creative city, Bartosz’s loft houses more than just him, the open-plan altbau has no definite lines separating work from play—a hybridity that is key to the way that VAUST functions. Books are artfully stacked beside the couches where meetings are held, or, as the case may be, bottles of crémant consumed. Coffees are had at the large island bench that overlooks the manicured jungle of potted plants and the Samsung QLED TV. The multifaceted nature of the space is mirrored by this television, it can be used as an art piece, to display design presentations, to watch a program or—if so desired—completely disappear. It’s the perfect pairing for a trio whose innate desire to aesthetically organize space cannot be switched off. As they explain, their brains are working constantly, arranging and rearranging spaces; whether at work, at home, or in a hybrid space that is completely in between.
So, Bartosz, this is your home and the VAUST showroom: How do you find living and working here—is it ever difficult?
B: I think it is the art of being. I mean, since we already lived together for so many years, not really…
D: Just say yes! [laughing]
J: I mean, it’s a process!
B: Those topics or buzzwords like ‘work-life balance’, well, we just combine them here! Because we work here, we party here, we hang out here, so that’s the perfect combination really.
D: In regard to building the showroom here, it has a lot to do with spatial topics, it just makes sense, you know? Bart was always the guy who was looking for not-normal flats, and when he discovered this place it was like, all hands in! Let’s make something nice from it—anything else would have been a pity.
Could you tell us a bit about the way in which the hybrid home/studio space functions?
J: It is very important that you create a nice environment for people where they can actually see, touch and feel the pieces.
B: And that is actually the concept for us, I mean, we are best friends, so they should get something from this experience in that way.
J: The whole experience of the space is really important—the super nice studio, the flat, the whole arriving here is amazing. If you’re a customer you come here, you get a glass of crémant, you know we look at the objects, we speak about them…
D: [laughing] The crémant! We were going to offer you some, but we thought it was a little too early in the morning for that…
B: Actually, to be honest, it’s because we killed the last bottle yesterday! [laughing]
Aside from the crémant, you’re entering the design world at an interesting moment: if an object has no function, is it then art?
D: Yeah, it’s a big topic at the moment, we were recently discussing this with a lot of gallerists in Brussels—they were displaying a few side tables actually, but not as furniture pieces, as art pieces, but not art exactly, instead as kind of collectible design. I think this is a totally new branch that is developing that is filling the gap between furniture that is only made to be a table, and art that is only made to be put on the wall. And that is really interesting for us.
Certainly, technological items are being developed in a similar way—as functional objects but with a definite aesthetic, either appearing as a design item or merging with their surrounds.
B: That’s why the Samsung QLED TV works for us because it is a kind of chameleon.
D: That could also be underlined by saying that I think Samsung is taking a massive step into the whole industrial design process, particularly in reinventing TVs—also with the Bouroullec brothers Serif I, and The Frame, so they really have a good idea of how they are reinventing TV screens in a more design-thinking way than just the average electrical store shit.
And where did the concept for the first collection come from? Or was it just an evolution of that original idea that was first spoken about over coffee?
D: I think evolution is the perfect way of explaining it.
J: It’s the result of our perception of how materials and forms work together, and what was very important in that—and what also separates us from typical designers—is that we didn’t face a problem and then create a product for it as a solution. What we did was an intuitional composition of forms, and then later we gave them the aura of a possible function.
D: When we started, the whole idea was that we would do something together—but it wasn’t clear that in the end it was going to be VAUST Experimental Design Studio. We started doing furniture, then we did some more art inspired objects, then because Joern has these architectural skills we also wanted to do something that connected the object to the environment—spatial design stuff. It was a journey to find a way to bring all these things together, and over three years it became Vaust.
The V/33 collection draws inspiration from Greek mythology; is this why you’ve used so much marble?
Together: We love marble.
J: You can really get lost in a piece of marble, but we have always been super fetishists with materials, touching everything you’re not allowed to touch!
Is marble somewhat of a VAUST trademark then?
D: We really want to keep the future open, because we are more in the playfield of contemporary design, so whatever comes next for us as a creative topic could be a totally different thing. The next project that we are working on is one of a kind objects that we do collaboratively with three artists that are all deep-diving into materialism, so we keep on our fetish for materials but what we are doing is working with different artists who focus on manufacturing and shaping materials.
"We really want to keep the future open... whatever comes next for us as a creative topic could be a totally different thing"
When you are drafting up your pieces, do you draft and make models or is that outsourced?
J: It depends what you want to show, if it comes to a technical part where you need to model, then we source that out, if it comes to the pure formal language, we do that ourselves.
D: I think that in general, the whole manufacturing process was really important to us, I mean everyone says this in terms of quality, but I don’t mean in terms of quality, I mean in terms of relative working. In the playfield of contemporary design, a lot of artists are drawing their pieces, and the gallerist takes care of the manufacturing, and with VAUST it is the other way around. We really take care of the whole development process.
B: That is why everything is made in Germany.
J: Because it is super important to us that everything is reachable to us in a few hours.
J: I also think this is where you gain the most knowledge, and the thing is, I think we profit a lot from the fact that we don’t come from classic industrial design backgrounds, because when we started drafting we had this kind of naive behavior when it came to certain things…
B: We broke a lot of rules, and I think in the end something great came out of it.
So everything, your education, your experience, your concurrent careers, your home and your studio merge together at a point?
B: Yeah, everything is connected.
D: And that is what makes it fun! The people that we work with are friends of ours, artists and designers, so when you start doing something with them it doesn’t seem like work. You know, my girlfriend is a designer, and she asked us to do their booth for the Vogue Salon, and our response wasn’t like “Oh man that’s another job”, it was like “Sure!”.
B: There is a lot of pleasure and joy in our business model.
VAUST Objects: V/33 & Slabs