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In Conversation With Clay Paint Brand Nen-do, On Bringing Earth Inside The Home

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Interior design trends are changing, as our homes become more and more defined by comfort and the desire to be amidst nature. In Hamburg, German clay paint brand nen-do has endeavored to work with this shift as a core aspect of their company, by infusing slow living with natural materials to create hyper-sensorial yet simple and warm environments.

In an age of fast-paced living, humans tend to seek connection with nature as a source of inspiration and peace, bringing characteristics such as water, greenery, light, wood, and stone, into spaces to create a greater well-being. With its familiar forms and soft patterns, nature soothes and reassures us. This is why long-time friends, store owner and furnishing consultant Xenia Rosengart and photographer, designer, and interior stylist Peter Fehrentz, decided to turn to nature when embellishing spaces that people spend time in. IGNANT took a moment to chat with them about the ins-and-outs of their clay finishes, the importance of color in a room, and sustainability as a business imperative.

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“Three years ago, Xenia increased the shop space of her interior concept store MINIMARKT, in Hamburg. The idea arose to give this room a very special, natural look,” they explain to us over Zoom. “At the same time, Peter was engaging intensively with clay building materials, on the hunt for sustainable, natural materials for his own home.” When faced with the challenge of finding eco alternatives to conventional paints and colors that could create the nourishing, earthy atmosphere they hungered for, the idea to develop their own paint collection was born.

To achieve minimal tones and surfaces that feel soft and warm to both the touch and eye, Rosengart and Fehrentz turned to clay minerals from regional sources and created a unique blend of clay paints and plasters. For their collection, they opted for the Japanese word ‘nen-do’, which translates to ‘clay’. “We are very enthusiastic about Japanese aesthetics and mindfulness in dealing with materials and design,” they say.

"We are very enthusiastic about Japanese aesthetics and mindful design"
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As a natural material with a direct connection to the soil, clay perfectly reflects the current design climate defined by an increasing appreciation for naturalness in design. Used to finish walls since antiquity, clay finishes are a charming and healthy alternative to contemporary paints or wallpaper—they are elegant, rich in color, luminous, naturally-pigmented, free of toxic ingredients, and low-maintenance. “Clay plasters are composed of clay and loam, while clay paints are a water-based emulsion made using clays,” the duo explains. “Simply applied using an oval surface or square-trim brush, they are suitable for all paintable surfaces, and both deliver state-of-the-art performance by warming up pared-down spaces and enhancing their essentials.”

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nen-do clay finishes are available in 14 earth tones. Generally, selecting a color palette involves concrete trend forecasting and a more abstract distillation of the zeitgeist into an aesthetic choice. Reflecting the present appreciation of patina and age, sustainability, and warm minimalism, natural colors have been a big trend in recent years. Typically, earthy colors create associations with landscapes and cultures around the world. From the romance of the sun-drenched Mediterannean coastlines to the warmth of African architectural traditions, at the sight of clay colors, we sense a tranquillity that often rests on a distant horizon. Yet for nen-do, inspiration is found in the local. “We only work with colors that are found in nature in our region, mined locally,” the duo explains, pointing out, “there is no blue, for example.” Subtle and never gaudy, their color nuances range from warm beige and gray tones to ochre, terracotta, and green. “On the one hand, this is our main limitation, but, on the other hand, it meets exactly the aesthetic we strived for in our collection,” they continue.

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Color is one of the key foundational elements in any room; it sets the atmosphere, dictating how the space makes us feel. Succulent in their warm hues, nen-do finishes envelop you with warmth and serenity the moment you walk in the room. “Due to their natural origins, they have a calming effect and appeal to all senses,” the duo explains. Either evoking an old-charm and earth energy, the feelings of botanicals, or the healing power of nature, their names, such as cedar-wood, natural-linen, or matcha green, describe the color while conveying a feeling.

If color creates visual interest in a room, for nen-do, texture is what completes it. “It is always an interplay of the two,” they say, “nen-do’s lively texture and pleasing tactility can further underpin the feeling of warmth and well-being.” Especially with single-color schemes, texture can stimulate the room, adding dimension and emotion to the space. “The clay’s naturally fine-grained texture and the individually adjustable consistency of the product after the addition of water, are just as significant as the subsequent irregular application with the tassel by hand,” they continue. Hue variations and aggregate accumulations are part of the product’s unique character; how expressive or gentle these are can be designed according to one’s needs and sensibilities.

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nen-do’s finishes do more than complement contemporary interiors with tactile and visual richness. Thanks to their materials’ moisture-regulating properties, they contribute to optimal indoor conditions. The company puts environmental and health concerns first, with products that are breathable, solvent-free, made locally, and of ecologically certified clay materials. “The raw material of our paints is extracted from mines located in Germany and Austria, which have been used for decades,” the founders explain. “Here, there is already an important focus on compatibility with nature and careful recycling. All processing companies involved in the creation of our products nurture a philosophy of harmony with nature,” they add.

"All companies involved in the creation of our products nurture a philosophy of harmony with nature"
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Consumers have an increasing attraction for bio-sourced products, and the turbulent times of our global pandemic may have even reinforced these behaviours as we become more aware of the impacts of our choices. “With the COVID-19 epidemic, it has become all the more visible how far we have moved away from nature and how important it is to start rethinking in all possible areas,” the founders point out. For nen-do, sustainability and naturalness shouldn’t be a trend but a life and business imperative; they believe that, “if the design that is derived from these trends is qualitatively mature, naturalness has the potential to become a classic, one that is above any trends.”

Literally putting earth on our walls, nen-do is the perfect reminder of rich traditions and the value of craftsmanship and dedication. “It is all the more fulfilling for us to have created a product which reflects these values, from creation to use,” they share. “Our products are purely natural; and because we are also part of nature, they connect us directly with our origins and past. In a very subtle way, this is incredibly poetic,” they conclude.

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Images © Peter Fehrentz