Where work life and home life sit down together

Interview with Wolfgang C. R. Mezger about the fusion of the two worlds

Chairs say a lot about our anatomy, our work and our lifestyle. For around 33 years, designer Wolfgang C. R. Mezger has been creating chairs for all situations – most successfully for the world of work. Walter Knoll, Brunner and Schönbuch have all exhibited his furniture at imm cologne and ORGATEC for many years. However, in his opinion, the differences between the various uses of seating will become ever smaller in the future – fortunately, he believes.

You are deemed to be a real authority in the field of office design, but you also work with your team in designing other living spaces. In which world do you prefer to be active?
Preferably, I would work equally in both worlds – if furniture for the home were not so fashion-driven, as it is in some instances. And if there were a greater willingness not to separate these worlds so aggressively. A well-designed chair with long-lasting visual appeal can be used in the contract sector as well as in the home. Take for example the “Series 7” by Fritz Hansen, the Eames chairs for Hermann Miller and Vitra, or the cantilever chairs by Marcel Breuer and Mart Stam for Thonet – to name just a few from many. For me, the ideal situation is when a brilliant product is perceived as such and can be used in either setting.

What differences does a designer need to bear in mind when creating a chair for the home or the office?
As I would have it, there should actually be no differences. However, chairs for the contract sector or the office are exposed to tougher conditions and, in some cases, must also comply with other legal requirements, such as safety regulations and standards.

And that doesn’t only have functional implications, does it?
You don’t need to produce vandal-proof designs, exactly. But cleaning staff, constantly changing users and so on do put a strain on the sturdiness, the materials and the upholstery much more than is the case in the home, where the owner, who is also the user, generally takes good care of his furniture. Therefore, you can afford to use more delicate materials here.

Is the trend towards more home comforts in the office a long-term one, or is it still just a brief excursion into the “parallel universe” of the home?
The two worlds are converging. They are learning from each other. Fortunately, the product itself is more appreciated now. The idea that a product in the home must create a “homely” feel and the product in the office or contract sector should be correspondingly practical and functional is of less and less relevance. The product should be convincing in its own right and suit its surroundings. In this way, the user also has more freedom to make decisions and can decide for himself what function he would like the piece of furniture to serve. I am firmly convinced, and it is also my wish, that this trend is here to stay.

What trends do you see as relevant for your designs?
In the contract sector, the flattening of company hierarchies is certainly one trend, with the result that differences are made with significantly greater subtlety and more nuances. Another, as we’ve already mentioned, is the partial fusion of the home world and the contract world. In terms of home furnishings, the move towards establishing a contrast with the high-tech world will continue to gain ground. By using “natural” materials and accentuating the sense of well-being in the home, for example. In addition, customisation will play an ever greater role in both spheres. As a consequence, with our design approach of universally applicable concepts, we will certainly have the opportunity to develop interesting, innovative and durable products.

Why are chairs such important products for designers?
In contrast to other products, the chair encompasses both form and function at the same time. Not like with an appliance, which combines an internal function with an external function or casing. The form and the materials determine a chair’s ergonomics, comfort and convenience. The sculpture, aesthetics and the sensuality, the appeal and poetry are all created by the form. A chair should inspire confidence – we allow it to touch us. We entrust our bodies to it. Our relationship with the chair is usually highly emotional. And, yes, it is unequivocally the supreme discipline of all of the products that one can design.