The question of how we live has rarely been more topical than with the onset of the Corona pandemic. The way we furnish ourselves and the designs we surround ourselves with have been onstilwerk 's mind for 25 years. On the occasion of their anniversary, stilwerk was ourguest together with product designer Sebastian Herkner and his installation"Spot on Design". We spoke with Tatjana Groß, Managing Director of stilwerk Hotels, about the importance of living and design and asked her how she sees the future of the interior industry.
Frances Uckermann: In your opinion, what contribution does design make?
Tatjana Groß: Design is a connecting element and it helps to get into an exchange, which I think is very important for our time. We feel this very strongly in our hotels: people get into conversation about design and there is something very beautiful and social about that.
Have the needs of customers and their expectations of design changed since the pandemic and lockdowns?
Basically, the pandemic has reinforced the basic needs for belonging and security. A beautiful, private environment such as one's own home has come into focus for many people, especially since the linking of work, living and leisure could partly only take place there. But a more conscious consumption and a clear tendency towards virtual shopping are also noticeable.
How do brands react to this change in expectations?
Alexander Garbe, as the owner of the brand, has already opened the digital shop window free of charge for our partner brands in the first two weeks of the pandemic in order to achieve higher visibility. The offer of services such as appointment bookings and online consultations, but also the expansion or adaptation of the brands' portfolio was implemented very quickly.
In times of online shopping, what importance do you attach to stationary trade and what role does the physical experience of design play?
There is a magic limit to which people are willing to invest money without having felt the material and surfaces. But: one will never replace the other. We are convinced that stationary retail will remain more important. We are moving in a field where people want to experience designs haptically and are curious about how the selected materials feel.
Disrupted supply chains have been a big challenge for many brands for the last 2 years and the question of where to produce and how to shorten production routes is more relevant than ever. How do you address this challenge?
stilwerk has always worked with brands that are largely produced in Europe and also likes to support smaller manufacturers in the form of pop ups to be able to present themselves, so the challenge for our brands is not that big.
One aspect of sustainability is certainly the value and longevity of products and the question of a comprehensive circular economy. How does stilwerk deal with this?
As stilwerk's owner, Alexander Garbe already initiated the topic of sustainability years ago, but the response was still rather restrained. All the more reason for us to be pleased about the increased willingness of the brands to talk about it. For us, it is an added value if a piece of furniture has a longer life and does not gather dust in the corner or, in the worst case, is disposed of. Some brands in the stilwerk cosmos are already taking innovative paths here and we are happy to support them.
What other topics and perhaps related challenges do you observe in the interior industry and for interior brands?
Consumer behaviour is changing, especially among the next generations. Globalisation, the associated dynamics and constant changes in the centre of life are decisive criteria here. Our customers redecorate every 6-7 years on average, will that still be the case in the future? In the Netherlands, the average is just 3-4 years.
Alexander Garbe is the founder and owner of stilwerk. He has said that concepts wear out and that you have to constantly reinvent yourself. He does not believe in disruption as a driver of innovation, but in complementing what already exists. It's about expanding the brand, he said. What does that mean for stilwerk?
"We are timeless, we don't follow every trend." That is Alexander's conviction, which we follow at stilwerk. We take this claim as a guideline for the next 25 years as well. Nevertheless, there is change all around us: customers and the design industry are changing. A concrete example is our hotel in Hamburg, which we owe to a key experience at the trade fair in Milan: every major brand had rented a palazzo there, but you couldn't touch or try out the designs. We asked ourselves:
How about bringing the products from our brands into a hotel and giving guests the opportunity to try out the designs and stay with them?
We wanted to create an exciting extension for people who are interested in design. It felt like six weeks later, Alexander had already acquired the first hotel.
How challenging was it to design the hotel?
We managed the conversion process completely internally and rubbed shoulders intensively in the team on the question of how to bring design and hotel, retail and hospitality, space and service together. I come from the hotel industry and had the attitude "In the end, it also has to be functional" My colleagues, on the other hand, had the overall design composition in mind, but as a team we managed to focus on the overall goal, namely to create a special place for our brands, customers and guests, and we are very proud of the result.
What was the initial feedback like?
Since the hotel reopened, we have developed a brand book that includes all products from chairs to wall paint. People are so interested that they ask about the colour scheme of the walls, for example, to use in their homes or request products directly from the brands. Guests highlight the atmosphere, the authenticity and friendliness of the staff:inside We are happy that all these factors lead to people looking at the hotel as a source of inspiration.
Where do you see stilwerk when you celebrate its 50th birthday in 25 years?
A question that Alexander should answer, I'll try to reproduce his thoughts here: We wish and work constantly to continue to be regarded as an institution and that we manage to reinvent ourselves again and again in the next 25 years, yet still represent a constant and maintain this timelessness.
Photos: Portrait Tatjana Groß: Niculai Constantinescu Photography, stilwerk Event: stilwerk , Hotel stilwerk Heimhude: K.Sickinger