How German Designer Stefan Diez's Family Heritage In Cabinetmaking Shaped His Creative Approach
In the Glockenbach district in Munich, Germany, a tranquil forest path leads to the studio of industrial designer Stefan Diez. The former joinery has been transformed into a modern workspace; almost everything in it was built by Diez and his team, together with his father who’s a fourth-generation cabinetmaker.
Diez studied in Stuttgart and then worked in Konstantin Grcic’s studio before founding Diez Office in 2008. One of his earliest works, the 404 chair for Thonet, draws from the German brand’s century-long tradition of bentwood production, while creating a contemporary knot-like form. This was followed by the much-admired Houdini chair for E15; its unusual silhouette was inspired by techniques used in the construction of wooden gliders and aeroplanes. The process by which the designer came to create these chairs sums up his way of working perfectly—by discovering the best way to work the material and enhancing it as much as possible.
What was it like growing up in a family of cabinetmakers?
Stefan Diez (SD) My father’s workshop was my childhood playground. He was a man who tried to make things possible and go beyond the usual expectations. Normally, if you go to a carpenter, they create something made only from wood. When architects went to my father, he didn’t just take into consideration one material; he’d find a solution in metal if wood was not suitable.
How did this heritage influence your work?
SD I had the choice to either become a cabinetmaker and take over my father’s workshop or study architecture. I decided that first, I’ll complete a course in cabinetmaking. Afterwards, I wanted to study architecture. But before I began, I learned about another more universal profession called design. It was less space-oriented and more object-oriented, which I found quite interesting. I studied industrial design at the State Academy of Art and Design in Stuttgart and had Richard Sapper as a professor, which was amazing. I learned from him how much an aesthetic is also linked to a mechanical principle.
Tell us about your design process.
SD Playing with a material to me means exploring its qualities, and working hands-on is a way of expressing my thoughts. I can only work up to a certain complexity in my head, after that I have to make a model. I love to make sketches and models. Although we work intensively with the computer, we have to rely on making models and prototypes. The bigger an object the smaller it appears on the screen; while our models are genuine snapshots.
I believe the designer has to be an engineer, too. You need a precise idea about how you want to construct a product and you have to have input from specialists who can help solve manufacturing problems.