An interview with designer maker Wolfram LohrAn interview with designer maker Wolfram LohrAn interview with designer maker Wolfram LohrAn interview with designer maker Wolfram LohrAn interview with designer maker Wolfram Lohr

An interview with designer maker Wolfram Lohr

Wolfram Lohr is German and has been hand making leather accessories in Brighton since 2003. It has grown into a family business making high-end leather goods. Wolfram loves seeking quality vegetable tanned leathers to create a range which is exciting and vintage looking. The colour matching is playful; Wolfram and his wife Sarah pride themselves on looking for leather that will stand the test of time and age beautifully.

Design-Nation asked Wolfram a few questions about his practice, inspiration and future.

Design-Nation asked: Can you tell us about your practice and how your business began?

Wolfram Lohr: My practice started in 1999. I came to England to learn shoe making from a friend that studied at The Worshipful Company of Cordwainers in London. After that I was hooked. I rented a space to work and put products in a shop in Brighton Kemptown. I began to make bespoke shoes and spats for customers; the shoes were quite specialist so I started to make bags, belts and wallets. I really wanted to offer more choice to men. As it turned out most of my products are unisex and have a classic and fresh look. In 2006 I partnered with my wife Sarah Gardner who added a female edge to the Wolfram Lohr look.

DN: Who has been your most influential teacher or mentor?

WL: Ghita Schuy was a mentor for me, she kickstarted my shoemaking career. I was her apprentice for one and half years; during this time I assisted with making shoes and helped with the running of her shoe shop in Kemptown. The first pair of shoes I made with Ghita were a challenge as I chose a difficult design to make. Ghita asked if I was sure if I wanted to make a masterpiece on my first project… being excited on every level to make and to learn I of course said YES! Ghita was very patient and helped me through every stage, it took about 6 weeks to complete.

DN: What inspires you and your work?

WL: I love vintage bags that have a purpose or a particular job. I have collected old post bags from Germany and USA, rail bags from England and more. There is a wealth of inspiration in the stuff we used to use. My customers also inspire the way products are made and used. Often the practicality and the function control the way Sarah and I design our products. Does it work? Is it a clean and beautiful shape? Has it the right proportion and what type of leather should I use? There are many factors that contribute to making a successful product.

DN: Can you tell us a bit about your design process?

WL: Through tests we establish an idea of what we want to make, then I will try the shape out in the first sampling stage. Sarah and I make design decisions based on the first sample, deciding and finalising the shape hardware and what leather to use. It can take up to three or four samples till we are both happy with a product. The variations in the leather can change everything in the design if the stand is smooth, stiff, thick, floppy, textured, soft. These elements can make the bag stiff but smooth and/or textured and floppy. The colour combining comes along with that. We like to use playful combinations in our work. Mostly our bags are well-structured shapes with clean lines and classic styles. We have ventured into softer shaping but still use our characteristically thick leather. Designs are unfussy, emphasising the beauty of the hide. The vegetable tanned leather that we use will age well over time. We love the fact that our bags grow with character, gaining a patina that will be well loved.

DN: What is your workspace like?

WL: The workshop is a hive of collected vintage games, scooters. lampshades, old signs and of course leather, so it smells fantastic. I’m quite used to the smell now, but anybody that comes in will mention the earthy smell of our vegetable tanned leather. We have three large benches; two are used mainly for production for bench work, rolling out hides and preparing products before sewing. The other bench is for packing and pictures. All are used as workspaces for the workshops we run. It’s a colourful and productive place to be.

DN: Do you work hard on your PR or do you work with others on marketing?

WL: We are constantly changing the way we work and take turns in doing the social media aspect of our business. We are mostly led by our interests, what we are producing at the time and what events we are doing. We will generally put most information in our email newsletters and focus on retail or trade customers, then we will follow up with tweets, Instagram and Facebook posts. There are many ways to communicate these days. I have worked with PR companies and this has been helpful to organise the way we market our goods. It is always good to share ideas, see other viewpoints and generally to make it fun. I really enjoyed taking part in the March ‘Meet the Maker’ on Instagram, this was a really good daily exercise.

DN: What are the main challenges in your practice?

WL: Keeping the website up to date. We often have products with leather colours that have discontinued or we don't have the leather in stock. As we offer a made to measure service for some customers they have to pick from the range that we have. Our leather store is a sweet shop of choice for future projects. Some of the leathers would not be suitable for wholesale production so sometimes colours are an issue. Customers and clients are understanding, mostly this does not seem to bother them as we will always offer other options if needed. It is sometimes disheartening knowing how much work we have to do to keep everything up to date, but this is the same for every small business. I feel we are getting better with foresight how to manage it. Keeping focused on the target in hand is challenging when you have other jobs on the go; looking after the stock and keeping our range in check is a big job. It’s nice to see what we have and what we have achieved. It’s also hard to say goodbye to some products.

DN: Where would you like your practice to be in 10 years?

WL: We would like to grow our online presence as a brand. At the moment we are in the process of developing a new website which should be live by the summer. We are aiming to be nationally known as a brand that produces high quality handmade goods that are made to last, and also for bespoke commissions. We would like to grow our workshops and courses to expand on teaching leather craft, to share the experience and give people a taster of what it’s like to make. At Wolfram Lohr products are made to last and we take sustainable product design seriously. We would love to have a shop again with the possibility of workshops / repair workshops.

DN: If you could collaborate with someone who would you like that to be?

WL: Henry Cuir is a bag and shoe designer, everything he makes is handmade and he uses predominantly hand sewing. I would like to collaborate with him to design and make a project together. The simplicity of his work is appealing and mixed with the earthiness of his production, this inspires me to want to find out more about him.

DN: If you weren't a designer what would you be?

WL: Wolfram - a long haired surfer dude or postman. Sarah – a gardener or artist.

DN: Why did you join Design Nation? What do you enjoy and find helpful from being a member?

WL: We joined Design-Nation to be supported in the wholesale market. We knew that they exhibited collectively at large trade shows in the UK and Europe. This was a great opportunity for support in sampling new fairs and markets we were not sure of. Being part of this community helps cut the costs and it is always great to exhibit with a group - we all look after each other. This helps a great deal.

DN: Have you got any exhibitions, commission or events coming up you are taking part in?

WL: We are currently finishing off trade orders that we have made from the beginning of the year. We are also preparing for the EUNIQUE trade and retail event in my home town of Karlsruhe, Germany in June (exhibiting with the Design-Nation group) and the Contemporary Craft Festival in Devon. I will do the German show and Sarah will do the Contemporary Craft Festival.

Posted on
08.05.2018

An Interview with furniture designer and maker Hugh MillerAn Interview with furniture designer and maker Hugh MillerAn Interview with furniture designer and maker Hugh MillerAn Interview with furniture designer and maker Hugh MillerAn Interview with furniture designer and maker Hugh MillerAn Interview with furniture designer and maker Hugh Miller

An Interview with furniture designer and maker Hugh Miller

Design Nation asked DN member designer and furniture maker Hugh Miller a few questions about his practice, future and workspace.Hugh will also be part of our Design-Nation show case exhibition at Helen Yadley’s studio during London Design Week in May.

Design-Nation asked: Can you tell us about your practice and how your business began?

Hugh Miller: I’m self taught in furniture making, and I made my first piece when I was 15. I was quite academic at school, so I decided to do architecture at university, as it seemed like a perfect mix of intellectual rigour and hands-on design, drawing and making. It was a really good decision, and I’ve never regretted it for a moment. But my natural inclinations towards wood, and my desire to make as well as design, were still strong after 6 years of architectural education. So, the week after I finished my Masters, I started my business. I’m a control freak and a perfectionist, so I new that I wouldn’t be able to train under someone else. I’m also quite happy in my own company, so starting out on my own seemed like a great option. Over the next 5 years, I taught myself about wood and furniture making. It was a sometimes-painful and often-difficult experience, and it took 5 years for me to feel confident with the material.

D-N: Who has been your most influential teacher or mentor?

HM: Being self-taught, I haven't had too many mentors over the years, but some people have been really influential. My first architect I worked for in London was really influential. His name is Tom Young, and he worked on his own. I remember seeing his set up and thinking it looked pretty good to me. It's the autonomy that was so attractive to me. I've recently completed the Walpole 'Crafted' business mentorship program, and my mentor there- Alistair Hughes of Savour Beds, has been hugely influential on the way I now approach my business. He comes from an economics background, and nothing gets past him. Whenever I'm making a business decision, I always think 'what would Alistair do?' I have learned an incredible amount from the makers and designer I met on my research trip to Japan. A chair designer called Santaro, and a box maker called Suda Kenji have both been particularly influential on my design work. Finally, my brother is a huge influence on me. He is an architect and landscape designer, and we collaborate on lots of projects including architecture, furniture, and even a room for the Icehotel in Sweden. He's a fantastic designer, and very few things leave my studio without him having some sort of influence on them.

D-N: What inspires you and your work?

HM: The time I spent researching in Japan is still hugely inspiring for me, and I think it always will be. It's the subtleness of their design language that I find so enticing - this is what I try to incorporate into my own work. And architecture is the other thing that inspires me. I think of my work as small pieces of architecture, and my designs are composed like buildings - with elevations, and hierarchy, and mass.

D-N: Can you tell us a bit about your design process?

HM: My design process is a relic of my training as an architect, and I switch quite freely between ruminating on the details and form of a piece, to sketching and thinking about logistics and sizes and construction, to scaled and measured drawings, to modelling and full scale prototyping. It's not a linear process, and I go back and forth between all these methods. I've noticed a pattern that, with my best design work, I tend to think of an idea and draw it immediately. Then I let it sit at the back of my mind for a year or even two. When I eventually come back to it, it's pretty much fully formed in my mind, and I start prototyping and making. This is how I developed the Coffee Cart, and the Folded Record Bureau, and I'm almost ready to make a drinks cabinet that's been in my head for about 3 years. It's quite an exciting process, especially when I think I've got something that'll be a knockout. I also think that the making process is a designing process in itself. This is especially true of furniture, as it needs to be sensitive to the human body. This can often only be judged through full-scale prototyping. My dining chair, which is possible the piece I'm most proud of, was the product of 7 full-scale prototypes. That's why it's called 'Dining Chair no.7'. The design changed vastly during the prototyping phase, and the necessity for these changes only became apparent when the chair could be sat on and experienced at full scale.  

D-N: What is your workspace like?

HM: The studio, where all my pieces are designed and made, is in the Baltic Triangle area of Liverpool. Located on the 2nd floor of a Victoria warehouse, the studio is a tall, columned space with memories of it’s maritime past, and is the perfect setting for my modern furniture studio of today. All materials are hoisted up the outside of the building, as they were 100 years ago, and finished pieces are taken out the same way. The studio comprises two distinct spaces. The main space is a traditional woodworking shop, with machinery, benches and layout areas. All my pieces of furniture are handmade and finished here. Connected to the woodworking shop is the design studio. This is where I draw, model and design, and where clients come to discuss their pieces during the designing and making process.

D-N: Do you work hard on your PR or do you work with others on marketing?

HM: I work really hard on PR, and at times it can feel like I'm creating a lot of heat but no a lot of light. Then something will come out of the blue, and you know that it'll be that someone has seen some obscure blog or article, or they've seen an image on pinterest. In general, I try to spread the net far and wide, in terms of newsletter, events, opens studios, exhibitions, talks, demonstrations and press. But yes, I work very hard on PR, and I wish I had the budget to offload it onto someone else.

D-N: What are the main challenges in your practice?

HM: I have to balance my time between the better paid commissions which maybe don't further my practice and the applied-arts pieces that may not sell but are vital for my development and also for my business profile. It's difficult as both are crucially important, but completely at odds with each other. Employing people is very challenging, partly from a cash-flow point of view, and partly because of the amount of time it takes to train someone. Also, the nature of the craft sector is of makers who are fastidious about detail. I'm a control-freak, so employing people is never an easy thing as it means I have to let go of that control. Being based in Liverpool can sometimes be a challenge, and most of my clients and opportunities are down in London. However, the cost of my space is affordable here, and it would be prohibitively expensive to base my studio in London.

D-N: Where would you like your practice to be in 10 years?

HM: In 10 years time, I would like to have developed my business so that I was employing craftspeople to carry out the majority of the making work. This would leave me free to design, prototype and develop ideas, which is the part I'm particularly good at. I also hope that I retain the range of work I do now - furniture, architecture, product design, design for industry - it's fun and challenging and keeps me motivated.

D-N: If you could collaborate with someone who would you like that to be?

HM: I would love to collaborate with some of the architects and designer that I met in Japan. FT Architects are a pair of inspirational designers who I love, and who I'd be thrilled to work with. I'd love to collaborate with Santaro on a chair design, as I respect his design instincts so much, and he's such a good maker. And I'd love to collaborate with my sister, who is an artist, on a project - we haven't found the time yet, but she's awesome and I'd love to combine our disciplines of furniture and etching.

D-N: If you weren't a designer what would you be?

HM: This sounds a bit ridiculous, but I'm really interested in philosophy. I think I would want to be involved in philosophy and politics. Definitely behind-the-scenes - I've not got the temperament, patience or aptitude to try to get elected to anything.

D-N: Why did you join Design Nation? What do you enjoy and find helpful from being a member?

HM: I really like the community of makers that are members of design nation. The standard is incredibly high, and I feel inspired and intimidated by some of the members CV's. It makes me raise my game. I also like the opportunities there are to exhibit and showcase. DN is very active in promoting its members, and this is hugely appreciated.

D-N: Have you got any exhibitions, commission or event coming up you are taking part in?

HM: The most exciting thing is that I've recently won a National Trust commission to design and make a new piece to be added to the collection at William Morris' Red House, in Bexleyheath in London. It involves some really interesting making, culminating with me taking the completed piece down to it’s new home, and (partially) setting fire to it in the garden. Truthfully. It's going to be an amazing project, I think, and will be completed around September 2018.

Other exhibitions include:

9th - 13th May 2018

London Craft Week as part of Design Nation Showcase, London

@ Helen Yardley Studio, A-Z Studios, 3-5 Hardwidge Street, London SE1 3SY.

‘Noir Series’ on show as part of Design Nation Showcase,

 

9th - 13th May 2018

London Craft Week as part of CRAFTED Alumni Showcase, London

@ Circus West, Battersea Power Station, Sopwith Way, London SW11 8NN

Furniture collection on show at the ‘CRAFTED’ Alumni Showcase in Battersea Power Station

 

26th May - 9th June, 2018

Designweek Karlsruhe, Germany

Pieces from the Noir Series will be on show at designweek Karlsruhe as part of the Design Nation Showcase.

 

8th - 10th June, 2018

‘Eunique’ trade fair for one-of-a-kind designer objects

@ Trade Fair Centre Karlsruhe, Messeallee 1, D-76287 Rheinstetten, Germany  

Pieces from the Noir Series will be on show in Karlsruhe as part of the Eunique applied arts fair.

 

7th July 2018 - 30th June 2019

Nordic Craft and Design Exhibition, Manchester Art Gallery

@ Mosley Street, Manchester M2 3J

‘Dining Chair No.7’ will go on show at Manchester Art Gallery until June 2019

 

12th - 21st July 2018

‘The Hand Of The Maker’  Exhibtion, with the Society of Designer Craftsmen

@ Triangle Gallery at Chelsea College of Art and Design, 16 John Islip Street, London, SW1P 4JU

Pieces from my furniture collection will be on show as part of the SDC biennial exhibition.

 

Interview by Laura Jacometti

Posted on
16.04.2018