Keen sense for soft tones

The interior architect and product designer Gabriela Raible
The interior architect and product designer Gabriela Raible

Keen sense for soft tones

The interior architect and product designer Gabriela Raible, born in Hamburg in 1962, lives and works in Munich. In a very open conversation with InteriorFashion, the designer provided insights into her work.

IF: Ms. Raible, a personal question to start off with: What draws someone from Hamburg to Munich?

Gabriela Raible: As far as that is concerned, I almost have to disappoint you a little, because it was more or less a forced relocation (laughs). No one asked me, I was five months old. It was my parents‘ decision. I have a mother from Berlin and a father from Bavaria and they met in Hamburg. Viewed in that light, I don’t even have any roots in Hamburg. Where you grow up is where you feel more at home. But I am not typically Bavarian either. To make it short, what has drawn me to Munich? Life.

IF: You are both an interior architect and a product designer. And your office, which you have had in Munich since 2001, is divided between the two areas of interior architecture and product design. Which area is actually closer to your heart?

Raible: You can almost say that it is like real life: Where you are not is where you want to be most.I love both segments. There are really two hearts that beat in my breast. Because the two areas are also such different fields of activity. Interior architecture is a really enormous process that also involves very strong teamwork here in the office. We are challenged as a team from the creative conception to its implementation. In product design, the team, namely the producer, is outsourced. In product design, I feel more centered. It is more my creative process. In interior architecture, I am the concept provider, visionary, team leader, almost manager, and quality ensurer right to the end, whereas with product design, it is more my moment. I love that moment. When I design with a watercolor brush or pencils, completely old school. That is my own solitary moment. I do it for myself, sometimes in a different place. So I have to say I love both and I enjoy and am very thankful for being able to do both.

IF: Did you study interior architecture first?

Raible: Yes, I studied interior architecture in Rosenheim and then after several internships and working as an interior architect in various companies, I thought I needed to do something more. At that time, I was crazy about the entire Memphis movement. That was a breakthrough in product design, beyond the history of Bauhaus that everyone was trained in at German universities at that time. That breakthrough in product design was exciting, that was the point, that’s where I wanted to go. So I got my Master of Design at the Domus Academy in Milan. And right after I started working for myself, at that time still together with Mr. Leniger, I started designing for WK. I realized that it is fun, it is just fantastic, and a great supplement to my other work.

IF: You made your debut as a designer in the middle of the 1990s with your first chair for Plank and the successful “Keiko” cabinet furniture series for Designo. Well-known chair series followed, including the “Lord Gerrit” and “Episodes” models for the Tonon Italia company in Italy. Meanwhile, you are one of the most established and experienced product designers in the sector. Have demands on design changed over time?

Raible: That is an honor for me that you say I am established (laughs). That is a compliment. Because I don’t see myself that way. That’s funny. As a product designer, you are always starting something, you never really get there, and in that respect I think it is the same for my colleagues. That is primarily because the world around us is always moving on. There are other formal trends, other functional demands on furniture, on interior design, or on architecture. We are part of that constant change and we start over again with every new design.

Have the demands on design changed over time? Yes and no. Of course, people have some very primitive needs that never change. For example the need for rest, for retreat, for inner peace. Or very pragmatic needs such as good seating when they want to eat, etc. Nonetheless, our world is changing enormously because of digitalization, globalization, etc., and people are constantly on the move. So the demands placed on the use of both products and rooms are also changing. Young people, for example, have very different needs and ideas about how they want to furnish, work, and live. Just think of the trends of sharing or borrowing, of reuse – all of those big sociological trends are naturally also affecting us as designers.

IF: What is important to you in your product designs?

Raible: For me, it is important for the design to be muted in all areas. It should have a modern, contemporary elegance that is striking in its details in a very quiet way and that is timeless at the same time. I don’t create gags, rather I place value on formal sustainability, so you can stand to see a product for a long time. My products are meant to have a quiet but very strong identity.

IF: Fine details are characteristic of your work. Your latest design, the “Zelos” sofa series for Artanova, recently won the German Design Award 2015 “Special Mention.”

Raible: Yes, that’s right. I’m very happy about it, of course. Every designer award from a highly competent jury, whose members take the time to really look, being seen not only by consumers but also by colleagues and experts, being not only noticed in professional circles, but also appreciated – for every “professioniste,” as the Italians say, that’s naturally the best you can have.

IF: You once said that your best ideas come to you when you are surrounded by nature – that it enables you to see what is essential. Can you describe that in more detail?

Raible: We had an apartment in the mountains or I stay at an Alpine cabin. Because there, where there is nothing, in that total quietude, in which one is completely thrown back on oneself, or when I walk through natural surroundings, when I go up the mountain with the dog, my thinking brain, my organizing brain, my management brain becomes empty. Then the other brain, the creative one can look and listen to what is happening. Then it works because it becomes playful.

IF: As an interior designer, you are a specialist for custom-made interior solutions. Lots of demanding private builders and well-known company customers such as Allianz, BMW, Feinkost Käfer, and many others place their trust in your work. How do you approach a new interior project? What is important to you? 

Raible: There are two functions that a good solution has to fulfill. On the one hand, the functional and rational. So afterwards, the room functions as a workroom, a bedroom, a living room, etc. And on the other hand, there is a very strong emotional function. In order to fulfill that, you have to listen very closely and get a good feeling for people. That means that what is essential is real understanding.  What really matters? That is most important for me. The solution is good when I succeed in getting the users of the rooms, the inhabitants or the people who work there or – as with Feinkost Käfer – the people who shop there, to say: That’s fun. I like to go there, I feel good there, and that is typically Käfer. The latter is, of course, a very important aspect when working in the corporate area, understanding where the person would like to go. That is a very sensitive form of service, if you will.

IF: Is there a project that has been especially fun for you, a favorite project?

Raible: That happens over and over again. But of the things that we have done recently, there is a private home that I would say is a “once in a lifetime” project. Up till now, anyway. The house is here on a Bavarian lake, was also presented in the Architektur & Wohnen magazine, and was my first private home in this strongly individualized form. A special aspect was the incredibly great cooperation with the owner. We designed a customized solution for every room. Together with each child, we designed his or her own room. Even for the guest flats, we imagined two different guests and designed the rooms for them. Each room of the house has a theme of its own. That is something you might dream about while studying and think oh, I’d like to do that some time. And then to really do it, that was fantastic. Before that project, we hadn’t done so much with private customers, much more in the areas of offices and shop fittings. And then to create it together and finally to see really happy owners living there in a beautiful house that is appreciated by experts as well, that is certainly a pleasure. But in the end, every job brings pleasure in its own, very individual way.  At the moment, we are designing the executive suites for the Allianz Group in Paris and Milan. Those are also unmistakable themes, because you have to anchor a global brand internationally and connect it to the so-called “local specifications,” as we call them.

IF: Do you have any materials or colors that you especially like to work with?

Raible: That always depends on the project, of course, but I really like to work with all the natural materials. Wood, stone, fabrics, leather, I am really crazy about everything that is genuine. And I like a soft tonality as the basis for all colors. I love creating a basis for accent colors in a realm of natural shades of color, which then come through styling or art or people.

IF: Do you have a big dream that you would still like to realize?

Raible: Oh, lots of them! (laughs) I don’t know if they are very big, but I have never stopped dreaming. I don’t believe in one big dream. But there are lots of little dreams that I have every day, which are, of course, much easier to achieve. What we did for the private home that I told about earlier – I would really like to do that for a boutique hotel someday. That would be a dream. Together with a dedicated, aware hotelier. A small boutique hotel, highly individualized, with a maximum of human touches that meet the basic needs of people.  Something with depth. I would love to do that some time.

And of course, furniture, furniture, furniture.

IF: Ms. Raible, thank you so much for this great conversation!

Das Interview ist in der InteriorFashion-Ausgabe 3|2015 erschienen.

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