We caught up with the driving force behind e15 to discuss daily rituals, crafting products with character, and their latest collection by German Modernist architect and graphic designer Richard Herre.
“We don’t believe in producing products for the sake of generating news… We want our work to be meaningful.”– Farah Ebrahimi & Philipp Mainzer, June 2020.
“We moved to Frankfurt almost 20 years ago,” begin Farah Ebrahimi and Philipp Mainzer, husband and wife, and also the creative force behind furniture company e15. “Our building dates back to the early 1900s. We chose it for the central location, high ceilings, open view of the skyline and beautiful light throughout the apartment. We appreciate the eclectic and historic character of the area. It also happens to be one of the oldest Jewish neighbourhoods of Frankfurt.”
It seems apt that Ebrahimi and Mainzer would choose to settle in this city, an epicentre of the Modernist movement in the 1920s. You can sense its history both implicitly and explicitly throughout e15’s collection.
Modernism’s reductionism and rational lines echo through designs like their Bigfoot table and Shiraz Sofa. Uprooted archetypes are present too, in the monolithic Tafel by Hans De Pelsmacker, and the unconventional silhouette of the Houdini Chair, designed with Stefan Diez.
The couple also share a passion for bringing lesser-known Modernist designs to a broader audience. In 2012 e15 released the Ferdinand Kramer series. A collection of carefully chosen pieces that illustrated, in the words of his wife Lore, Kramer’s “deep, life-long connection to the Bauhaus people, to the young, internationally artistic avant-garde.”
Now Ebrahimi and Mainzer want to bring the legacy of Richard Herre to the fore. In collaboration with Herre’s family and archives, e15 are reproducing the Stuttgart Chair and Zet Kilim, designed in the 1920s by the prolific German architect, interior designer, graphic artist and author.
“Herre has only recently been discovered.” explain the designers “He was an important representative of the New Objectivity of the 1920s, and an influential figure in the Stuttgart Werkbund.”
A direct contemporary of Le Corbusier and Mies van der Rohe, Herre was instrumental in the realisation of Weissenhof Siedlung, a celebrated housing estate in Stuttgart and a landmark of modern architecture. “Naturally, we are proud to produce his work. It feels like going back to the roots of Modernism and yet highlighting fresh, incomparable design.”
Set to launch Herre’s pieces in Milan this year, the couple had to postpone as Coronavirus took grip across the world. The pandemic has, of course, affected every aspect of life and work, but the couple has found solace in new routines. “A typical working day is a combination of various daily rituals,” they reveal “with the dining room turned into a co-working space for the whole family. And at the end of the day beer at the kiosk across the street.”
Days are soundtracked by Mos Def, John Coltrane and Kraftwerk. And in quieter moments, the couple finds inspiration in ‘Donald Judd Writings’ by Flavin Judd and ‘The Fall of Heaven’ by Andrew Scott Cooper.
“Simple, personal, casual” are the words the couple choose to describe their home. “The interior has grown over the years, so it’s not a ‘design’ apartment. Obviously, we are at the source with e15, but it’s also important for us to balance e15 products with some other pieces.”
How are those pieces chosen? “It depends. Quality, character and cultural significance play an important role.” One such piece, the Backenzahn stool is “created with the offcuts from the Bigfoot table.” says Ebrahimi and Mainzer “More than any other product it provides a significant presence of nature. It has a strong and original character, yet combines well with other pieces.”
Ebrahimi and Mainzer’s light filled apartment features white walls and parquet floors. Persian rugs accompany the Habibi Table and Calvert Chess Table by e15 and the Flag Halyard Lounge Chair by Hans Wegner.
The story, possibly apocryphal, is that Wegner designed his Flag Halyard chair on a trip to the beach with his children. Sat watching them play, the designer began to dig himself into a sand dune experimenting with different seating positions. Wegner, who designed over 500 chairs in his lifetime, was nothing if not a perfectionist, so he kept experimenting until he found the perfect level of comfort. Recalling this moment later he began work on designing his Flag Chair. The end result features an angled steel frame wrapped in 240 metres of rope, low slung and perfectly angled to emulate that moment of perfection in the sand.
It makes sense that this emotive tale would appeal to Mainzer and Ebrahimi. After all, their project, e15, is profoundly intimate too. “It’s a very personal project, which reflects our characters.” says the couple “We started e15 to create what we believe in, as well as what the society still needs. This approach has been the driving force behind the brand to this day.”
“An e15 design is deceptively simple, states the obvious, yet produces a new proposition.” It compels you to look twice. The duo credit much of this to their backgrounds. Mainzer is a practising architect. Ebrahimi spent her early design career in fashion as design director at Donna Karan amongst others. These different modes of thinking influence their approach to designing furniture and lighting.
“Common principles apply,” says Ebrahimi and Mainzer. “But perhaps our backgrounds allow us to think more freely. If we had studied carpentry, we probably would not have challenged furniture construction as we do.”
“Colour is a subtle language and communicates our temperament.”
Colour and materiality are at the forefront of their design language. “The material becomes the main act,” says Ebrahimi and Mainzer. “It has to fit the purpose and should have an innate character.””Colour is also a contrasting element to emphasise the character of the chosen material.”
e15’s collection is a delicate balance, rational yet emotive. The designs are uncompromising but do not take themselves too seriously. These inherent contradictions are part of what makes an e15 design so compelling.
“We don’t believe in producing products for the sake of generating news,” explain Ebrahimi and Mainzer. “Furniture is not as dispensable as fashion. Although good fashion shouldn’t be dispensable either.” With a smile, they add “to align creativity and desire with our collective environmental responsibility furniture should be more lasting. And evolve more in line with reason and the desire for the new. We want our work to be meaningful.”