Mr. Werner, what is the particular attraction in turning your attention for a while from the living room to the bathroom?
A few years ago, we still spent as little time as possible in the bathroom. Personal hygiene was seen by many as a necessary evil, something that had to be done as quickly and as unobtrusively as possible. Today, we are no longer so uptight about it. Personal hygiene has become a pleasurable focus of attention and so, in turn, has the bathroom. It has become a sensory space for regeneration, somewhere that we enjoy spending time. The demands of this room are also increasing accordingly. So it’s time to really think furniture into the bathroom.
Has your work with the bathroom changed your understanding of design?
It has changed me to the extent that it has reinforced the way I think about design. This is because I don’t see myself as an artist. Art is art for art’s sake whereas design has a purpose – and beauty is also a purpose.
As a designer, you are an integral part of a comprehensive production chain; so it’s important to take account of things such as material limits or manufacturing techniques. The positive thing about working for industry is that you don’t find yourself in a vacuum. In terms of method, industry virtually gives you a wind tunnel and, as a designer, you have to think yourself inside this. I find this positive and exciting for my work.
And yet you continue to hold on to a vestige of the artist: you still draw everything by hand?
That's right. I simply love holding the pen in my hand and honing my work until I feel the excitement starting to mount inside me. That’s how I know that everything is coming together and something new is emerging. This is an energetic process and not rational or planned. I am proud that I continue to find a sophisticated design style that is so well received that many people say, ‘yes, I can identify with that’. As designers, we are not up there on the stage, we don’t fill concert halls but our applause comes in the form of the number of items sold. I sometimes call that the ‘buzz we get from the masses’. Industrial manufacture is an integral part of our design.
Does universality also apply worldwide?
I believe that, because the media are today networked worldwide, there is such a thing as a global ‘agreement’ about what is beautiful. Nevertheless, we still value a local ‘touch’. However, to me, the temporary axis is more interesting than the global axis. As designers, our task is to find innovations that interpret the world as it is today. The way I see it, giving people the opportunity to express the time in which they live is a key attraction of our work. This also implies that a designer should not be afraid of being popular.
How can ‘popular’ be reconciled with ‘design’?
Well, lots of people are afraid of too much design. At the end of the day, they want a piece of normality at a reasonable price. This implies that, as a designer, you also have to be able to back pedal. We need products that don’t continue to shout out ‘hello, here I am’ so that people can identify with them. However, at some point, things start to get too simple and there’s nothing left to take away without slipping into prosaic engineering work. As a designer, you then find yourself caught between banality and finesse. So the art is to reduce forms and concentrate their finesse to find their very essence. Like Ketho or L-Cube, they then stand out on the strength of their balanced proportions and discreet beauty, becoming an integral part of a harmonious room.
For how long is it possible to identify with a product?
As the bathroom has an average lifetime of 15 to 20 years, the durability of the formal statement is still much more important than in other rooms. It’s comparatively easy to replace a sofa or a container. However, when the eye has tired of bathroom furnishings, it’s not so easy to do anything about it. A much greater effort is involved.