Hannes & Fritz on turning leftover wooden planks to a successful HAY furniture series
This side project during the design school studies caused the Swiss-German duo a lot of trouble — and helped them to partnering up with leading Scandi brands.
11 May 2023

Stuttgart-based Johannes Breuer and Fritz Gräber, based in Zürich, met during their Master in Product Design at ECAL in Lausanne, quickly became friends, and started working together already then. 

— As a matter of fact, the small bench that later turned into the Weekday Collection for HAY was our very first project together and was developed at the expense of certain other, official school projects which at the time even got us in trouble at one point, the duo remembers.

Years have passed and projects with them. Breuer and Gräber discusses both specific design-questions and overall strategies over phone every day, when not meeting in one of their studios to build functional 1:1 models and prototypes.

— This is a crucial aspect of our work since we both love to work hands on to transform ideas into physical, three-dimensional, tangible things. Connected to this passion for building and making is a certain fascination for industrial means of production and the way that things are made. Quite often a certain technical process or certain properties of materials are the first sparks for our ideas. Additionally, we share a love for photography which is very useful when it comes to the stage of presenting and communicating our concepts & ideas. The standard procedure for designing something together always consists a first phase of talking, conceptualizing over the phone, sketching individually, mostly followed by a longer phase of certain stagnation, frustration but also digestion which eventually results in a common concept of which we are both convinced. Right after, the speed increases drastically and we are quite quick to make detailed sketches in 3D, start to physically build it in 1:1, partly individual in our workshops, partly together to then ultimately also take pictures of it together.

You’re about to launch a new furniture series for New Works and just released additional products for HAY. Tell us more!

— Initially, as mentioned, it was just a small bench, Breuer and Gräber explain. While studying together in Lausanne, we had a very close and very international group of friends with whom we regularly played football after school. After playing, we would always have dinner together at one of their friends’ respective apartments. One particular night, we planned to have dinner at two of our friends’ place which at the time only had chairs for maybe 3 people, while we were at least 7. Having already wanted to do a project together for a while then, we then saw the opportunity to just build a bench in order to have enough seats for all of us. We rushed to the workshop, found some leftover planks from solid pine and quickly sketched and screwed something together to form a rough, but practical bench with a particular construction and appeal. The bench proved to be very useful and after that first, we went on to have many more dinners on it for years.

One year later, on the occasion of the design school’s Xmas Market, they wanted to turn this utilitarian piece of makeshift furniture into something more refined and unique. 

— It became Bench Two — a bench for two. A short and narrow bench that was meant to fit even the tightest spaces and provide a friendly, practical companion to every setting. Back then, we already wanted to create something that was extremely durable yet affordable. This resulted in us choosing a cheap softwood, but with a strong construction and very chunky sections. Evidently, this construction evokes distant memories of public picnic furniture in parks, which made it appeal to HAY as a piece that should be turned into a reasonably-priced collection of outdoor furniture. That is also very in line with the initial bringing-people together-spirit of the whole project.

— Now, it is a whole collection of outdoor furniture — tables and benches in many sizes made from solid pine wood and available in a wide selection of colours and natural finishing, all suitable for outdoors. Additionally, there is a range of custom outdoor-cushions with a unique way to attach it to the benches. A capsule collection together with British fashion retailer was also recently launched and consists of 4 bespoke colourways in a limited edition.

Not being from Scandinavia, what’s your view on the current state of Scandinavian design? Is it still relevant?

— Absolutely. Maybe there tends to be a certain cliché of Scandinavian, or ’Scandi’ design nowadays which we find to be rather incomplete since there are so many different layers to it. All parts of the spectrum are covered — both in terms of price but also in terms of audience. Democratic and luxurious, young and mature are all possible attributes that we find equally fitting to describe the big realm of Scandinavian design. But additionally, we think companies such as, or perhaps first and foremost, HAY have achieved very successfully to open up Scandinavia not only towards contemporary design but also the international design scene, including us. Instead of solely relying on the success of all the classics of earlier times, risks are taken and new paths are chosen which we feel is very beneficial not just to us but also to design in general. Large portions of the design industry of our home countries Germany and Switzerland might also profit from trying to be a little bit more open in a similar fashion, the duo concludes.