Award-winning designer Sebastian Herkner explains his fondness for exploring the flipside
Sometimes the best music tracks are B-sides. Hits tend to get all the attention. They are the crowd pleasers, the songs that will take over the airwaves—but it’s often the flipside of a record that holds the surprises, the experiments, the fun. On the flipside, the artist can play.
The Life of a Designer: The Flipside
German designer Sebastian Herkner’s work might be described as a collection of B-sides. His portfolio is certainly crowd-pleasing—he has earned dozens of design awards, including a Designer of the Year from Maison&Objet in 2019 and Designer of the Year from EDIDA in 2021. At the same time, his work exudes the playfulness of an artist without fear or hesitation.
In Herkner’s work, experimentation is not hidden away, but rather brought to the forefront. Like a musician open to any genre, Herkner has designed products for a dizzying range of industries. His portfolio includes everything from coffee tables to chairs to rugs to wine glasses. While the array of products is quite wide, a consistent theme quickly emerges—the influence of travel.
Looking for Hidden Gems on the Small Streets
Herkner’s work overflows with moments. Travel snapshots pervade his portfolio, his experiences reemerging in new, concrete forms. Jagged coastlines in Salento, colorful hammock patterns in Colombia, traditional glass blowing techniques in Veneto, the plumage of West African birds—vivid scenes from trips at home and abroad are woven throughout his designs.
Everywhere he goes, Herkner pays special attention to how people interact with materials. The touch of human hands is present in many of his pieces; these handmade elements are often directly connected to his travels. He keeps an eye on the way craftspeople bend teak, shape wicker, blow glass using wooden molds—but also how people cook, how they play music, how they work. In an interview at the Haworth Warehouse Experience in Cologne, Herkner told us, “Traveling is fantastic, and it’s a privilege to work in other countries and cultures. Getting in touch with humans around the world—I think it’s the biggest gift, and a huge source of inspiration.”
Of course, in an increasingly interconnected world, unique local elements often fade. Main streets and shopping districts grow ever more similar. “Cities look more and more the same,” Herkner laments, “because they are the same stores, which is a pity.” That doesn’t mean that there is no longer inspiration to be found—it simply means that the gems are slightly more hidden.
“You always need to find the small streets to find some originals—like sometimes with a record in the past, the back side had the better track than the main one on the front.”
Curious Combinations and Rapid Growth
Herkner’s work surprises through creative combinations. He doesn’t hesitate to mix materials that are seldom combined. There is a playfulness in these combinations, a subverting of people’s expectations. The most well-known example of this ethos may be his Bell Table, which uses blown glass, normally associated with fragility or delicacy, as the sturdy table base. Herkner’s Litos sofa, designed for Haworth Collection partner Cappellini, captures the rough and craggy character of the coastline of Salento—in the form of a soft, comfortable sofa.
The theme of curious combinations is not only present in Herkner’s designs. In his home, he keeps “a lot of vintage pieces—designs from the ’60s, known ones and unknown ones.” Scattered among these “known and unknown” vintage pieces are newer products, including some of his own designs. From their base in Offenbach—a city Herkner describes with a laugh as “not a big fancy design capital”—Herkner and his team design products that consistently earn international recognition and prestigious awards.
Herkner’s studio has grown at a rapid pace. “When I started 16 years ago, I was actually sketching my first products, like the Bell Table, on the kitchen table,” Herkner recalls. “I was alone, you know… now, we are 8 people from China, Taiwan, Switzerland, France—so a really international team in Offenbach.” Herkner is careful to direct praise toward his team, saying “there’s a team behind, which is really important—always—to mention. It’s not just me!”
Of course, as the studio continues growing and adding more and more projects, the team must also expand; Herkner seems particularly pleased to share about the newest addition. “This year my husband joined the company,” he says with a smile. “So we are a family business now.”
Herkner and his team always aim to set up partnerships for the long haul. “It’s about a relationship. You don’t want to do just one product, you want to grow together, you want to create, to be part of the portfolio of the company.”
Sebastian Herkner combines materials and ideas in ways that surprise and entertain. His products celebrate the human touch. Memorable scenes from human moments all over the world distill during Herkner’s design process before rising afresh in chairs, tables, patterns, and rugs.
Herkner’s portfolio has all the experimentation and play you’d expect from the wildest B-sides. His inspiration comes from unexpected directions and emerges in surprising ways. These are treasures found in the small streets. Hidden tracks, often the best ones, are available for anyone to find—as long as you know where to look.