Design is only alive through exploration: HUNDHUND Visits Studio Mærtens.
On the day before Germany’s latest lockdown, just a couple of weeks ago, we dropped in on Maximilian Maertens, founder of Studio Mærtens (their new space is just a stone's throw away from the HUNDHUND store across Volkspark Humboldthain!). With the studio hund, Toaster, intently listening, Maximilian described what led him to Berlin, how he cultivates ideas, and why exploration is so important to him when designing.
Maximilian’s studies began at Bauhaus University, Weimar, coincidentally on the exact same Product Design bachelors course as our previous interviewee, Weng Xinyu (the school must be doing something right). Following his Bauhausian education, Maximilian headed south to Lausanne, Switzerland where he completed his Masters in Luxury and Craftsmanship at ECAL, which, rather fittingly, led to a job at a Swiss watchmaking company. After a while though, Maximilian came to realise that the picturesque Lausanne just wasn’t for him.
“It was just so clean. It's like someone licked the streets before you left the house. Lausanne is beautiful, but I never felt like I belonged there.”
So he traded the Alps for the Altbau and moved to the perhaps grittier streets of Berlin three years ago to found Studio Mærtens - a space for his diverse explorations.
“I see myself as an interdisciplinary design studio, which means a lot, and nothing. The work I'm doing is quite split. I'm doing a lot of artistically driven design projects, and a lot of clear industrial design projects.”
I questioned Maximilian as to whether Studio Mærtens works with any particular philosophy or rules in mind. Conscious of the studio’s youth, though, Maximilian expressed his reluctance in setting rigid boundaries to their explorations so early on.
“I want to create objects which I would like to have around myself, but I wouldn’t say I have a fixed philosophy for now... The picture in my mind of someone with a philosophy is someone with a long grey beard and a lot of experience. It’s hard for me to say I have rules. I want to have some consistency with my work, of course, but a bigger philosophy is still a work in progress.
Maximilian’s projects vary so much in style that I was curious if any unifying conceptual threads existed that ran through and connected them all.
“I've always had just one big thread going through my entire work and it's based on experiences and emotions. More or less it's kind of a walk through my emotional backlog which I connect with an object... I need to create an experience behind it. I need to create something where people really want to have the thing that I had in my mind.”
“Most of the time, the way I proceed to design is completely different for every new object. Sometimes it's like, I'm going to bed and I have this one feeling, I have this one memory, and I need to do something out of this memory. Sometimes I just have a simple shape or an object in mind, and I try to fill it a little bit with more life, experiences, inspirations, whatever you want to call it. And sometimes I have a really specific task for an object and I try to find experiences which I can put into it, which allows me to form the object.”
Considering Maximilian works with clients in the luxury space who might often seek to adhere to existing aesthetic notions surrounding ‘elegance’ and ‘luxury’, I was interested in how he negotiates his more ‘out there’ artistic ideas with the needs of these clients.
“I teach myself to build some kind of bridge. A bridge between the artistic ideas I have and something which is able to be produced by manufacturers and sold in the end… For example, these little gold pieces were for a Hotel in Switzerland. They just had the task of creating centerpieces for the dining tables. It was four pieces and it was a 3D printed, gold coated metal piece… This one’s actually a visual translation of sweetness that you feel on your tongue.”
Sat on the table between us, as we spoke, was a strange, almost reptilian skeleton that felt both pre-historic and futuristic. Naturally, I was intrigued. “They told me to do a clock. I asked them, can I do a dinosaur? And then something crazy like this emerged”. Maximilian went on to explain that the design was in large part inspired by his first memory of watching Jurassic Park, with a total of four cinematic references informing the structure of the object.
At many of the studios we visit, we find it interesting to inquire as to which projects they are particularly proud of. Maximilian, however, expressed that it was difficult for him to reflect in this way. Being ‘proud’ of something suggests that it is finished, and if something’s ‘finished’ it might suggest that there is no more exploration to be done. But for Maximilian, the exploration never ends. It is everything. And so the idea of ‘pride’ is complicated.
“In the end, I can't be proud of anything. That's because even if it’s on the market, it’s not finished. Nothing for me is ever finished. I don’t know why, but it’s not about getting to the finish line. I never really want it to be over because then the project is done. Of course, you need to finalize it to sell it and whatever, but in the end, the entire fun behind the work I’m doing is everything other than the finish line.”
That said, Maximilian did express a possibility of how pride might emerge one day. “I have an idea to create one entire living experience in the way I create objects. I have this picture in my mind of an entire house full only with my objects. A chair, table, the light, whatever. When this is fulfilled, I will be proud of the entire picture.”
Maximilian offered a slight revision on his answer to my earlier question regarding studio philosophies.
“I do have one philosophy: As soon as I’m not learning anymore, I will quit this entire thing and do something else other than design. As soon as I don’t move forward with ideas or explore. As soon as I get bored, I don’t see why I should do design anymore because design is only alive through exploration and through creating new ways to process the world.”
We couldn’t agree more.
Thank you to Maximilian and the Studio Mærtens team. You can find their links below.
Words and photos by Ewan Waddell.