The List’s Project Spotlight column features unparalleled projects created by our forward-thinking List members. By going straight to the source—and having the designers demystify the methods behind their designs—we hope to enlighten and inspire our creative audience to further push the boundaries of what is possible in the realm of design.
When Kevin Seitz and Rob van Wyen arrived at New York’s ICFF this past May, it was to introduce Studio Seitz to the global market. But, in a sense, the brand has been around since the late 18th century. That’s when Kevin’s ancestors, the Seitz’, began the family’s long history of furniture and fixture production and design in the Swiss border town of Berneck. There, they became part of centuries’ worth of tradecraft and technique.
That heritage now plays out across the five timeless—yet distinctly modern—sustainably sourced pieces Seitz and van Wyen have designed and crafted in partnership with local producers, other members of the Seitz clan included. Making goods for the contemporary market could mark a departure for the Seitz name—but look at the dresser, the bench, the rest. There’s nothing that would prevent them from showing up in some ancient mountainside house, just as there’s nothing that would prevent them from appearing in an aggressively contemporary home, yours included.
We got Studio Seitz to take us through this combination of traditional, regional craft and careful creation for the global market.
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Project Description: The inaugural Seitz collection introduces five pieces into the modern home—partnering with our family of skilled craftsmen whose unparalleled passion is passed down from generation to generation within the cantons of Appenzell and St. Gallen, Switzerland. Each piece was born out of a necessity. This is the starting place when approaching any new design—inspired by the bygone techniques of our ancestors, paired with modern silhouettes to create liminal objects for everyday living.
Inspiration: The heritage of our family’s past has greatly inspired the collection we have designed for today. The Seitz family is one of many early craftspeople whose work influenced the handicrafts industry across northern Switzerland—dating back to 1795. We strive to build upon these traditions that precede us—upholding modernist principles with tactile simplicity. Because of this strong history in craft, it’s important for us to carry the tradition through the preservation and modern interpretation of local Swiss techniques. Kevin [Seitz] specifically remembers growing up with a set of furniture his grandparents received as their dowry in the 1950s. These pieces, and even one from the 1800s, are still with his grandmother today and work just as well as when they were first made. The idea of heirloom-quality furniture, passed down through generations, is one that certainly became the foundation for our design principles. We truly want to create objects that can stand the test of time. As a result, we partnered with the same workshop that produced those heritage pieces for Kevin’s family—under the guise of modern simplicity.
Uniqueness: We find great value in cultural objects that may be ubiquitous or often overlooked. The biggest reward for us is to find a way to redefine how we may look at a seemingly mundane and sometimes dying tradition—reinvigorating its purpose and appreciation. Metal stamping is one of these common art forms, practiced in Appenzell since the 1800s. The Appenzeller belt is a prime example of this old Swiss tradition. These belts have been made for hundreds of years from cowhide and ornamented with handmade metal fittings—portraying motifs of processions to alpine pastures. The century-old craft inspired us to reimagine its application for the brass pulls found on our Kommode. The pattern was derived from baroque-style scrolls found inside the Catholic Church of Berneck. It is hand cut from a thin sheet of brass and individually stamped by a sixth-generation craftsman—bringing a touch of traditional ornamentation to the streamlined Kommode. The Seitz family also comes from a lineage of potters inside Berneck.
Back in the late 1800s, each potter applied unique patterns to bowls, plates and terrines with a Malhörnchen (cow horn). This was a common ancient technique used on all earthenware across the ceramic regions in Europe. We wanted to take our family patterns and again, reimagine their application. Through the exploration of exploding the elements of each pattern, we rebuilt them through three-dimensional layers. This gave us the opportunity to create new patterns solely from pre-existing elements. The result, is our airy pendant light—made up of five concentric frosted glass shades, each individually cut with the separated patterns. The overlapping of each cut glass layer allows for us to create unique and reflective shadow play, whether the light is on or off. From inspiration to education and implementation—the development of our collection has truly been a family affair. We wouldn’t be where we are today without the history, expertise and support of the family we collaborated with—bringing our inaugural collection to life.
Challenges: Today, Switzerland has established itself as one of the world’s most stable countries. Historically, however, this wasn’t always the case. Switzerland was once known to be extremely poor—especially in the Alpine region. For working class farmers who lived higher up in the Alps, using expensive materials like glue or nails was not an option. They were forced to find simple and functional solutions for everyday problems without any unnecessary components. It is this ideology that lead us to the biggest challenge in the developmental process: meeting our expectations for quality and precision while only using the essentials. This was especially true when we aimed to use 100-percent solid wood for our furniture pieces. Because of the material’s nature, we had to account for the reduction and expansion that normally occurs from environmental conditions. One common solution manufacturers take advantage of is using thin veneers. We didn’t want to sacrifice quality for function. Instead, we challenged ourselves to accommodate the material’s nuances and iterate on our design until a precise solution was met. Through 3D prints, paper prototypes and full-scale samples, we collaborated with our family of craftsmen to shape these ideas into functional forms. The collaboration was imperative in problem solving the balance between form, function and material. This process ultimately improved our designs so the entire collection can be enjoyed for everyday use.
Impact of Project: We are excited to partner with our family of makers, who are five and six generations deep, in order to educate and inspire our own consumers to keep these traditions alive. Again, the majority of our products are made within the cantons of St. Gallen and Appenzell in Switzerland. We source raw materials, locally whenever possible, and do our best to use sustainable materials with a low environmental impact. This allows us to control the entire made-to-order process and highlight Swiss craftsmanship through our functional heirloom furniture, built to last. Our current collection is derived from five main materials: solid European ash, anodized aluminum, glazed stoneware, polished brass and frosted glass. This passion and care instills an honesty that cannot be replicated in mass manufacturing. By using distinct techniques, we hope to transform the perception of everyday objects—allowing for our pieces to live for generations to come.
What’s Next: As we look to the future, we intend to further explore the craft and expertise from our own personal backgrounds. There is still so much to learn from our past and we look forward to the possibility of reimagining the items we grew up with. In the short term, we are expanding upon the language we’ve developed for our Stabellenbank, Kommode, and Pendant—building out a family that makes sense for each respective piece.