I would like to introduce you to the work of a singular contemporary craftsmen, furniture maker and designer that lives and works in Hamburg. Other the years she developed a signature style, timeless and original. Hendrike Farenholtz creates bespoken pieces inspired by her client’s ways of living. We talked about the design process, sustainability, Japanese and Korean culture and more. 



Irina Afanasieva: Hendrike could you tell us a bit about yourself, some key moments from your background that will help us to better understand your work.


Hendrike Farenholtz: I started by studying Anthropology and Art History. My plans at that time were to become a social engineer, and so I did a 3 years training as a carpenter afterwards to complete my studies. The technical aspect of this second education seamed to be a good combination with Anthropology to qualify for the work as a development worker outside Europe. After the german apprenticeship in a rather traditional workshop with lots of work on the building side, doing windows and doors, I decided to go to London to learn some more about furniture making and also because the city fascinated me. It was then in London that the design aspect of being a cabinetmaker started to become really important to me. With this experience in London, I took a decision to go back to Hamburg and start my own workshop. I would call myself a cabinet maker with an academic background in Anthropology and Art History.



IA: When I first saw your work, I associated it with Donald Judd, as well as with shaker furniture, and some traditional Chinese cabinets. Could you give us some insight into your inspirations, references …


HF: If you would look at my bookshelf you would find exactly these topics, maybe only the other way around. Shaker more in the early days, later on, Korean and Japanese architecture and furniture and artists like Donald Judd. And I do like anonymous designs a lot, cabinets and tables you would find in archives, in workshops, in basements of museums, to store and to collect.


IA: What was the first piece of furniture you designed and why?


HF:  When I came back from London I worked for some workshops to earn a bit of money, at the same time I started to draw a cabinet. I did that cabinet for a friend of mine that at the time didn’t really want it but today he is very happy with it. This first piece was a huge octagonal cabinet, with doors & drawers on all eight sides. It is designed to stand in the middle of the room almost like a tower. This design already has all the elements that you can still find in my designs today.


IA: During your studies in Anthropology you mainly focus on Asia, can you tell us how that influences your work as a cabinet maker.


HF: During my studies, my focus was on South-East Asian culture. I learned about ancient religions and philosophy and about their impact on everyday life. Till today I am especially fascinated by Japanese and Korean culture, their architecture and furniture, and the way they articulate the space in their rooms, the void between the objects and the attention to details. Their tradition is very extreme in refinement, every little piece is designed and thought through. 


IA: Are Japan and Korea also inspiring your choice of materials?


HF: No, I’m rarely using exotic woods, or woods Japanese or Korean cabinet maker would use. All my pieces are commissioned, I always visit the client in his or her house to actually see the future environment of the cabinet or table, then I suggest a wood that I think could work in their home. I try to use as much Germany sourced wood as I can. One of my suppliers just sell wood from the Hamburg area, I think it’s nice to work with local materials, today it`s mostly oak, sycamore and pear-wood.


IA: I would like to talk about your work process, how do you start?


HF: Almost all of my work is commissioned work. I always start by meeting the client. I go to visit him or her in their surroundings.  We talk a lot and they describe their demand. Only after that I start the designing process and try to transfer this demand into a coherent concept. I do sketches, small models, sometimes I do some mock ups so that both the client and myself can imagine what the piece is going to look like. When the client is happy with the design I start building the piece. Every design is made to meet the desires of a single person. My designer friends think it’s a lot of work for only one piece of furniture, but I realised that some of the designs inspire other people to order similar pieces. I cooperate with other workshops, very good craftsmen and women, who might do these variations and replicas. But also here production is only on demand and works completely without big furniture companies and shops. I think the very focused talk with the client at the beginning of the process is a very precise brief,  more personal and inspiring than what industrial designers would have. Strong participation is one of the reasons that make the objects precious for the client… And it´s also very nice to know someone is waiting for the piece.


IA: It’s interesting because your approach is closer to that of an interior designer or architect than to a furniture designer. You meet your clients to understand how they live, what are their habits and needs, but you also come to see the space where the furniture will be. A lot of contemporary designers lost the connection to the client but for you, it’s the opposite, your starting point and your inspiration is the client. 


HF: I feel like some designers have a very strong opinion about what the pieces they created should tell to the world. I want my furniture to be useful & quiet, a bit setback. The cabinet shouldn’t be more important than the things inside it, the space around it or the person owning it.


IA: The usage is very obvious in your designs but it’s not utilitarian or cold, it’s inviting.


HF: I want my furniture to be like a very good tool, that is nice to use, that’s works nicely in the space. So, inviting is nice.


IA: I choose 3 of your designs that I would like you to tell us a bit more about. The first one is the Porzellanschrank (The Porcelain Cabinet).



HF: A lot of my customer are art collectors; this client is a porcelain collector. I was at a fair, showing next to me was a ceramist from South Korea, Si Sook Kang, we put some of her white pieces in one of my cabinets. This collector came to her stand and ordered some pieces from her and at the same time ordered a cabinet for his collection from me. He understood what I wanted to do, make a stage for beautiful things, for collections, an architecture for the ceramics. I went to his house and there I thought that it would be nice that when you enter the room you start seeing the pieces of porcelain, that is why you have doors on all three sides of the cabinet. I also tried to understand the needs & uses a collector might want to have from this piece of furniture. I am not a collector but I thought that it could be nice to be able to hide the collection, to protect it but as well to show it beautifully when needed. In this case, the wood is exotic, it is Wenge which contrasts beautifully with the pale ceramics. 




IA: It is interesting that you say that you build furniture to display collections, to me it is an under-explored theme by the designer. The other piece I like is the Große Bank (The Big Bench), I find the proportions to be very beautiful, it is quite graphic as well with the red pillow.


HF: The client wanted a bench for drinking tea with his wife, but he also wanted to be able to seat several people on it and also eventually be able to have a nap on it. I started by studying benches & I found a Belgian traditional framers bench called Züzülü. It interested me because of a turning board in the middle of the bench that can be used as a table or be put back and just become a part of the bench. I liked this idea of versatility, so I decided to do a contemporary version of the Züzülü. 




IA: I know that you love the Antonelli da Messina Renaissance painting San Girolamo nello studio (Saint Jerome In the Case) and that it’s inspired you for your Studiolo, tell us a bit about this one.


HF: This picture inspired me to do something like the Studiolo, a small, protecting working place. The interesting aspect for me was to be able to actually step inside a piece of furniture, not only stand in front of it. It will surround you, almost embrace you. In this particular design, you can slide the panels to close or open up to the outer space.




IA: How did you saw the perception of craftsmanship change and How did you see the future of craftsmanship, do you think it’s accurate today ? 


HF: When I started 30 years ago, to be a designer was a prestigious role and to be a craftsman was not that nice. I was a bit ashamed of it, almost envious of the designers. However today those feelings are gone and I am happy with the path I have chosen. The attitude towards design and craftsmanship has changed much in the last 10 years, lately, craft is represented a lot in advertisement. But at the same time skills and knowledge in craft go back. Like in many other production areas, also cabinetmaker have to compete with industry so they change into half industrial working processes and some cultural knowledge diminishes.


IA: I agree, that is what I’m trying to also show via Effets Personnels & We Are Looking For A New Culture, that contemporary craftsmanship work can be as interesting as designer’s work. Pieces created by craftsmen have two interesting qualities, it’s sustainable by nature as the capacity of production is limited, and it is always unique pieces. I see it as a very contemporary and accurate way of producing things. The client is back at the centre of the process and not only the passive consumer at the end of the chain.


HF: Yes, it’s sustainable because of the material and as people order a piece and then wait for it they will most probably not throw it away. I do a luxurious product, it’s true. It’s a very specific kind of luxury, that is not always related to money but more to the way of thinking. It’s luxury because it’s tailored exactly to the needs of the client and because it’s unique and personal. The actual costs of production in workshops like mine are higher than in furniture edition companies with a high turnover. But as we save costs such as transportation and storage and a mark up for trade or shops, our work stays affordable.




IA: In 2012 you had an exhibition of your furniture at the Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe (Museum of Arts & Crafts) in Hamburg, I find the name of the exhibition very interesting, Unikate und Prototypes (Unique and Prototypes), could you tell us a bit more about the name. How and Why did you choose it?


HF: The name describes the two ways I work in my workshop today. On one hand, I really do one-offs, Unikate. In case other people want something similar, the Unikate becomes a prototype for a whole collection of objects, always quoting the original design. On the other hand, I have projects where I only do the drawing, no constructing in my workshop at all. I have designed furniture for a Hotel project in Kerala. India, and I have designed metal folding tables, which today are being used in universities and museums. But in opposite to a designer, who works on all kinds of topics I really only do furniture.


IA: You are from Hamburg, could you share with us some of your favourite places in the city.


HF: I like the Elbe banks, the Harbour is very important for me as a lot of my wood suppliers are based there, I go there quite often to choose my wood. It is also an interesting network of small workshops in Hamburg, not a very famous one and they are a bit hidden backyards and backstreets but very interesting with different craftsmen are working there. Much easier to find than this workshops is Museum für Kunst und Gewerbe (Museum of Arts & Crafts), sitting next to the main Railway station. It is one of the oldest Museums of its kind, and it shows a huge range of old and modern artefacts. Also, the special exhibitions are always very much worth seeing.


Discover more of Hendrike’s work here.




Image index:


Hendrike Farenholtz portrait by H. Hansen, 2013.


Hendrike’s workshop in Hamburg.


Porzellanschrank (The Porcelain Cabinet), photographed by H. Leiska, 2006, wenge wood, hight: 230 cm.


Porzellanschrank (The Porcelain Cabinet), detail, photographed by H. Leiska, 2006, wenge wood, hight: 230 cm.


Porzellanschrank (The Porcelain Cabinet), photographed by H. Leiska, 2006, wenge wood, hight: 230 cm.


Große Bank (The Big Bench), photographed by K. Hessmann, 2002, pearwood, length: 210 cm.


Große Bank (The Big Bench), photographed by K. Hessmann, 2002, pearwood, length: 210 cm.


Studiolo, photographed by S. Isacu, 2016, dark oak, 150 x 150 x 150 cm.


Studiolo, photographed by S. Isacu, 2016, dark oak, 150 x 150 x 150 cm.


Arbeitstresen (Work desk), detail, photographed by S. Hans, 2014, walnut, length: 290 cm.


Arbeitstresen (Work desk), detail, photographed by S. Hans, 2014, walnut, length: 290 cm.