By Michael Bullock

Named after the London zip code where it first started out in 1994, e15 is a German furniture and architecture firm now based near Frankfurt. The company has become well known for its modernizing of modernism and for its multidiscipline collaborations. Over the years, e15 has worked on limited­ edition products with the fashion designer Bernhard Willhelm, the photographer Mark Borthwick, the Swiss art publisher Nieves and, most recently, the über­cool French music and fashion collective Kitsuné. The Moment recently caught up with e15’s founder and creative director, the architect Philipp Mainzer.

The Moment: I first noticed e15 through the festive polka­dot table you developed with Bernhard Willhelm a few years back. How do these collaborations come about?

Philipp Mainzer: Maybe it corresponds to how we started. At e15 we didn’t start with a big business plan in mind; we just wanted to create nice products that we couldn’t find that we thought were suitable for the market. That is why we started with the solid wood tables — the first collection was just four tables. It was always about a mission to create useful, quality products. But as we have grown into a bigger company, we’ve also had to focus on business, so these collaborations help keep our minds going and this is very important to us.

How do these outside influences affect your main line?

To me it not really just about owning a furniture company. If you look at the presentations at fairs like I.C.F.F., everyone is celebrating themselves and it is all about design, but I think this can be a very dangerous circle. I think you need to break out and interact with different disciplines and different professions. All these areas need to be brought into furniture design to help it evolve and move forward, otherwise it will implode. Since I am an architect, I am not so focused on the product. The product is a part of greater things.

Do the collaborations start as friendships?

Yes, mostly. They are not all my best friends, but there needs to be a mutual understanding and appreciation. With Willhelm, we used to run a concept store in Frankfurt where we sold our furniture, but we also sold accessories, fashion and we had a gallery space. We sold his line and from that we got to know him. He always said that he wanted to do furniture so we said O.K. He gave us a pattern to customize one of our existing tables.

The pattern is of polka dots, seven different colors although they are not polka dots they are egg-shaped. There is a lot of thinking in this thing that looks so easy. To reprint seven colors on solid wood wrapping around corners is quite a challenge, and it takes one person a few months to figure it out. People may not see all that goes into it, but we invest in this because we enjoy it and because we feel it helps us to grow and develop and it also helps bring attention to us because we are still a fairly small furniture company. It’s one way we stick out.

And Mark Borthwick?

I think we were at his house and he was showing us his photographs of plywood compositions. Our company image is very consistent, but it’s nice to get rid of all every now and then — so we had him shoot our catalog. He shot our collection outside the Javits Center, and we made a book and this led to asking him to do an installation at the fair in Cologne. He made it on the spot. We made some pieces before, and he manipulated them and combined them with his photography. It was pretty amazing to see.

And how was that received by the furniture industry?

Very well, from people who are open-minded. Other people completely don’t understand and ask, “Why would you show these pieces of plywood that you asked some guy to put together? It has nothing to do with your furniture.” But it has to do with space and the interaction of objects.

Do these ideas make their way back into your furniture line?

With Mark it come back through the photography in our catalog. We also collaborated on a second installation, which we have not produced yet. His wife, Maria Cornejo, is opening a new store so we think this may be a good time to produce them. We are not in a rush to crank these things out. They need the right time and the right place to be shown.

What is the most recent collaboration — is it the Monster Dice?

That was instigated by Nieves, this small art publisher. The dice is a scrape from the Big Foot table, with a drawing of a monster burned into the block that connects on all four sides. Again, there is lot of development for something that seems so simple. Everyone I show this to likes it. We also made tables with Kitsune. They run a fashion label but also do music — they are very popular for their amazing music compilations and they actually started as D.J.’s. For their show in Milan during fashion week, we produced eight of these plaid tables, turned them upside down and the legs were used to hold the clothing. At the moment the tables are at being shown at the Dover Street market in London.

What are the newest additions to your main collection?

The sofa line came out last year, but we expanded the collection into beds and introduced them this year.

I like that you named the beds Paradis, meaning paradise, right?

Yeah, they are paradise. They have the same structure and dimensions as the sofa, it could be combined with the sofa. We like them because they can work together without looking modular, it allows you to be flexible but also put together interesting, awkward shapes.

I love the brightly colored tartans. They look shocking mixed with your minimal shapes.

Well, we needed to bring in some color but stay true to where we come from, which is very traditional to some extent, and the tartans fit in great because they are traditional patterns. They are original Scottish plaids made by weavers in the Scottish highlands using old-fashioned methods. Even though they are very old, the bold color combinations are very striking, they feel quite new. And the tartan seems to be in fashion now and this brings us into a fashion context. Which we like.

It must be a hard balancing act bringing fashion into furniture because fashion changes so frequently. How much do you bring yourself into fashion?

We strive to make timeless pieces, so the tartans are pillows that can be changed as your taste changes. We try to take on more than just style when working with fashion. We are inspired by how the material is used, how shapes are combined or a general attitude.

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