Hanna Ernsting and the Platform kkaarrlls Of Nest Builders and Bridge Builders

Hanna Emelie Ernsting
Hanna Emelie Ernsting | Photo (detail) and © David Hecker

A protected shelter for conceptualising and experimenting or applied training for daily professional life? In contrast to the visual arts, the issue in design is also to prepare students for a life outside the box of both the unique prototype and the serially manufactured product.

The cuddly fellows from the animal kingdom are named Ella, Daisy, Erni and Finn, and prove highly serviceable for putting one’s legs up on them and burying one’s feet in their soft upholstery. These cheerful “Petstools” were designed by Hanna Ernsting, a German-American designer currently focusing on the theme of “Storytelling im Produktdesign” – theoretically as well. Ernsting summarises her guiding principle in design with the words: Form follows mood. The user should not have to adjust to the product: the object should allow itself to be modified in accordance with the individual needs of its owner instead. Ernsting was already following this path during her studies at the Karlsruhe University of Arts and Design (HfG Karlsruhe) and the ENSAD Paris – with her shelf system “Slide Aside,” for instance, whose individual elements can be turned so that they can be loaded up from different positions.

The room divider “Parawall”, developed two years later, also follows the principle of variability. The user can decide individually where it should provide privacy, allow an airy transparency towards what is behind it or supplement shelf space.

  • Hanna Emelie Ernsting “Petstools – Ella” 2013 © Hanna Ernsting
    Hanna Emelie Ernsting “Petstools – Ella” 2013
  • Hanna Emelie Ernsting “Petstools – Daisy” 2013 © Hanna Ernsting
    Hanna Emelie Ernsting “Petstools – Daisy” 2013
  • Hanna Emelie Ernsting “Petstools – Fin” 2013 © Hanna Ernsting
    Hanna Emelie Ernsting “Petstools – Fin” 2013
  • Hanna Emelie Ernsting “Slide Aside” 2007 © Hanna Ernsting
    Hanna Emelie Ernsting “Slide Aside” 2007
  • Hanna Emelie Ernsting “Parawall” 2009 © Hanna Ernsting
    Hanna Emelie Ernsting “Parawall” 2009
  • Hanna Emelie Ernsting “Moody Couch” 2011 © Hanna Ernsting
    Hanna Emelie Ernsting “Moody Couch” 2011

Seating for any mood

With her 2011 diploma project “Moody Couch,” Ernsting finally gained public attention, second place for design in the Deutscher Rat’s D3 Contest for young talent, and any number of contacts for her step into independence. Firmly attached to the body of the sofa, the oversized fabric cover adjusts to each and every mood of its user. It can be used as a blanket, be rolled up to form a backrest or a cushion, serve as a seat pad and can be draped neatly or casually, as desired. The textile envelope of the somewhat smaller “Moody Nest” seems specially created to almost absorb its user and convey a sense of comfort and security, whereas with the “Moody Bag” one can upgrade simple plastic chairs or other seats into new seating options. The “Pet Stools” that Ernsting produces in her studio can be seen as further developments of this philosophy.

A platform as bridge

Ernsting's training centre, the HfG in Karlsruhe, offers a special platform for future designers: Kkaarrlls, which sounds like hesitant stuttering, is the decidedly self-assured Internet presence of students and graduates of the HfG Karlsruhe’s Department of Product Design, initiated, selected and mentored by Prof. Volker Albus und Stefan Legner. In 2009, they appeared for the first time at the Milan Furniture Trade Fair with an edition collection, and since then their range of products has been expanded by about 15 works per season.
Yvonne Fehling / Jennie Peiz, Chairstoolbench 2009 edition of 5 Yvonne Fehling / Jennie Peiz, Chairstoolbench 2009 edition of 5 | Photo: Philip Radowitz
According to Stefan Legner, who as artistic assistant of the department coordinates Kkaarrlls, conveying a fixed image of design as a profession is not part of the HfG Karlsruhe’s educational and training programme.

From very early on, individual guidance is aimed at discovering where a student’s particular uniqueness and qualities lie and to support personal approaches to work. The palette of tomorrow’s household goods is correspondingly diverse. Although the individual objects are on offer in relatively small editions, the university is not pursuing any commercial interest with kaarrlls, seeking instead to assist young designers with advice and support in realising their designs, providing a high-quality platform for their results, and building bridges in the period between their studies and professional life – to the public, manufacturers and the media. The concept seems to be working, because kkaarrll’s design is generating interest both nationally and internationally. Thus the black Hockerbank (a combination of chairs and bench) by the duo Fehling & Peiz has been spotted in the flagship store of an Italian fashion label on New York’s Fifth Avenue, the Chairstoolbench, the non-upholstered version with backrests provides seating at the Arp Museum in Rolandseck.

Design for forest re-naturalisation

Philipp Scholz “Lehner”, 2008 Produktion: ECHTWALD Philipp Scholz “Lehner”, 2008 Produktion: ECHTWALD | Photo: Philip Radowitz To date, starting last year, five objects from the kkaarrll’s collection, among them the multiple socket “Lehner” by Philipp Scholz, and Tom Pawlofsky’s and Tibor Weissmahr’s “7x stool,” manufactured by a robot, are available from the Echtwald Foundation.

Echtwald, founded by Nanette Hagstotz and the entrepreneur Thomas Grässlin, is dedicated to the re-naturalisation of commercial forests, supports local production and traditional merchandise of superb quality. So cooperation with Kkaarrlls, which is located practically at the foot of the Black Forest, makes perfect sense.